What should a sports drink contain? How many grams of salt per litre? How much should be drunk before and during a competition? In this article we answer the most important questions about drinking in relation to endurance sports.
1. HOW MUCH SHOULD ATHLETES DRINK?
That depends on the duration, type and intensity of physical exertion. External conditions such as heat and humidity are also decisive influencing factors. As a rule of thumb: in addition to the basic amount of 1 – 2 litres per day, 0.4 – 0.8 litres per hour of activity should be drunk. Please note: during intensive training in hot conditions, the body cannot absorb more than 0.8 – 1 litre of fluid per hour, even though it can sweat out two litres.
2. WHAT MUST A SPORTS DRINK CONTAIN?
First and foremost, water, salt and carbohydrates in a proportion of around 6 – 8%, which corresponds to 60 – 80 grams per litre. There are short-, medium- or long-chain carbohydrates, which are available to the body faster or slower due to their structure. Every manufacturer has its own mixture for its sports drink. In most cases, vitamins, artificial flavourings, stimulants (caffeine) or other substances such as L-carnitine are added. Rule of thumb: the more ingredients a sports drink contains, the greater the risk of intolerance, so testing in advance is important. Most commercial sports drinks contain too little salt for taste reasons.
3. HOW IMPORTANT IS SALT?
In general, salt is essential for life and in sports it is crucial for optimal performance, especially during long exertions (from about two hours). The recommendation is that drinks should contain around 2 – 3 grams of salt per litre.
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4. HOW CAN YOU TAKE SALT OTHER THAN IN A DRINK?
For example, by means of bouillon or salt tablets. At many competitions, bouillon is the only salty offering at refreshment points. Normal table salt can be added to sports drinks or water. Such tablets are available in most pharmacies (20 tablets cost around 3.50 Swiss francs).
5. CAN YOU MAKE YOUR OWN SPORTS DRINK?
Yes, quite simply. With water, salt and maltodextrin powder, which is available in specialised shops and pharmacies. Maltodextrin is a tasteless, pure carbohydrate powder. Tip: add syrup for a better taste.
6. CAN YOU DRINK TOO MUCH DURING A COMPETITION?
This happens very rarely, as the stomach usually rebels during running when you drink too much. But it can happen if, for example, very slow marathon runners keep going and drink 2-3 litres or more per hour. Then the blood is too diluted, reducing the sodium concentration in the blood, which can lead to a dangerous deficit (hyponatremia). If it develops rapidly in a competition, hyponatremia can cause headaches and nausea and, in extreme cases, can lead to epileptic seizures or cerebral edema.
7. WHEN SHOULD YOU DRINK BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER SPORT?
Hydrating well is important in the run-up to long exercise in hot conditions. In the days before an intense effort, you should therefore drink more than usual. To do this, drink 3-5 dl of a carbohydrate-containing drink immediately before the sport (competition). During sport when you are thirsty or 1.5 – 2 dl every 15 minutes. It is not absolutely necessary to drink during sports if you are exercising for up to 1 hour. From 2 hours onwards, drinks should contain salt. Immediately after sport, easily digestible drinks rich in carbohydrates and sodium should be consumed.
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