This is a question that has had athletes wondering for years. The easy answer if you have a strict budget, is water of course. However, when there is a choice, which is better?
Studies have shown that athletes can lose up to 2.8 litres of sweat per hour in a hot weather activity. This can be compared to playing in wet equipment over a prolonged period (2 games per day). They also state that water loss greater than 3% of your body weight is potentially harmful; therefore there is a clear need to maintain this water balance.
What is the main difference between the two drinks? Gatorade (Powerade, etc.) contains essential electrolytes, glucose and carbohydrates that are lost during exercise and competition. Electrolytes are the bodies’ energy nutrients (Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium) and will usually be lost in the form of sweat during exercise. Without these essential electrolytes, the body would not be able to operate at the athletes’ peak performance for extended periods of time (i.e. three periods of hockey).
Carbohydrate is the bodies’ fuel, just like a car needs its gas. When we exercise at a high intensity for a long period, we will use our carbohydrates first, fats and then proteins. I have seen several athletes drinking protein drinks or swallowing the dry powder right before a game. Too much protein in the body will cause it to become dehydrated much quicker, therefore decreasing your overall performance on the ice.
Which drink is digested faster in the system? You first of all want something that will be in the stomach, and out to the rest of the body as quick as possible. One study showed that a fluid, which is high glucose, was absorbed faster than water at rest or during exercise. The amount of glucose can make a difference though. They recommend that the sports drink should contain roughly, 6% glucose solution. At 12%, the drinks will tend to remain in the stomach longer, and can cause some gastrointestinal distress (“stomach aches”).
The general rules for hydration is the following:
1. To avoid dehydration and a loss in performance it is important to drink before, during and after training or competition.
2. “Thirst” is not a good indicator of dehydration, as young athletes can be dehydrated and not feel thirsty. If you feel thirsty, it may be too late, and you are already dehydrated.
3. Sports drinks, which provide 6-8% carbohydrate, will be the best choice. However, sports drinks should be tested prior to competition, during the training regime. This is because some drinks may cause some cramping or stomach upset.
RULES OF THUMB
Drink 2-3 cups Cool water (refrigerator temp.)
DURING EXERCISE Drink 1 cup every 15min. Cool water, Fruit juices, Sport drinks
AFTER EXERCISE Drink 2-3 cups Cool water, Fruit juices, Sport drinks
Reading this, you would probably then decide that Gatorade or Powerade must be the obvious choice, because it replaces all these necessary nutrients. Well, you are probably right. However, at $1.50 per bottle, many team budgets are better suited for water.