Category: Nutrition

The Truth About Energy Drinks

You know you need to drink plenty of fluids during and after your run, but what’s the best way to stay hydrated?

If you’re new to running or are looking at energy drinks for the first time, choosing an appropriate drink to support the type and length of running you do can be a bit of a task. Do you go for a low-kilojoule carb drink, perhaps an isotonic formula (one that contains salts and sugar in a similar concentration to the body) or will water do the job? Read on to find out exactly what energy drinks contain and when you should use them.

Do you need energy drinks?

Energy drinks provide extra carbohydrate fuel to the working muscles, enabling you to run faster or longer before fatigue. Carbohydrate is the major fuel source during a run and, with limited stores in your muscles, you sometimes need to optimise your supply before, during or after exercise. Once muscle stores of carbohydrate become depleted, your body begins to rely on blood glucose to meet its energy needs. If carbohydrate supply is limited, your body will break down protein from muscle and convert it into carbohydrate, reducing the rate at which carbohydrate is available and making you feel tired. A carbohydrate drink will supply glucose to your blood, which can be taken up by the muscles to support your run. Although it’s not necessary to always have energy drinks if you’re running regularly, timely intake of an appropriate drink can make running feel easier and reduce heavy leg syndrome, allowing you to run faster with greater ease.

When do you need them?

Easier short runs

If you’re running at a slow to moderate pace for up to 30 minutes you won’t need an energy drink. Eating a carbohydrate-rich snack two hours before you head off and complementing your daily water intake with an extra 250ml prior to your run and 500ml on your return will provide adequate energy and hydration for your session.

Harder runs up to 90 minutes

When you do a more intense session, or run between 45 and 90 minutes at a moderate pace, you might benefit from an extra carbohydrate supply on your run. If you’re running in temperate conditions, simple energy drinks such as Endura Magnesium Rehydration Formula can supply a mix of fast- and slow-release carbohydrates to keep you fuelled and feeling strong. Simply sip on 350ml of your drink prior to heading out and, ideally carrying it with you in a handheld bottle, sip every 15 minutes during your run. Try to drink at least 350ml per hour of running, making a 600ml bottle adequate for a 90-minute run. Finish off anything you don’t drink during your run once you return home.

Runs longer than 90 minutes

For training runs and races that last beyond 90 minutes, a carbohydrate drink can make a significant difference to your performance. Indeed, research published in Sports Medicine shows that sensible carbohydrate intake before and during your run can extend the length of time you run by approximately 20 percent, and improve performance over a set distance by two to four minutes; that’s 54 to 81 seconds off a 45-minute 10km! Selecting a drink with electrolytes (salts found in the body, including sodium, potassium and magnesium) is especially important for these longer runs, as you lose electrolytes in the sweating process. Not replacing these salts can leave you feeling lethargic and, according to the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, also put you at risk of hyponatraemia, a condition where your body becomes depleted of salt. This can be a serious condition, with typical symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headache and general fatigue. As this condition worsens, confusion develops and in severe cases can result in coma and heart failure. The simple message to take from this is that, on runs or events lasting longer than 90 minutes, it’s important to use an energy drink containing carbohydrate and electrolytes to keep the sodium concentration of the blood in balance, or at least to drink water with added electrolytes.

High mileage runner

If you regularly run 65 or more kilometres each week, include intense interval sessions in your schedule or partake in other sports at a more competitive level, you can also benefit from a new breed of sports drink which includes protein in its formula to support muscle repair. Drinks with added protein can reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery after your runs. Whatever your choice, drink 350ml before your run and an additional 350ml per hour during exercise intemperate conditions. In warmer weather, increase your fluid intake up to 750ml per hour during exercise. What you don’t drink in training should be finished in the immediate recovery period. If you get this fuel and fluid delivery right, it’ll make much lighter work of your training and recovery, and you can say goodbye to those heavy legs on many of your runs.

What ’s in your energy drink?

Glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin

These are the sugars in drinks that provide energy. Maltodextrin provides energy at a slower rate, an ideal ingredient for when you go on a longer run.

Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium

These are the electrolytes in drinks. They replace the salts you lose in sweat and are particularly good for runs that are longer than 90 minutes.

Citric acid

Citric acid is a weak organic acid found in many sports drinks. Coating the mouth and throat, citric acid makes it harder for germs and bacteria to enter your respiratory system through the mouth, providing a valuable protective effect when you’re training.

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)

These are a sub-group of proteins that have been shown to reduce muscle damage during training – perfect if you have intense or high mileage training loads.

Whey or soy protein

Other proteins found in some energy drinks in small amounts. They also protect muscle tissue from damage.

Nidia Tetrault