Sport Drinks Versus Energy Drinks


Sport Drinks Versus Energy Drinks

There is still a lot of confusion about the difference between sport drinks and energy drinks. And be assured, there is a huge difference. In this post we will try to explain the most important differences between sport and energy drinks.

Energy drinks often contain a higher concentration of carbohydrate (8 to 11 per­cent) than sport drinks (6 to 8 percent). This can delay gastric emptying (how slowly nutrients leave the stomach) and slow down the absorption in the gastrointestinal (Gl) tract, especially if the beverage is consumed quickly.

Sport drinks are designed to be rehydration beverages to con­sume during and after activity. They contain an appropriate level of elec­trolytes to promote maximal absorption of fluid by the Gl tract.

Sport drinks are designed with athletes in mind. Energy drinks are not. Table below compares the two.

Comparison of sport drinks and energy drinks

I. Sport drinks

Purpose: Replace fluid and electro­lytes lost in sweat during and after activity.

Carbohydrate: The 6% to 8% carbohydrate solution encourages the consumption of water to maintain normal hydration during exercise.

Other ingredients: Electrolytes: Sodium, potas­sium. The sodium in these drinks helps to replace sodium losses in sweat. It also stimu­lates thirst.

Label: Nutrition Facts

II. Energy drinks

Purpose: Gain quick energy.

Carbohydrate: The 8% to 11 % carbohy­drate solution may delay gastric emptying and slow the absorption of nutrients in the Gl tract. Not recom­mended for athletes.

Other ingredients: Stimulants such as caffeine, guarana, ginseng, or other herbs. May also include large doses of B vitamins. The mix of stimulants may result in negative and dan­gerous side effects that can interfere with sport perfor­mance.

Label: Supplement Facts

Hypotonic & isotonic sport drinks

Sports drinks tend to fall into two basic categories: isotonic and hypotonic.

  • Isotonic sport drinks have a carbohydrate content of between 4 and 8 grams per 100ml of fluid (often referred to as a concentration of between 4% and 8%). They also contain electrolytes, and in particular sodium and potassium, which are included to replace electrolytes that are lost through sweating. Scientists have shown that an isotonic concentration optimises the rate at which both fluid and energy are absorbed by the body during exercise, and as a result they are commonly used during many endurance activities and team sports.
  • Hypotonic drinks have a concentration of carbohydrates below 4 per cent, but still contain electrolytes. They have been designed for shorter duration activities, where energy replacement may not be crucial, but when combatting dehydration remains important. Their lower calorific content also makes them popular with individuals wishing to exercise and lose weight.
Hypotonic & isotonic sport drinks

Hypotonic & isotonic sport drinks

How to use sport drinks safely and effectively?

Keep the following tips in mind when experimenting with these products:

  • Choose a commercially prepared sport drink. Commercially prepared fluid replacement drinks contain carbohydrates, sodium and other minerals in amounts that are well absorbed and most likely to be tolerated. Steer clear of recipes for homemade sport drinks, which can be difficult to formulate to the specifications needed to maximize performance.
  • Following the manufacturer’s directions when preparing sport drinks from a powdered mix. Add the exact amount of water specified on the label to prepare a drink that provides appropriate amounts of carbohydrates and minerals.
  • Drink small amounts at regular intervals. Consuming large volumes of sport drink in a relatively short period of time can promote bloating and abdominal cramping.
  • Keep it cool. Cool, rather than ice cold, fluids are easier to drink in the amounts needed to keep you well hydrated.

Closing thoughts

Sport drinks or fluid/electrolyte replacement beverages help to “top up” blood glucose levels. This, in turn, helps to preserve or “spare” your glycogen stores and promote endurance. Sport drinks also replace minerals like potassium and sodium that are lost during exercise.

Research indicates that during prolonged activity (i.e. more than one hour of activity) these products may improve performance.


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