Sunday, 23 September 2012

Electrolyte drinks - do you really need them?

Ever noticed newcomers in the gym always seem to be constantly sipping from a water bottle, or folk starting to jog or run will be carrying a drink without fail?  Is it a comfort blanket or something really important?

When we exercise, our body temperature rises and we sweat in order to regulate the temperature.  Every one knows that.  Also, if we are feeling thirsty, the chances are that we are already dehydrated to a degree and performance can then fall away.  Dehydration that has symptoms of confusion or dizziness can be very serious.  So these are all valid reasons to drink while we exercise, or perhaps even beforehand.

But what about sports drinks and in particular those that make a big deal of being electrolyte drinks?  Electrolytes refer to trace minerals in the body and the role they have.  These include magnesium, sodium, potassium and one or two others.  They all have a particular function in our bodies which have been created and designed in the most amazing way, without question.  Potassium is needed for maintaining the right hydration levels in the body in any event but also helps to regulate the metabolism.  Magnesium is relevant for the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, metabolism, thyroid function, calcium absorption, reliving cramps and assisting with restful sleep - all very pertinent for any runner.

As a rule of thumb, exercising at a moderate or intensive level, dehydration and the loss of electrolytes will start to be noticeable at the 45 minute mark.  I say "rule of thumb" as it depends on the temperature, what you're wearing, what you're doing, how fit you are, what you have eaten or had to drink beforehand.  It all makes a difference.  As I run mostly in the early morning, while it is cold or cool, I never take a drink with me unless I'm running for more than 90 minutes, or it is warm.  I make sure I have had a mug of tea shortly before I start.

Apart from keeping your body functioning well while exercising, they do have another very important function.  Replacing those lost minerals and rehydrating will help you recover faster.  I can vouch for this.  I always seem to recover faster and lose that lactic acid burning sensation in my leg muscles if I replace my fluids.

What kind of drinks are there?

You can buy pre-mixed bottles.  There are many around, including Lucozade, and you will pay a premium price almost anywhere these days.  Supermarkets are probably the cheapest if you can buy a whole box in one go.  Buying any kind of drink which is mostly water is not very environmentally friendly - lorries and trucks use a lot of fuel delivering drinks which are mostly tap water; not to mention the plastic bottle etc.

I prefer the fizzy disolveable tablets, such as Zero High 5.  For every 750mls, use one or two of the tablets and mix with tap water.  This does the trick well and, unlike many sports drinks, they contain no calories.

An alternative, an one that I prefer myself is a glass of a smoothie.  Now, there are smoothies and smoothies - some better than others.  Cheaper smoothies tend to come with lots of sweet apple juice or mixed with a thin yoghurt.  These often taste really nice but aren't ideal as electrolyte sports drinks.  A 300ml glass of a 4 or 5 fruit smoothie will almost certainly nourish you extremely well.  With this in mind, why not check out this recipe that I came across:


  1. Love it! Like most people, one of the most difficult things that I
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  5. Don't forget the real benefits of simple milk. Tests have shown that it's great for rehydration after physical activity.

  6. Many thanks Anon, you make a good point. Consuming milk is great as part of a balanced lifestyle and I would advise anyone in the UK to buy organic milk. This helps avoid the gradual build-up of pesticides, hormones, anti-biotics etc.

    Thanks again.

  7. I agree with about drinking a liquid while exercising. As a general rule, I prefer drinking nothing but water while working out.
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