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Why is it important to drink during sports?Why do we need to replenish electrolytes?What is an ionic drink?What functional substances does the ionic drink contain?Types of ionic drinks and their use in sportsUse of ionic drinksWhen, on the other hand, is it not necessary to drink ionic drinks?How to make homemade ionic drink?What to take from it?
If you’re an avid runner, cyclist or other endurance athlete, you’ve already heard about the importance of ionic drinks. They are generally known to help replenish fluids, electrolytes and energy during prolonged physical activity. But do they also make sense when exercising in the gym, at football training and in other sports?

Why is it important to drink during sports?

As a rule, we sweat more when running, cycling and other physical activities, resulting in loss of body fluids. If this decrease reaches 2% of body weight (for a 70 kg person, this corresponds to 1.4 l), dehydration may occur. Among its manifestations are fatigue, headache, dizziness and also deterioration of performance. 
It is common for performance athletes to lose between 4 and 10 liters of water in one day. For this reason, it is important that they replenish fluids during the day and during the performance.

Fluid intake always depends on environmental conditions, such as the temperature of the surrounding environment or air humidity, the length and intensity of the load or the weight of the athlete. When we move, working muscles also generate heat that needs to be removed. Our body then does everything to be able to cool down effectively. Sweating works best in this regard.

– 500 ml of fluids 2 hours before the performance- 125-250 ml immediately before exercise- 125-250 ml every 10-20 minutes during training or racing- after training, it is recommended to drink 150% of fluid loss (e.g. when we weigh 1 kg less after training, we should gradually replenish 1.5 l of fluids)
These recommendations apply especially to endurance sports, when typically the greatest fluid losses occur. Mineral substances or electrolytes also leave our body together with sweat, which also need to be replenished. In such a situation, it is advisable to replace pure water with ionic drinks containing electrolytes.

Why do we need to replenish electrolytes?

Mineral substances that we recommend as electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. For example, an athlete can lose 3,500-7,000 mg of sodium per day. All of these micronutrients have a number of important roles in our bodies related to hydration, muscle function, nerve transmission and nutrient metabolism. They can thus fundamentally affect sports performance.
From the point of view of sufficient hydration, it is necessary to maintain the optimal level of sodium and potassium in the body. These minerals regulate the excretion and retention of water in the body. Low sodium can even lead to dangerous hyponatremia. This condition is typically manifested by disorientation, nausea and disturbances of consciousness. It appears especially during demanding endurance events such as a marathon or ultra-marathon, and it is also dangerous during sudden high intake of water with a low sodium content. In addition, a lack of sodium, magnesium and calcium is associated with a higher risk of muscle cramps. 
In the case of demanding and long-lasting trainings, the intake of electrolytes from food and supplements before and after training may not be enough. We often need to supplement them during activity as well as carbohydrates, thanks to which we can prevent a decrease in performance. The easiest way to achieve this is by drinking ionic drinks.

What is an ionic drink?

Ionic drinks are intended for athletes, who help to replenish liquids, minerals and energy effectively. In their composition we usually find electrolytes, easily digestible carbohydrates and sometimes also vitamins, amino acids, caffeine and other functional substances. Thanks to this, they can contribute to maintaining performance and delaying fatigue, especially during endurance activities. 
A number of studies prove the positive effect of ionic drinks on sports performance. Their conclusions often show that compared to plain water, drinking fluids containing electrolytes and carbohydrates led to improved performance. This effect occurred during high-intensity sports activities that lasted at least an hour. In the case of shorter and less demanding activities, such results usually do not occur, and therefore it is usually enough to stay with clean water. 

Sports drinks containing ions can help us:

– manage a longer training and run or cycle a longer distance,- to better tolerate high load intensity, and thus improve, for example, your times at different distances and get the best out of yourself in races.

What functional substances does the ionic drink contain?

