Emma Nutrition

Simplifying the science through cooking and education. When I'm not on Mummy duties…

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DIY Sports Isotonic Drink

Isotonic drinks are super easy to make so it does make me wonder why we aren’t all doing it! Marketing has a lot to answer for… The competition for sports drinks market share is huge with phenomenal spend per year going on research and development and communicating the ‘rehydration’ message to consumers.  The sports drink industry in the UK is currently at £260m a year while in the US it is projected to reach $2bn by 2016. This rise in sports drink consumption is led by the belief that we cannot hydrate with water alone and that fluid intake is as critical to athletic performance as proper training is.

The ‘water isn’t good enough’ belief system is fed to consumers and developed through interwoven relationships with research institutes and professional athletes – all funded by multinationals. Oh the complex web! In 2001 PepsiCo bought Gatorade. Coca-Cola owns Powerade while the pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) owns Lucozade. Powerade was a partner company to the London 2012 Olympics and Powerade a service provider to the London 2012 Olympics. On a more local scale sports drinks and supplement companies aim to work with gyms and gym instructors. Virgin Active has a partnership with Powerade, for example, and the GSK owned supplement brand, Maxinutrition (previously Maximuscle), has a partnership with LA Fitness. It has become common for athletes to test and monitor hydration levels and to reason that performance was altered or hindered by dehydration – lack of hydration. Therefore the athlete needs to hydrate as quickly and efficiently as possible with the best possible combination of fluids and nutrients. The link between what they drank and what performance levels were has become a measure of success. Drinking ahead of thirst and training your gut to tolerate more fluid are added marketing bonuses…. Or are they? Where does the truth lay? Is the science being overcomplicated in an effort to increase sales? Or just over-marketed?

I will admit to being a staunch believer in pre-hydration and sports drinks for athletes or those exercising for more than an hour; I also don’t see the problem with using clinical trials and scientific evidence to disseminate information in an effort to increase sales. I aim for 3L (I usually reach 2L) per day of water to maintain optimum health so it stands to reason that athletes need even more fluid due to sweating. I will also admit however to basing my beliefs on the science of those of my generation. My bible of sports nutrition Practical Sports Nutrition written by Louise Burke PhD who works for the Australian Institute of Sport often sits on my desk as a reference tool. Many studies I read have the name Ron Maughan in them (an eminent researcher in sports nutrition and professor at Loughborough University). However my own knowledge and those of my peers may even be swayed by the multinationals – Louise Burke and Ron Maughan both have financial links (personal or institutional) to Gatorade and their book Food, Nutrition and Sports Performance II: The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Sports Nutrition, published in 2004 was supported by Coca-Cola, the makers of Powerade. While this may sound biased it isn’t necessarily so – research needs funding from somewhere and a respected professional wont want to lose any of their professional integrity by publishing research that is against their ethos even if it fits a multinationals marketing requirements.

It is however a fine line. Just as a GP can be swayed to prescribe a certain drug because the pharma manufacturer took them on a nice break to the Caribbean (for a conference of course) or gave them a free lunch a sports nutritionist or gym instructor too can be swayed by power and money.

Recently I came across Dr Tim Noakes who is viewed as a maverick in the medical world. He has a book called Waterlogged that takes you inside the science of athlete hydration for a fascinating look at the human body’s need for water and how it uses the liquids it ingests. This, like most of the conclusions I come to regarding health, brings us back to the principle that every body is different. Just as we metabolise and utilise vitamins and minerals differently so we do water. Listen to your body, find out what works for you. Which practices make you feel great and which ones do you need to change?

In the meantime here is a DIY recipe for a sports isotonic drink. This is a drink I rarely use myself as I’m not an endurance athlete but it has been trialled and is often used by athletes I work with.

DIY Sports Drink 

Ingredients: DIY Isotonic Drink

700ml water

30gm fructose aka fruit sugar

20gm sucrose aka sugar

1/4 tspn sea or mineral salt

10ml lemon juice bottled or fresh

Method: Combine and mix well. That’s it!

