Electrolytes, Carbohydrates and Performance
Q&A with John Heiss, Ph.D., Senior Director, Sports and Fitness Worldwide Product Marketing Herbalife Corp.
Most of us think of electrolytes and carbohydrates as the ingredients that separate “fitness drinks” from other beverages out there. What we might not know is how these ingredients and hydration enhancers work in your active body.
Q/ There’s a lot of talk about electrolytes, but what exactly are they?
A/ Everyone seems to know they are critical to health, but not necessarily why. Well, “electrolyte” is really a fancy word for a mineral, specifically in a drink or inside your body. Sodium (Na), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg) are the most prevalent minerals with biological functionality, in our fitness drinks.
Q/ Isn’t sodium consumed in excess? How is it beneficial in fitness drinks?
A/ To your point, excess salt is often found in packaged food. The salt draws more water in the blood and causes temporary bloating. If you step on a scale the morning after a salty dinner you might see an extra 3 or 4 pounds. But this is water weight, and you’ll get back to normal in about 24 hours. However, sodium is also essential for hydrationm, as it drive water into your blood and cellular tissues. Athletes need to consume even more to replace sodium lost in sweat.
Q/ What about the other electrolytes you mentioned?
A/ There’s potassium, which can be thought of as the intra-cellular regulator – it’s the most common electrolyte inside the cell, and is harder to obtain from a typical diet. However, too much potassium during exercise can actually cause bloating inside your cells, which is why you’ll want more sodium than potassium during physical activity. Magnesium is also important, as it plays an important role in the metabolism of glucose, the most important sugar for hydration.
Q/Is glucose, and other sugars, also associated with hydration? How is it better than other sugars?
A/ Sugar doesn’t deserve the negative perception it receives. The real issue is the amount of sugar people consume! Glucose is my favorite sugar because it is easily and directly utilized by muscles to generate energy. It’s also the only sugar that can be used by the brain. That’s why it’s the body’s o-to fuel for producing quick energy.
Q/ So, electrolytes and glucose are essential in moderation for fitness activity. What other sugars are out there and how is glucose better in your opinion?
A/ There’s fructose, which is also a simple sugar, but is slow to digest since it is processed by the liver before it can be used as energy. There’s also sucrose, a two-part sugar, made up of a unit of glucose linked to fructose. It has an intermediate speed of digestion. Lactose 9found in dairy products) is made up of glucose and galatose – yes, another kind of sugar. They are all related.
Q/ What is the relationship between these sugars and electrolytes?
A/Everything in the body in interrelated. Electrolytes, namely magnesium, play an important role in the metabolism of glucose. Sodium is also critical to allow glucose to enter cells to provide energy. Anyone who has exercised to exhaustion knows, as you become dehydrated, performance suffers.
Q/ When is it best to consume these carbohydrates and electrolytes?
A/ During exercise, the body uses a mixture of carbohydrates and fats for energy, the ratio of which depends on intensity. At low intensity, such as a casual walk, the fuel choice would be predominantly fats, although there is a low total fuel demand, so not many total calories are burned. At high intensity, the body relies almost exclusively on carbohydrate stores, called glycogen, converted from glucose. Elite marathon runners usually don’t eat any food at all before a marathon – they rely entirely on glycogen. However, the same runners would need to consume food (and lots of it) to finish a 50-mile run.
Q/ Why is that? What’s the cutoff between needing and not needing food before physical exertion?
A/ We can make an analogy to the gas tank of a car – it’s fixed size, and once it’s empty, the car is useless. Unless you “fuel up,” it’s hard to sustain high workloads for a long period of time. I always tell athletes that while they could work out drinking water along, it’s better to consume some fuel in the form of carbohydrates like glucose. I recommend adding calories and sugars if you’re working out intensely longer than 30 to 60 minutes.
Q/ With so many Herbalife and Herbalife24 option for energy and replenishment, how do I know which is the right for what level of activity?
A/ Remember that Hydrate and Prolong aren’t interchangeable. They are dietary supplements, and you should consume them only according to their label instructions. H3O® Fitness Drink and CR7 Drive are drinks you can consume anytime. Herbalife24® Hydrate is best when there are low caloric demands, such as low-intensity exercise. Herbalife® H3O® Fitness Drink and Herbalife24® CR7 Drive are good for more intense or lon-lasting exercise, finally, Herbalife24® Prolong is best for ultra-endurance events or when protein is wanted during a workout such as a grueling CrossFit competition. Generally, the longer and more intense the workout, the more calories, electrolytes and fluid you’ll want to consume.
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