Hydration for Athletes: Should you drink sports drinks with glucose?

Read Time 2 minutes

This video clip is from episode #200 – AMA #33: Hydration—electrolytes, supplements, sports drinks, performance effects, and more, originally released on March 21, 2022.


Show Notes

Glucose: benefits and when to include it in rehydration fluids [51:15]

Do you need glucose in your water?

  • Short answer: It depends on the duration of your activity
  • For relatively short duration activity, you really don’t need glucose as you should have sufficient muscle glycogen and liver glycogen to meet all your needs
  • Peter says for him, any activity up to about two hours at pretty decent exertion, he will not need glucose
  • In the extreme example, if he were trying to break the world record in a marathon, he would absolutely need glucose under those conditions
  • But if he’s lifting weights pretty hard for two hours, he would likely need 700 milliliters to a liter of fluid
    • If there’s glucose in it, that’s fine, but it’s not as necessary is having the electrolytes
  • Today, if Peter is doing zone 2 for an hour, he’s either doing plain water or water + electrolytes, but no glucose
  • Note, drink mixes usually taste better with glucose, and that usually leads to more water consumption if it’s tasty 
    • Be careful of this, because tasty glucose drinks can start to creep into our sedentary lifestyle which is not good

“That’s where I think you really have to be careful about drawing a hard line on drinking glucose when you’re not exercising. It really isn’t a good idea.” —Peter Attia

  • If you feel that you need a more isotonic solution—because remember water is the most hypotonic solution there is
  • SO if you feel like you need to really increase volume, not just water, then you’re better off just drinking, in my opinion, an electrolyte solution that’s free of glucose.

One other point to make:

  • when you’re exercising, there is a benefit to having glucose in there, in addition to the electrolytes, because they facilitate the absorption of each other faster
  • that’s where there is truth to some of the marketing claims you see where adding glucose at the right amount to an electrolyte drink will speed up the absorption
  • Today, we have very good data, and the data is that a glucose containing solution of about 5% to 6% is the sweet spot
    • Anything that has a higher concentration than that is basically going to be a little bit too rich
    • And in fact, it’s going to start to become hypertonic
  • Isotonic is going to be about that 5% to 6% range

The mistake that a lot of people make…

  • Many people err on the side of too much glucose
  • You see people out there for a 5k fun run, and they’ve got two gels that they’re squirting in their mouth and they’re drinking a Gatorade — that’s just way too much
  • First of all, Gatorade and Powerade alone is about an 8% solution so they are already slightly higher than isotonic
  • Then when you go and add two goos to it, you’ve basically created the most hypertonic solution imaginable — you’ve taken it from 8% to probably 20%. 
  • The reality is, you don’t even need those calories to run a 5k
  • You should just be drinking your volume with electrolytes
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