As temperatures continue to climb through the summer, it’s never been more important to understand the importance of staying well hydrated, so M&F dives deeper into the components of good hydration and consults with experts to learn more about the effectiveness of some of the ingredients designed to keep you cool and lubricated. When it comes to the world of hydration drinks, water is only part of the equation.
The key to maintaining healthy hydration levels is the absorption of electrolytes. They are electrically charged minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium and calcium.
“Gnarly Hydrate is formulated to optimally replace the fluids and electrolytes you lose when you sweat,” says Shannon O’Grady Ph.D., who is chief operating officer at Knotty Nutrition and holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Utah.
“Start your day with an electrolyte drink,” says James Mayo, co-founder of SOS Hydration who has been conducting scientific research on hydration for many years. “Solutions, like the one offered by SOS Hydration, contain a small amount of sugar (3 g) to speed up the hydration process in the cells. The best thing to do is pre-hydrate, so you’re ahead of your hydration game, then you can enjoy your caffeine when needed, ride through the heat, and refuel when needed. Electrolytes are essential for the regulation of fluids in blood plasma and they also help with other functions such as muscle contraction and tissue building.
Caffeine or no caffeine?
Caffeine’s status as a diuretic (causing urination) may be somewhat overstated. “There is a widespread myth that caffeine is a powerful diuretic,” says O’Grady, Ph.D. “But there is no evidence that caffeine increases the risk of dehydration. Research has shown no difference in hydration status between athletes drinking caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks during exercise, and that intakes of up to 400 mg/day have no did not cause dehydration, even in people who exercised.
That said, there’s nothing stopping you from pairing your morning cuppa Joe with an electrolyte-rich drink, Mayo adds.
Should we add sugar?
A quick scan of supermarket shelves reveals a range of energy and hydration drink options, many of which contain an abundance of sugar. But what role does sugar play in hydration? “Sugar is fuel, and for performance sport, this fuel is beneficial after an hour of intense exercise,” Mayo explains. “The problem is that too much sugar and/or inactivity can lead to negative health conditions, like pre-diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and also dehydration.
“Sugar dehydrates us because salt always follows sugar and water follows salt. Hydration is a different goal for the body. We only need a small amount of sugar to activate the co -sodium-glucose transport, which accelerates water and electrolytes into cells.
Simple carbs are absorbed quickly and do a good job of providing much-needed energy, but beware of overly surgical drinks as they will negatively impact hydration and cause intestinal upset. So what should you look for in a sports drink? “Products that include multiple sources of simple carbohydrates (sucrose, fructose, and/or dextrose) and contain less than 8% carbs or 8g sugar/L liquid,” suggests O’Grady.
But what about BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids have gained traction in recent years as ingredients in many performance drinks. “BCAAs serve a purpose for physical well-being, although they don’t directly serve to keep our bodies hydrated,” Mayo explains.
“Using BCAAs before exercise may have a beneficial impact on recovery if protein intake isn’t optimal,” says O’Grady. “I tend to recommend taking BCAAs before exercise if:
- Fasted training
- Vegetarian/vegan athletes
- Aging athletes
- Athletes who may have difficulty ingesting enough high quality protein every three to four hours due to their schedule or dietary habits.
- Athletes competing in events where muscle protein breakdown is high, due to low protein intake and high energy output over long periods of time.
We’re not going to tell you to avoid alcohol. Everything in moderation, right? But it’s important to recognize the effects of alcohol on hydration. “For every drink you consume that contains 10mg of pure alcohol, you lose about 100ml of fluid,” Mayo explains. “Multiply that by a good night out, and you have enough fluid loss to give you that headache the next morning, along with other signs of dehydration.”
There’s more to hydration than just water
So here is. While added ingredients like BCAAs and caffeine may not boost your hydration levels on their own, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re worthless supplements. In fact, a cup of coffee could help with our mental focus, so there’s no need to ditch your usual routine, but you can step up your drinking game with an electrolyte drink on the side for good measure. If you train hard, consuming some BCAAs may prove to be a good addition to your overall drinking program to aid muscle recovery.
When it comes to hydration, water alone will not be enough. In large quantities, water could even dilute the presence of important minerals necessary for daily life. Now that you understand what’s in your hydration drink and know how to stay lubricated, use these powers to improve every shift, every gym session and every day. Stay hydrated and stay cool!