What is a Carbohydrate & Electrolyte drink?

This is a drink that one would usually consume when performing long bouts of exercise, generally over 60-90minutes. The purpose of the drink is to provide readily available energy (Carbohydrates) and necessary Electrolytes (Sodium) to help support/restore that which is lost from your first 60-90 minutes of exercise and support performance. In essence, this drink should help facilitate, or improve performance and prevent the negative effects associated with fatigue. Let’s get into it!


How it works

Through supplementing a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink we can help negate the side effects when compared with only consuming water for performance. The proposed benefits are:

  • Preventing hyponatremia,
  • Maintain total body water,
  • Maintain carbohydrate stores,
  • Prevent aerobic performance decrements,

Lets look at the ingredients individually.

Carbohydrates

Our bodies convert food into energy. Although we get energy and calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat, our main source of energy is from carbohydrate. Our bodies convert carbohydrate into glucose, a type of sugar. For longer bouts of exercise the main store of carbohydrates (muscle glycogen), provides the majority of carbohydrates needed to fuel activity. Our body has a limited store of glycogen and so as they become depleted their contribution to performance also declines. We slowly chip away at these stores with each second of exercise. A trained athlete will typically have enough muscle glycogen for a few hours exercise at the most before the body starts to pull resources from other areas of the body to fuel performance.

After 60-90 minutes, we have seriously dipped into our store of muscle glycogen, muscle protein is broken down (at a greater rate) into amino acids. The liver uses amino acids to create glucose through biochemical reactions (gluconeogenesis). To a similar degree fat stores are used for energy, forming ketones.

By consuming a carbohydrate drink during exercise we can help prevent the depletion of our limited muscle glycogen stores, and instead help supply a readily available supply of glucose (through ingestion) and therefor spare our stored glycogen stores. By doing this we may reduce fatigue during our long bouts of exercise, supporting performance. You can see why this may prove more beneficial than water.

Some things to consider:

  • Use a 6-8% carb solution (6-8g of sugar per 100ml of water).
    This is considered ideal for the absorption rate and preventing gastric distress.
  • Using multiple sources of sugar (glucose, fructose, sucrose) is optimal.
    This is to increase carbohydrate oxidation rate in the body.
  • Drink roughly 85ml-230ml, of this 6-8% solution with water, for every 10-20 mins post exercise.

Electrolytes

I’ve gone into this topic before, and you can check out the more detailed post here. In short, electrolytes are essential for performance and the prevention of harmful side effects (hyponatremia, negative fluid balance, poor muscle contraction, exhaustion, dehydration etc.).

During long bouts of exercise (over 60-90 mins, or even shorter depending on your sweat rate, external heat environment, diet etc.) sodium is lost at a great extent through sweat/urine. This sodium is essential for maintaining hydration and plasma volume. Sodium deficiency becomes a greater issue to those who engage in long duration exercise as they seldom replace the lost sodium and fluids that was lost via sweat/urination. This results in a negative fluid balance within the body. If exercise is continued under poor hydration and electrolyte deficiency serious negative effects can occur.

During exercise, a fluid loss at, or greater than, 2% of body weight has been shown to reduce exercise performance in both hot and temperate environments. How do you know you’ve lost 2%? Measure yourself before and after exercise, the loss in fluids/consumption of fluids will determine if you are in a negative or positive fluid balance.
Example: Pre exercise: 175lbs. Post exercise: 171lbs – 4lbs loss/2.2% body weight loss.

This is where sodium and electrolytes come in. By consuming a fluid solution with electrolytes (sodium rich Specifically) we are actively replacing the electrolytes lost through sweat and creating an environment where thirst is increased. To remain in a positive fluid balance people will need to consume more sodium and water than they lose through sweat – this would be favourable for the endurance athlete. Hence, sodium supplementation becomes the utmost importance – food, water, gels etc. They all work and it’s important to find what suits your needs. In addition to increasing thirst and a more balanced electrolyte status, sodium consumption can help reduce the cardiovascular strain and maintain skeletal muscle contraction for performance. We’ve all been there – extreme cramp after, or during, a hard training session? That would require sodium/electrolyte replacement.

Some things to consider:

  • The ACSM recommend 0.5g-0.7g sodium p/litre per hour of exercise.
  • Others recommend anywhere from 1.7g-2.9g sodium p/litre per hour of exercise.
  • Intensity, duration, heat environment, personal sweat rate and understanding your own personal needs will help you understand the quantity of need.
  • Always start on the extremely low side of electrolyte supplementation before trying anything out. Too much of one specific electrolyte can prove extremely dangerous.
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade sport, Isotonic drinks) will all contain sodium and carbohydrates to sustain performance (roughly 500mg of sodium/salt per 500ml)


My own solution

Below is a step by step guide for my own carbohydrate and electrolyte sport drink solution. I created this in mind to specifically to create a cheap alternative to store bought sports drinks, a 1 litre solution, include 1g of electrolytes per 1 litre and include 2 types of sugars – something not seen on the shelves (500ml, one sugar, expensive when adding it all up).

My solution will cost you around £2.50 (raw ingredients) for over 10 litres of solution (this equates to £10 of the same volume for Lucozade sport). And mine miraculously turned out to taste great – like the cherry Haribo sweet. I was surprised – thought it was going to taste like ass!

I hope you enjoy, please use your own judgement when making your own sports drink and please do your own research – be safe!

The majority of the above information was taken from the NSCA’s Guide to Sports and Exercise Nutrition, along with UofM website.

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