This costs approximately 10p or 20c to make – a few pence more if you splash the cash and use a real lemon 😉




Endurance training and lifestyle

Here is an article I wrote during my Masters studies that was printed in a cycling magazine:

Achieving a balance between endurance training and your lifestyle; can Nutrition help?

The ideal circumstances for most endurance athletes would be to train as much as possible and spend their remaining hours of the day resting and recovering. The reality of balancing a job, social life and training means that many people aren’t able to do this and can risk overtraining, overworking or overplaying. All of this can be dangerous to the body, depleting the immune system, reducing cellular nutrient levels and putting additional stress on internal organs. This can affect training and racing performance as well as causing long term damage.

What is endurance training?

Endurance is described as the ability or power to bear prolonged exertion, pain, or hardship. Not for the faint hearted it requires staying power and stamina for repeated long distance training and racing.

Why is nutrition important?

Daily dietary patterns play a pivotal role in athletic performance providing the platform from which an athlete is ready to compete. To achieve and maintain the correct physique for the sport being undertaken as well as to optimise recovery between training nutrition must be considered a priority.

Nutrition goals for training

• Meet the energy requirements needed to support a training program
• Serve as a means to achieve optimal physique, BMI, fat levels, muscle mass consistent with good health.
• Enhance adaption and recovery between training sessions.
• Refuel and rehydrate before, during and after sessions.
• Maintain health and function of all bodily systems at a cellular level.

Nutrition goals for competition

• Achieve optimal weight division if required.
• Load up on nutrients required to ensure optimal energy and performance.
• Achieve hydration before, during and after the event without causing gastric upset.
• Maintain glucose levels during events lasting more than 1 hour without causing gastric upset.
• Provide sustenance after an event to ensure recovery, particularly in multi-day events.

Effects of inadequate nutrition on the Immune System

Perhaps not the most obvious affect of prolonged exercise is the depletion of the immune system. Following exercise there is a window of opportunity for bacteria and virus to take a foothold and cause infection. Further studies are being undertaken on the details of this however there is substantial evidence that carbohydrate drinks decrease the level of infection and there is no doubt that the increased amount of exercise increases nutrient requirements. A combination of different coloured vegetables and a quality antioxidant supplement will increase the immune response, ensuring infection doesn’t occur and that free radicals caused by exercise are excreted from the body.

Overall Effects of inadequate Nutrition

The better known effects are those of impaired ability short and long term due to insufficient intake of macronutrients and micronutrients. It is essential for athletes to ensure they consume adequate carbohydrate, protein and fat as well as vitamins and minerals. These should be consumed in the correct amounts and at the right time.

Before a race or training session hydration is vital. This should be done with fluids that have some electrolytes (minerals) and carbohydrate that will be broken down into glycogen and used for energy so that muscle stores are not used. As well as a concentrated supplement consume a meal 4-6 hours before that contains complex carbohydrates: potato, wholewheat pasta, cous cous, and brown rice.

During exercise lasting over 60 minutes glycogen and fluid stores are depleted. This means energy levels will rapidly drop, and performance will suffer. Muscles will become weaker, nerve impulses slower and lactic acid will build up. Hydrating with water is possible for low level exertion for a short time but after this water will not be absorbed quickly enough. The gut wall needs a combination of electrolytes and sugars to get the water across the wall and into the blood stream. Without these cramps in the stomach and muscles will develop. Using a high calorie energy bar that is easy to digest can help with energy levels.

After exercise pain and stiffness will develop as the endorphins levels become lower. Hydrating during exercise will decrease post exercise pain although sweating and urine losses of fluids still occur after. To compensate for these losses fluid balance should be achieved within 4-6 hours. Drink plenty of water slowly over this time and take a fast acting carbohydrate drink. To ensure you can get the most out of your body for the next session have a lean protein meal within 2 hours, and take an amino acid protein supplement as it repairs muscle fibres and improves elasticity.

Following this take some time to rest and recover!

Some people may also benefit from other supplements such as Coenzyme Q10 for cellular energy or glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM for joint repair. Not all endurance athletes need these however and your Nutrition specialist should be able to advise on your particular needs.