Hydration is critical to athletic performance – dehydration is one of the most common reasons for early fatigue during exercise. It takes as little as losing 2 % of your body weight for the performance to suffer. Fluids such as coconut water, chocolate milk, sports drinks and plain ol water have been featured for recovery post-exercise. What type of fluid should we be drinking and when?


Chocolate Milk

Chocolate milk is a good choice for athletes doing intense exercise. This is due to the extra carbohydrate (sugar) chocolate milk provides for energy storage. A typical low-fat chocolate milk has roughly four times more carbohydrate than protein, which may be the optimal ratio to rapidly replenish glycogen stores in muscles. Glycogen is essentially a long chain of glucose (blood sugar) that the body uses to store the glucose as in the muscles and in the liver. Chocolate milk also has electrolytes such as potassium and sodium to help you re-hydrate.

However…

You do not necessarily need the extra calories and sugar chocolate milk provides if you’re not engaging in intense, prolonged physical activity or more than one strenuous workout on the same day. If you’re taking a brisk walk to loose weight, you don’t want the 170 or so calories in a cup of chocolate milk.

Sports Drinks Vs Water

Not everyone needs to use sports drinks. If you’re working out for less than an hour, water will do just fine.  Sugar-sweetened sports drinks contain calories – about 130 calories per 500 ml – that add up if you’re not burning them off. And most of us don’t need the extra sodium and refined sugar

Sports drinks benefit people who engage in longer bouts of exercise like running, cycling and sport tournaments. Studies also show that sports drinks can enhance the physical and mental performance of individuals who engage in team sports that are played for a short duration, but intensely. The addition of sodium to sports drinks helps prevent low blood sodium (hyponatremia) in prolonged exercise. Sodium, lost along with sweat, is needed for transmitting nerve impulses and proper muscle function. Even a slight drop in blood sodium can cause problems. Many sports drinks are made up of 6 to 9 per cent carbohydrates, in the form of liquid sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup to provide energy for working muscles.  Numerous studies have shown that the fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates in sports drinks delay fatigue, enhance physical performance and speed recovery in athletes.

How Coconut Water Measures Up

Lighter exercisers will do fine to re-hydrate with coconut water or plain water. Compared with most sports drinks, it’s lower in calories (45 to 60 calories per 250 ml), carbohydrates and sodium, and higher in potassium, another mineral that gets sweated out during exercise. However, coconut water fails as a good sports drink for people who engage in vigorous exercise that produces a lot of sweating. Coconut water’s claim to fame is its high potassium content, a mineral many people don’t get enough of because they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. But during prolonged exercise, we lose much more sodium than potassium.  Coconut water alone can’t replace the sodium lost during strenuous exercise.

Bottom Line

  • Choose chocolate milk or a sports drink post vigorous/ prolonged exercise
  • Choose water or coconut water post lighter exercise (generally less than an hour)
  • After exercise, replenish the fluid you lose through sweat. For every pound of weight you lose during exercise, drink roughly 500 ml of fluid to re-hydrate
  • Begin nutrition recovery with a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes following practice or competition

References:

  1. Karp J et al. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:78-91.
  2. Thomas K et al. Improved endurance capacity following chocolate milk consumption compared with 2 commercially available sports drinks. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2009;34:78-82.
  3. Shirreffs SM et al. Milk as an effective post-exercise rehydration drink. Br J Nutr 2007;98:173-180

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