COMMENTARY /// Physical fitness
We hit the gym, the track, the pool and the court and we do it because we want to gain muscle and lose fat, but what else do we lose when working out?
Our energy stores are depleted, and our bodies excrete fluids through perspiration. We need to replace those fluids and refuel our muscles. Lately, though, the range of sport beverages has exploded. So which is the healthiest choice for you?
First let’s look at the energy that strenuous activity exacts from your body. It’s tempting to get that extra oomph by taking a pre-workout supplement prior to exercising.
While pre-workouts spiked with creatine, L-arginine and beta alanine (which boost energy level, increase blood flow to the muscles, and reduce lactic acid, respectively) definitely increase performance, the stimulants many of these supplements contain cancel out the benefits.
“I’m not keen on them due to the yo-yo effect on overall energy level,” said Mark Ashtiani, an orthopedic medical provider and former competitive bodybuilder.
“Hype supplements are fine for short term bursts of energy, and may temporarily improve performance, but everything has a price. I rely on several small, healthy meals per day, adequate hydration with filtered water, and at least seven hours of sleep to maintain a steady energy level,” he said.
Many of these pre-workout supplements contain large amounts of caffeine—sometimes more than three times the amount found in a single cup of coffee— plus unregulated herbal stimulants such as taurine, koala nut, guarana and dimethylamylamine.
You may get an energy boost, but these stimulants put extra stress on your already hardworking heart by elevating blood pressure, often resulting in jitters, nausea, headaches, heart palpations— or worse.
What’s more, the carbohydrates found in many of these products are heavy on sugars, both sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, which spike the amount of insulin you produce.
Next, let’s look at sweat. When you perspire, important electrolytes such as potassium, sodium and chloride are lost. Since these electrolytes transmit electrical impulses between cells to help them communicate with each other, they need to be replaced, too—and that brings us to another category of sports drinks: electrolyte-enhanced beverages.
Gatorade once dominated this niche market, but its high sugar and sodium content are counterintuitive and can be harmful if you don’t sweat out the salt.
A 12-ounce serving of Gatorade contains 21 grams of sugar and 160 milligrams of sodium, but the average bottle size is 32 ounces, flooding drinkers with 54 grams of sugar and 425 milligrams of sodium if they down it all (and many do).
Though a pound of sweat reduces sodium levels in the body by 500 milligrams, it’s easy to overestimate the amount of perspiration expended. And you must also factor in the sodium content in the foods you eat. The ideal sodium limit is just 1,500 to 2,000 milligrams per day.
There’s no question muscles need protein to repair and rebuild after a hard workout. Ingesting about 20 milligrams of protein within an hour of hitting the showers is ideal, and the protein can be consumed in a variety of ways.
Protein drinks like Bone Broth have grown in popularity, and they, more than others, live up to the hype. Bone Broth is high in minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium, supplying the electrolytes (and a good chunk of protein, too) that working out depletes.
Whey powder is a good choice, also. It’s an easily absorbed milk protein that contains all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) you need but can’t produce.
Of these nine EAAs, the branched amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine—are relevant here. These branched amino acids encourage protein synthesis that heals the microscopic tears a heavy workout produces. Available unsweetened, whey powder can be added to your post-workout beverage of choice.
According to the American Council of Exercise, it’s best to drink 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercising, and an additional eight ounces 30 minutes prior to your workout.
Replace the water you sweat out every 20 minutes by drinking eight to 10 ounces during your activity, followed by another eight ounces within 30 minutes of stopping.
It might seem like a lot of water, but as you can excrete up to two pounds of sweat per hour during vigorous activity, it’s all about perspective.