Pull up to a gas station to fill the tank before a drive to the gym, and stop in the adjacent convenient mart to grab a drink for the workout. Gatorade? Powerade? Special K Protein Shake? Boost? What’s really the difference among the athletic-based beverages that line the refrigerated shelves?
Nancy Ling, RD, of Road Runner Sports, explains that there really is a difference between the wide array of drinks marketed to athletes. Sports drinks, nutrition drinks and protein shakes each serve a different purpose during the course of a workout and should not be consumed interchangeably.
Specifically, sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade hydrate and fuel the body during workouts. The combination of carbohydrates, electrolytes and water is absorbed into the bloodstream faster than just water. When looking at the back of the bottle for nutritional information, make sure that the drink has carbs with little to no protein and fat. Additionally, Ling points out that sports drinks contain approximately 50-70 calories per every 8 liquid ounce.
Tipsters in ESPN’s Training Room recommend that athletes grab a sports drink or two when exercising for longer than an hour or when in a hot climate. These liquids additionally replenish sodium and potassium lost through perspiration.
On the other hand, nutrition drinks differ from sports drinks because they are concentrated recovery beverages, formulated to help the muscles recover from a workout. These types of drinks, such as Boost, Carnation and Ensure, may also serve as stand-alone meals, because of the high protein and fat content. They pack around 200-300 calories per 8 or 16 ounce serving.
Drinks like these are made up of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, electrolytes, minerals and amino acids. They should not be consumed during exercise, when the gastrointestinal absorption of nutrients is decreased. Instead, guzzle nutrition drinks after intense workouts, like long distance runs, to allow muscles to restore glycogen levels and repair fibers.
Protein shakes -- a different kind of athletic drink -- are ideal for weight lifters and athletes who want to build their muscle mass. They are composed mostly of protein instead of carbs and are also low in fat. Muscle Milk and Slim Fast shakes are among the types of protein drinks on the market. Some shakes come in powder form and can be mixed with water or milk; other drinks come premixed and ready-to-drink.
Pre, during or post-workout, the days of simple water for hydration and energy are long gone. We’ve engineered water -- in essence a free, natural resource -- with added electrolytes, protein and other magical ingredients to make workouts as superhuman as possible. So in order to maximize the results of an exercise routine, remember to choose wisely when grabbing a drink or two to stay fueled, recover and buff up.