Roxanne E Moore: Hi! I am Roxanne Moore, Registered Dietitian and Director of Wellness for Sodexo Schools. When it comes to athletic performance there's four things that can help athletes succeed, natural ability what you are simply born with, physical training, proper rest and nutritional conditioning.
Nutritional conditioning includes not just what you eat, but also what and when you drink. Hydration has a significant impact on physical performance and can make the difference in winning the game.
Hydration means more than water; it also involves drinks with added nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat. Let's review energy nutrients and their role and performance in digestion. There's three energy nutrients, carbohydrates or carbs, protein and fat.
Because they're energy nutrients that means they provide calories to the diet and they impact digestion or the speed in which food moves through the gut. When we consume energy nutrients or calories our blood sugar or our energy levels goes up.
When we're lacking energy nutrients in our body, our blood sugar levels go down and we feel hungry, weak or tired. Athletes require a steady supply of energy nutrients from food or fluid during exercise in order to perform consistently and maintain their stamina.
Carbohydrates are the main energy nutrients and the first choice for sustaining athletic performance. Carbs are digested quickly, so they give an athlete quick energy which helps in activities requiring quick burst of speed such as sprinting.
Now protein gets digested a little slower than carbs and thus helps to sustain the energy, but it's not the nutrient of choice when athletes need to restore their blood sugar levels real quickly during exercise.
Now finally there is fat. The energy nutrient that takes the longest on average to digest. Fat helps to fill you up and is relied on more for low to moderate intensity exercise events, such as endurance events like a marathon.
Now all three energy nutrients can be found in beverages and they can all have an impact on how you perform depending on how much of each type of drink you consume.
Because protein and fat based drinks will take longer to digest, these are best reserved for after activity. Examples of drinks like this include milk or a smoothie made with yogurt, or a protein shake, or a milk shake. All of these beverages may help contribute to hydration, but they can also cause nausea if consumed during the activity.
Now water has no energy nutrients and 0 calories, it's absorbed into the bloodstream rather quickly with no impact on blood sugar or energy level. Water is best for athletes who exercise for less than 90 minutes at a moderately high intensity.
Water with added sugar which could be a diluted fruit juice, sports drink or flavored water also hydrates you rather quickly but it also helps to replenish carbohydrates in your bloodstream and your working muscles. This means the hard-working athlete would have a better chance of sustaining activity beyond 90 minutes.
All drinks are not created equal, so it's important for athletes to read the labels of the beverages and select the ones that will best support hydration and boost their physical performance.
Remember, what works for one athlete may not be the ideal mix for another athlete.