Drink, Don’t Drain


Men's Health (Singapore) - - NUTRITION -

In bold, bright let­ter­ing, a bot­tle ex­claims “Quench your thirst!” from a su­per­mar­ket shelf. Another brand claims to “hy­drate bet­ter than wa­ter”. In­un­dated with a litany of drinks that prom­ise ef­fec­tive re­hy­dra­tion, how can you tell the prod­ucts that work from the ones that sab­o­tage your ef­forts? When pick­ing the right drink, ob­serve how much you’re sweat­ing. “You lose both wa­ter and elec­trolytes when you sweat,” says Dr Joanna Tan, se­nior di­eti­cian at Changi Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. “Be­sides ex­er­cise in­ten­sity be­ing a fac­tor in sweat rates, ac­tive and phys­i­cally fit in­di­vid­u­als also tend to per­spire less for a given ac­tiv­ity, as their meta­bolic mech­a­nism is more ef­fi­cient.” So if you’re just re­turn­ing to the gym or the track af­ter a lay-off, you might have a big­ger need for elec­trolytes. In mak­ing up for your lost ions, pay most at­ten­tion to sodium. It ex­ists as the ma­jor­ity of elec­trolytes in body plasma and per­forms the pri­mary func­tion of re­hy­dra­tion. “Sodium in fluid pro­motes both carb and wa­ter up­take in the in­testines, helps cells re­tain wa­ter and stim­u­lates thirst,” she says. By know­ing our body’s needs, we can de­ter­mine which of th­ese five drinks you should be gulp­ing down.


Sports drinks Also called iso­tonic drinks, th­ese are the most pow­er­ful fluid re­plen­ish­ers, boast­ing a con­cen­tra­tion of par­ti­cles (os­mo­lal­ity) that mir­ror that of blood. “They re­place flu­ids lost at an op­ti­mum rate, while sup­ply­ing a car­bo­hy­drate boost to make up for de­pleted glyco­gen stores,” states Dr Frankie Tan, head and se­nior sports phys­i­ol­o­gist at the Sin­ga­pore Sports In­sti­tute. For the op­ti­mum amount of sodium in a sports bev­er­age, he rec­om­mends 40mg to 50mg for ev­ery 100ml.

Ide­ally, the per­cent­age of carbs in iso­tonic drinks should be in the range of 4 to 8 per cent, says Dr Joanna Tan. This trans­lates to 8g of car­bo­hy­drate per 100ml serv­ing, or 2g ev­ery 100 calo­ries. Any higher and the drink might in­stead fur­ther de­hy­drate the body while caus­ing carb-in­duced dis­tress such as nau­sea.

Wa­ter This alone is suf­fi­cient to re­plen­ish fluid loss for light to mod­er­ate ex­er­cises of less than 60 min­utes, says Dr Joanna Tan. You can also pair wa­ter with a source of car­bo­hy­drate – an en­ergy bar, for ex­am­ple – to sus­tain per­for­mance in higher-in­ten­sity ex­er­cises of up to one hour.

For work­outs last­ing more than 60 min­utes, she says: “Re­hy­dra­tion with wa­ter alone will di­lute the blood rapidly, cause heat cramp­ing due to sodium losses and in­crease fluid deficit through urine.”

How­ever, you can drink wa­ter to re­hy­drate af­ter in­ten­sive ex­er­cise as long as you also con­sume food. Be­sides be­ing able to hold more sodium than bev­er­ages while still re­main­ing palat­able, the sodium and car­bo­hy­drate con­tent in solid food can also as­sist in the up­take of wa­ter, adds Dr Frankie Tan.

Co­conut wa­ter We’re no longer con­fined to sip­ping pure co­conut juice from the ac­tual fruit, as the drink is now widely sold in con­ve­niently pack­aged “te­tra paks”. This nat­u­ral bev­er­age con­tains about 5g of carbs and 25mg of sodium for ev­ery 100ml. In the­ory, as pure co­conut wa­ter has a lower con­cen­tra­tion of both car­bo­hy­drate and sodium than sports drinks, it’s not as rapidly ab­sorbed as the lat­ter.

While a study pub­lished in Medicine & Sci­ence In Sports & Ex­er­cise showed co­conut wa­ter re­places body flu­ids as ef­fec­tively as a typ­i­cal sports bev­er­age (and slightly bet­ter than wa­ter), the re­sults ap­ply only to light ex­er­cise. Dr Frankie Tan also warns that drink­ing co­conut wa­ter can up­set the stom­ach.

There’s a clear- cut ben­e­fit to this fluid, though: It con­tains an abun­dance of heart-healthy potas­sium ions, as well as a dose of an­tiox­i­dants that can com­bat the free rad­i­cals pro­duced dur­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­tion.


Fruit juice Th­ese have a higher carb and lower sodium con­tent com­pared to sports drinks. “Their higher os­mo­lal­ity also af­fects the rate of fluid ab­sorp­tion, while the high fruc­tose amount may cause stom­ach dis­com­fort,” says Huang Liyan, sports di­eti­cian at the Sin­ga­pore Sports In­sti­tute.

En­ergy drinks Th­ese con­tain ad­di­tives – such as tau­rine and caf­feine – that aim to pro­vide drinkers with the per­cep­tion of alert­ness. As many en­ergy drink brands also mar­ket them­selves as ideal flu­ids for ath­letes, they can eas­ily be mis­taken for sports drinks.

To iden­tify such, read the nutritional la­bel. At 11g to 15g per 100ml, the carb con­tent of th­ese bev­er­ages is too high to ben­e­fit phys­i­cal per­for­mance, say our med­i­cal ex­perts. “En­ergy drinks may cause even fur­ther de­hy­dra­tion, as the liq­uids move from cells into in­tes­tine, in­stead of the re­verse,” warns Liyan.

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