This will leave many of you wondering,”Aren’t energy drinks and sports drinks the same thing?” No, they aren’t. Many of us are oblivious to the fact that energy drinks and sports drinks are two very different categories. The “energy” drinks that are endorsed in television advertisements and billboards just add more to the confusion. Picture this: One of the world’s elite athlete’s is chugging a bottle of some neon-colored liquid, which in a matter of minutes makes him the most superfast/superstrong/super-efficient person in the universe. If you have fallen prey to such advertising gimmicks, then read on.
Energy drinks are an amorphous category of lifestyle beverages and functional beverages. They are similar to soft drinks and provide refreshments and flavor at meals, before meals or whenever you need to quench your thirst. Many of us develop a craving for energy drinks because of caffeine being the main ingredient, giving us the much needed rush of energy whenever we want it. In recent times energy drinks have got a bad rep because the high caffeine content acts as a diuretic, causing the kidneys to pull more water out of the bloodstream. This means that instead of the digestive system being able to pull the water content for the body to use, it is being directly streamed to the kidneys. This makes energy drinks dangerous when you consume them during workouts or long distance runs. The fluid loss from sweating combined with the diuretic nature of caffeine can lead to severe dehydration.
But before you start draining out your bottles of Gatorade, you should know that energy drinks are not that bad, if you stop viewing them as the drinks of champions. If your timing is right, then energy drinks are probably all you need to boost your performance. If you are gulping down your Red Bull during your rest periods, it’s definitely not going to do anything for you. The same goes for drinking up three or four hours before a workout. The key is timing it right. Research shows that caffeine ingested in powder or capsule form peaks in the blood after 30 minutes of consumption. Liquids, on the other hand, will peak between 60-90 minutes. But this also depends on the dosage of caffeine. More the caffeine, less time it will take to show effect. Higher dosages of caffeine have shown improvements in as little as 15 minutes. Keeping all this in mind, it is safe to say that as long as you are within an hour of exercise you should be good to go.
Now let’s talk about sports drinks. This is the stuff that athletes are supposed to be drinking. They contain moderate amounts of mixed carbohydrates, which maximize energy supply to working muscles while minimizing the risk of GI distress ( which happens quite often with energy drinks). Sports drinks also contain sodium and other electrolyte minerals to replenish the electrolyte levels that are lost when you sweat. It’s interesting to note that though caffeine is known to boost energy performance most sports drinks do not contain caffeine because the ergogenic effects of caffeine are known to fade with habituation. So, even though you have had a caffeine-infused sports drink for the first time, as time progresses and you make it a staple drink, the results will disappear. However, the psychological pumped up feeling that is common on consumption of caffeine will still persist (even if it doesn’t improve your performance at all).
The Bottom Line
Energy drinks should be had before a physical activity and sports drinks are to be had during the activity. This is something that one needs to keep in mind. Though there might be many popular brands in the market, always test a drink out during practice instead of the final marathon or competition because what works for someone else might turn out to be disastrous for you. And remember, staying hydrated is crucial. So don’t forget to keep sipping on water or juices throughout the day.