When it comes to sports nutrition, it can be a challenge to separate fact from fiction. Should you carbo-load before every race? Is water the best drink for hydration? How often should you replace electrolytes?
There are a hundred different questions to ask, and you may get a dozen different answers to each. But what is the truth, and what is merely a sports nutrition myth?
1. You Need to Be 100 Percent Hydrated for Maximum Performance
Mild dehydration and thirst are natural consequences of endurance training. Yet we’ve been taught to think that even slight dehydration can impact performance and increase the risk for heat illness. Studies have shown that this natural dehydration doesn’t have an effect on performance. But once we pass from mild dehydration to moderate-to-severe dehydration, performance begins to decline. Therefore, the best strategy for athletes is to drink when thirsty to prevent dehydration from worsening. Then, they can replenish fluids and electrolytes to 100 percent following an event.
2. Pure Water is Always Best For Hydration
In some cases, water just doesn’t provide the nutrients an athlete needs. For instance, during intense exercise, we sweat out fluids and electrolytes. Water only replaces fluids. Thus, a better option during and after a long, sweaty race would be an electrolyte drink like DripDrop, which provides enough sodium and other electrolytes close to counter what we lose in sweat.
3. Carbo-Loading Benefits All Athletes
Eating a big pasta dinner the night before a race is a common practice for endurance athletes. But for shorter events that last less than 90 minutes, the body doesn’t need the extra energy, and research has shown that carbo-loading won’t provide much benefit. Yet, even in longer races, science shows that consuming carbs during the race – i.e. drinking a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage like DripDrop or eating an energy gel – can offset the need to carbo-load.
4. Sugar is Bad for Athletes
During intense exercise, the body needs energy, and sugar is one of the most important sources. When combined with sodium, sugar helps draw water from the intestine into the bloodstream, keeping you hydrated, longer. In studies, adding a mixture of different simple sugars – like glucose, fructose, and sucrose – has been shown to be more beneficial than sticking to just one. This is a myth – sugar is important for athletes.
5. Thirst Isn’t a Good Hydration Tool
Some athletes think they need to prevent thirst to maximize, because when we’re thirsty, we’re slightly dehydrated. But that’s not necessarily true, and preventing thirst can be difficult during races where water isn’t available. Instead, thirst is a very good indicator of the need to drink up, but it shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. When endurance athletes drink at the onset of thirst, they’re able to prevent dehydration from getting out of hand.
6. There Is A Magic Diet to Maximize Performance
Should carbohydrates take up 60 percent of our calories, or 40 percent? There is no perfect ratio of macronutrients for athletes. In fact, it depends on the athlete and the amount of training they are doing. For instance, during a week of intense training, an elite athlete might require up to 5 grams or more of carbohydrates per pound of body weight each day, while half that or less may suffice for average athletes.
7. Pre-Load Electrolytes As You Would Carbs
You’ve heard that you need to replace electrolytes following a race. So why not just load up on them the night before? Well, it’s not that simple. Our kidneys regulate sodium and other electrolytes very efficiently. When we eat more sodium than we need, the sodium is not absorbed in the intestine, and the kidneys then flush it out of the system. Instead, athletes should focus on replenishing electrolytes during and following a race.
8. You Can’t Drink Too Much Water
Drinking too much water can cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is common in endurance sports and may affect up to 30 percent of participants. Essentially, it happens when an athlete drinks large volumes of water following exercise, without replenishing the electrolytes that were lost in sweat. Consequently, the blood becomes diluted, which can be very dangerous to one’s health.