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Fuel for the fight

Jul 5th, 2012
Zoƫ Sophos

Variety of sports drinks || Photo credit: Wikimedia CommonsSports energy drinks like Gatorade and Propel may actually be a better choice than water for long matches. According to professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State W. Larry Kenney, sports drinks contain certain ingredients that help the body during tough matches in ways pure water cannot.

In an interview for Pennsylvania State University’s research website, the professor explained that electrolytes like sodium and potassium help the body regulate hydration and promote nerve and muscle function. And because electrolytes are salts, they keep athletes reaching for sports drinks long after water would have quenched thirst. Kenney points out that, even if a player is no longer thirsty, the body may still be losing key nutrients that it needs in order to avoid cramping and dehydration.

The presence of carbs in sports drinks is mainly for high-endurance athletes like marathoners or triathletes who burn huge amounts of carbs at once. However, Kenney was part of a team that tested the effects of sports drinks on youth basketball players. They found that the presence of carbs helped cognitive function, focus and energy levels — even for less prolonged physical activities.

Kenney suggests using sports drinks to fuel intense physical activities lasting more than 45 minutes, such as three set matches or long training sessions. Also, drinking in moderation before, during and after a workout allows the body time to adapt and maintain adequate levels of nutrients.