1. Electrolytes

Sodium is most often found in the composition of ionic drinks. It is then followed by potassium, magnesium, calcium and other electrolytes, which have an important function in sports. We can also find them in the form of practical tablets that just need to be swallowed with water.
What are the functions of electrolytes in sports?
– Sodium and potassium are in charge of water management in the body. They are thus crucial for the proper absorption and excretion of water.- Magnesium, calcium and potassium contribute to proper muscle function.- Magnesium helps reduce the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.- Chloride supports the maintenance of acid-base balance in the body.- Calcium contributes to the normal function of nerve transmissions, thanks to which our muscles receive the signal for movement from the brain. – Drinks containing electrolytes will thus help us maintain the level of these mineral substances at an optimal level, thanks to which they contribute to protection against dehydration, hyponatremia, indigestion, muscle cramps, fatigue and weakness.

In endurance sports, it is most important to supplement with sodium, in order to prevent hyponatremia. Therefore, the official recommendations mainly concern this electrolyte.
For sports lasting longer than 2 hours, we should add 300-600 mg of sodium per hour.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it is advisable to choose a drink with a sodium content of 0.5-0.7 g per 1 liter of liquid during sports activities within 3 hours. It is then necessary to drink 125-250 ml every 10-20 minutes.
For performance exceeding 3 hours, due to greater sweat losses, it is better to switch to more concentrated drinks with an amount of 0.7-1 g of sodium per 1 liter of liquid. We should drink 125-250 ml every 10-20 minutes.

2. Carbohydrates

The content of carbohydrates varies in individual ionic drinks and most often ranges from 3 to 8 g per 100 ml. They are usually in the form of quickly absorbed carbohydrates, such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, isomaltulose or maltodextrin. 
These carbohydrates serve as an easily available source of energy during sports. They are quickly broken down and absorbed in the body, thanks to which our muscles can use them almost immediately to provide energy for movement. They help prevent the exhaustion of glycogen storage carbohydrates, thus delaying muscle fatigue.
Compared to carbohydrate gels and bars, we find a smaller amount of carbohydrates in ionic drinks, but there is a reason for that as well. A low concentration is the key to efficient absorption of fluids and electrolytes from the digestive system. With a higher amount of carbohydrates, this process could slow down and there would be a risk of digestive problems.

– The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking drinks with 6-8% carbohydrate content (isotonic drink) during sports activities over 60 minutes.- To maintain an optimal level of glycogen, during endurance activity, we should take a total of 30-60 g of quickly digestible carbohydrates per hour from drinks and other supplements.- In the case of activities (races) lasting longer than 2.5 hours, this intake can be increased up to 90 g. A combination of glucose and fructose in a ratio of 2:1 (60 g of glucose + 30 g of fructose), which is effectively absorbed through the digestive system, is ideal.- We always adapt the intake of carbohydrates to our own habits and the tolerance of the digestive tract.- In the case of ionic drinks in powder form or in the form of a liquid concentrate, the concentration of carbohydrates depends on the amount of product and water used. Depending on the dilution, you can reach lower, but also higher values ​​of carbohydrates.

3. Other active ingredients

Some ionic drinks differ in the content of caffeine, vitamins, amino acids in the form of BCAA or a fat burner, typically l-carnitine. Thanks to these substances, they provide extra benefits. Caffeine, for example, can encourage us to continue training and delay fatigue, while a fat burner is useful for losing weight, when every extra calorie burned counts. Added BCAAs can help delay fatigue and protect muscle mass from being burned for energy, which is useful in both endurance and strength sports.

Use of ionic drinks

For most sports activities that last no more than an hour, it is enough to take fluids in the form of pure water. However, the situation changes with high-intensity or longer-lasting sports, when, especially in demanding environmental conditions, higher losses of water and electrolytes occur, and at the same time the need for energy supplementation increases.

1. When is a hypotonic drink suitable?

The hypotonic drink has the lowest carbohydrate content of the three (less than 6%). It is therefore suitable for activities when we do not need to replenish energy as much, but at the same time we want to receive electrolytes.
Sports activities up to 60 minutes at higher temperatures and increased air humidity, when we usually sweat more.Bikram yoga or other type of exercise in a hot environment.During warm summer days to maintain optimal hydration. 

