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The Benefits of Sugar and Sodium in Sports Drinks

Sodium, Sugar and Hydration

Hydration is an important part of any exercise routine. Water is an excellent choice for hydration, however, a sports drink that contains sugar and electrolytes (sodium or potassium) can help replace what is lost during long durations of exercise, especially in the heat.

Sodium can help the body retain fluid, maintain fluid balance in cells, help transmit nerve impulses throughout the body, and help muscles contract and relax. Additionally, Potassium is essential for nerve and muscle function. It can keep blood from clotting, maintains the body’s pH balance, and will carry nutrients to the cells. Potassium also plays a role in the storage of carbohydrates to fuel your muscles. Glucose (sugar) can assist in the absorption of water and electrolytes. Carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, can provide muscles with energy and assist in muscle recovery.

In short, sodium is a source of electrolytes which help regulate the fluid balance in the body while sugar or carbohydrates provide the body with energy.

We tend to have a negative outlook on sugar and sodium in our diets, but the right amounts in sports drinks could have benefits on your athletic performance.

What are the benefits of sodium?

Unbalanced fluids and electrolytes can increase the risk of dehydration. That being said, sports drinks containing sodium drive the thirst mechanism in our bodies to encourage fluid intake which increases our desire to drink. Sodium can also increase our body’s fluid absorption and retention. During or after dehydrating exercise, ingesting sodium can even help to maintain and restore plasma volume by increasing the body’s fluid retention. Sodium can also improve the rate at which the small intestine absorbs water and carbohydrate, which effectively rehydrates and delays muscle fatigue. In other words, once water has been absorbed, sodium helps the body keep it and retain greater levels of fluid.

“Sports drinks have a similar sodium content to foods such as milk, bread and breakfast cereal, but are much better tolerated during exercise.”

Sports Dietitians

The loss of sodium could play a role in the development of muscle cramps or weakness. That is to say as you sweat, you are losing water and electrolytes, and it is important to replace them while you exercise. Athletes who work out for long periods of time, or in the heat, sweat heavily. Due to intense, salty sweat, there is a need for salt replacement. Sodium in sports drinks can help replace these large salt losses.

Sugar and Carbohydrates

It is not recommended to consume sport drinks with a high sugar content because they are often high in calories with little nutritional benefit. However, a little sugar brings benefits to your exercise regimen. Sugar is important after exercise as it helps to absorb electrolytes efficiently. Quick hydration relies on the active transport of both glucose and sodium molecules through the small intestine. Too much sugar will slow the absorption of electrolytes.

Carbohydrates include starches and sugars and are the body’s preferred source of fuel. When you eat starches, your body breaks them down to sugars for providing energy to your cells. Therefore, when you eat sugars, they require little to no digestion before you absorb them and travel to your cells quicker. Sugars are a ready source of energy for your muscular cells. Research suggests the benefits in performance from carbohydrate (sugar) intake during exercise can be attributed to maintaining blood glucose levels, providing the body with additional fuel, and central nervous system effects.

See: Why Your Sports Drink Should Have Multiple Types Of Carbohydrate

What are the benefits of sugar?

Sugars and other energy compounds help feed the muscles and delay fatigue. Fueling your muscles with carbohydrates or sugars allows you to work your muscles more intensely because of the energy they provide. For instance, the more intensely you work your muscles, the greater your potential is for muscle growth. Even the process of building muscle tissue from protein as you recover from your workout requires energy. Sugar can provide the fuel needed for the muscle-building process.

That being said, you need fast digesting carbohydrates (simple sugars) during and after a workout to maximize performance and recovery. Simple sugars are converted to glucose and are used quickly by the body. For workouts less than 90 minutes, your body can use sugar to help restore carbohydrate stores. However, during strength training and HIIT sessions, your body uses a lot of glucose and store muscle glycogen to provide fast-acting energy.  Post workout, your body uses simple sugars to replenish the lost stores. For endurance athletes, the intake of simple sugars is crucial during exercise. In short, the longer you push yourself through a long workout, the more muscle glycogen you’re using. In order to continue through the workout with full force, fuel with simple carbohydrates.

To Summarize:

• Sodium helps the body retain water and prevents dehydration

• Potassium is essential in nerve and muscle function

• When you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes. A sports drink with Sodium and Potassium hydrate the body

• After exercise, your muscles crave sugar to replenish muscle glycogen stores. Simple sugars are digested easily and provide post-workout food for your muscles.



What are electrolytes

Sugar in sports drinks

Sugar Facts

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