Isotonic drinks seem to be everywhere these days; what is so special about them and are they worth using?
When you exercise your body heats up as energy is expended. In order to maintain your body temperature at 37 degrees centigrade your body sweats; the sweat then evaporates on your skin, cooling it down. The more you exercise, the more you sweat.
Sweat is composed primarily of water but it also contains things called electrolytes – minerals such as chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium – that the body needs to maintain itself in balance. As a result, these electrolyes need to be replaced if you are to continue exercising efficiently and not lose the acid-base balance required for normal activities.
Drinking water will help offset the fluid imbalance but will do little to offset the mineral imbalance. That’s where isotonic drinks (or electrolyte drinks as they are sometimes known) come in. The specially formulated isotonic solution helps to replace the minerals that have been lost and help the body to recover more quickly.
Isotonic drinks and solutions also include carbohydrates which are also important for the
recovery process. Isotonic drinks are able to be absorbed into the body at about the same rate as water but they also inhibit urine production (due to the sodium and potassium) which also helps the replacement process.
There are hundreds of isotonic solutions and drinks on the market; many are provided in powder form and are mixed with water prior to use, like many diet and protein drinks; others are ready mixed. The mixed drinks tend to be more expensive but at least you know that the
isotonic solution is at the correct ratio. Powder mixes are cheaper but you need to make sure that you mix them in the correct ratio if you are to benefit from the isotonic process.
So are they worth using? Well, there’s a lot of science behind these drinks and there’s no doubt that used properly they make sense for serious athletes. If you’re working out for more than about 60 minutes a time, two or three times a week then electrolyte drinks will help you recover the minerals and fluids lost. If you’re more of a casual exerciser then you probably won’t gain a great deal of benefit and may be paying over the odds for the minimal benefit you gain (a fruit drink during or after exercising would probably give you just as much benefit without the cost).