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Isotonic sports drinks are a big part of the beverage market, but let’s take a pause: are drinks formulated for high intensity training and athletes, really needed by the average exerciser?

The answer is that it depends on the type of activity you’re engaged in. Research shows that carbohydrates allow us to maintain performance, and that becoming depleted in our stored carbohydrate (known as glycogen) can compromise performance.

In addition, a sports drink provides fluid and electrolytes, both of which are important for hydration.

Here’s the caveat: much of this research is in elite athletes. Most of us may sit behind a desk for 6-8 hours of the day, and our total activity time for the day may only be an hour of exercise before or after work.

Some of us are training for longer, endurance events like marathons or a triathlon, both of which have become popular of late. In this case, then yes maintaining hydration and easily digestible carbohydrates during prolonged exercise is a good idea to support performance.

For the rest of us, anything around the 60min mark or under, or more strength-based or lower intensity exercise, just having your normal meal in the 2-3hrs prior to training will be sufficient, and ensure that you’re adequately hydrated during the day from water intake.

So, let’s break this down:

  • 1hr or so low-moderate intensity: No need for a sports drink. Eat a good quality mixed meal in the 2-3hrs before training with some lean proteins, complex carbs like sweet potato, brown rice, or oats, and added fats. Drink plenty of water during the day. Here’s a handy hydration tip without getting overtechnical: pass clear urine by 11am.
  • 1-2hrs endurance: 200ml fluid every 10mins, and from 60-120mins consume 30-60g carbohydrate + electrolytes e.g. 500ml-1L Powerade/Lucozade isotonic sports [500ml if lower intensity, 1L if higher intensity or hot weather]
  • Over 2hrs: Consume 90g carbohydrate in a 2:1 glucose:fructose mix + electrolytes g. Lucozade Elite.

Most of us fall into the first category, where we need to drink plenty of water and eat a balanced meal in the hours before exercise. For those London Marathoners amongst you, the latter two strategies can definitely help to sustain performance.

As always, stay fit and stay healthy!