But can an isotonic sports drink be a beneficial part of a health exercise and diet routine?
What are Energy Drinks?
Let’s make it clear, when we talk about energy drinks we are talking about isotonic sports drinks, not caffeine and sugar heavy brands designed to keep you awake. But, are there health benefits of energy drinks? Rather than health benefits, it is more a case of improving your performance during exercise.
These benefits are the replenishment of electrolytes: salts including calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. Alongside the replenishment of glycogen stores through simple or complex carbohydrates.
# Brass Tacks
As with gels and bars, you want to be taking in 20-40 grams of carbohydrate pre-workout, that is, before you begin to compete, 30-60 gram of carbohydrate per hour of exercise, on the go, and 20-30 grams of carbohydrate after completing your activity. You can take in up to one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight, per hour, though moving past 70 grams may begin to cause you problems with digestion.
# When to Use
While outside of training or competition time it is always more beneficial to access nutrients through whole food sources, that isn’t always logical or even achievable whilst you exercise or compete. Energy drinks particularly are one of the least problematic ways to quickly consume carbohydrates during exercise.
Different Types of Energy Drink
- The most common type of energy drink, isotonic sports drinks are the go-to for long distance athletes such as those competing in triathlons.
- Replicating the sodium, sugar and electrolyte concentrations in the human body, electrolytes lost through sweating are quickly replaced for optimal hydration and performance.
- They contain around 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per 100 millilitres of fluid.
- Designed for hotter weather, hypotonic sports drinks implement a more dilute sugar, sodium and electrolyte mixture for hotter weather conditions.
- The dilution means less particles than those found in human body fluid, resulting in a faster rehydration, but these may need to be paired with other carbohydrate sources to maintain optimal levels.
- Designed for longer races, hypertonic drinks contain a larger concentration of sugar, sodium and electrolytes for longer periods of exercise, though are more frequently used as a post-workout recovery drink.
Ultimately you will have to assess the length of the race, the weather conditions and your bodyweight when deciding which drinks work best for you. Experiment during training sessions to see what works best to optimise your performance - you don’t want to try out a new schematic on race day and end up off your best.