2. When is an isotonic drink suitable?

The isotonic drink boasts an ideal ratio between the content of water and carbohydrates (6-8%). Thanks to this, it is quickly absorbed by the body, does not burden the digestive tract as much and at the same time gives us energy.
Endurance sports such as running, cycling, swimming and mountain hiking over 60 minutes.Team sports such as football, hockey, rugby, volleyball, basketball over 60 minutes.High-intensity strength training or crossfit lasting more than 60 minutes.Zumba, aerobics and other high-intensity dance classes that last longer than an hour.For short and high-intensity exercise sessions. In this case, however, only rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate-containing drink (mouth rinsing) proved effective. There is no burden on the stomach, and yet we can feel a rush of energy thanks to the activation of certain centers in the brain. 

3. When is a hypertonic drink appropriate?

The hypertonic drink has the highest carbohydrate content (more than 8%). For this reason, it is digested more slowly and puts more strain on the digestive tract. Therefore, it is not suitable in cases where our primary goal is rapid fluid replenishment. But if we need a source of energy that is absorbed faster than from solid food, a hypertonic solution can be ideal.

Before and after exercise to replenish glycogen stores.

As a quick source of energy, for example, when blood sugar drops, after a long period of starvation.Endurance activities in cold weather over 60 minutes, when we don’t need to increase fluid intake so much, but we are mainly concerned with replenishing energy. In this case, the recommended fluid intake is usually reduced. Alternatively, we can alternate the hypertonic drink with isotonic or hypotonic, which are more suitable for replenishing fluids.For short and high-intensity exercise sections, mouth rinsing only.

When, on the other hand, is it not necessary to drink ionic drinks?

In the case of some sports activities, ionic drinks lose their meaning and it is enough to stay with them only with pure water. If our goal is to lose weight, they can even delay our results. One liter of isotonic drink contains approximately 250 calories, which is more than the average 65 kg woman burns during an hour of Pilates or yoga. So instead of a caloric deficit, which is crucial for losing weight, we can get into a caloric surplus. 

1. Regular training in the gym

In classic strength training, for which pauses between sets are typical, we usually do not reach such a high intensity that we need to replenish energy or electrolytes.

2. Cardio training and indoor lessons within 60 minutes

Clean water is also sufficient for running, cycling or other forms of exercise in normal conditions (without extreme temperatures).

3. Pilates, yoga and other lower intensity exercises

As long as we attend yoga, pilates or gymnastics classes (on a non-professional level), we also generally do not need to replenish electrolytes and energy during exercise.

How to make homemade ionic drink?

Ionic drinks contain a balanced ratio of water, minerals and easily digestible carbohydrates. They are designed for athletes with their needs in mind. Those purchased are a safe bet because they already contain the ideal mixture of substances in the optimal ratio. We can drink them straight from the bottle or dilute them with water according to the recommended dosage. However, there is also the possibility of making a homemade sports drink. It probably won’t be as tasty, but it will serve the purpose. How to do it?
To create 1 liter of isotonic drink we will need:– 1000 ml of clean warm water- 60-80 g of maltodextrin, glucose or fructose- ¼ teaspoon of salt- you can also mix powdered magnesium into the mixture- sweetener to taste as needed
Mix everything thoroughly, ideally in a shaker, and use it as a sports drink according to the recommendation described above.

What to take from it?

After reading today’s article, we already know when ionic drinks make sense and in which cases it is enough to drink pure water. For example, when we are going for a long run or a day trip by bike, it will be better to pour an isotonic drink into a sports bottle.
However, if we have an hour-long training session in the gym or yoga, it is not necessary to deal with replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrates. In any case, it is important to monitor the all-day fluid intake and adapt the drinking regime to current conditions (weather, physical activity).

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