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Isotonic, Hypertonic, Hypotonic

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Article posted: 28/02/2013

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There are many sports drinks on the market that claim to give you an increase in energy, alertness, or aerobic ability. There is some scientific backing to these claims but you have to have the right drink at the right time to receive these benefits.

For rides that are no longer than an hour in duration, 500-750ml of water should be sufficient to offset dehydration. For intense rides over an hour in duration, you will require energy products, with energy drinks a positive way of replenishing low energy stores, fluid, salts and minerals.

To make sure you are getting the correct mixture of nutrients, energy drinks are broken down into three main areas; Hypotonic, Hypertonic and Isotonic. Each of these three drinks will support you in different ways, giving you the rider, the option of tailoring your nutrition for the demands of your event.

Isotonic

Isotonic drinks have a concentration level of around 5-8% (around 5-8grams of carbohydrate per 100 ml of fluid). These drinks can have a positive effect on cycling performance without impacting on fluid absorption, as they are designed to be in balance with your bodily fluids, giving some easily absorbed energy but not enough for long or demanding competition durations.

Pros – can be easily absorbed and used by the body during exercise, does not contain extreme levels of sugar compared to other drinks, can be combined with Hypertonic drinks for more energy.

Cons – Isotonic drinks will not supply enough energy on their own for long distance strenuous riding.

Look out for 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per 100 ml of drink and contains sodium to help absorb fluids to stay hydrated.  You can make your own isotonic sports drink by mixing 500 ml of unsweetened fruit juice of your choice and 500 ml of water, add a pinch of salt to help maintain electrolyte levels.

Hypotonic

Hypotonic drinks have a mixture of glucose, salt and electrolytes, making them an ideal drink for hot weather riding and competitions. Usually found with lower carbohydrate levels as isotonic drinks, hypotonic drinks will again supply some energy but will need to be backed up with other sources (gels/bars/snacks) to keep your energy levels up on demanding long rides.   

Pros – helps replenish energy stores in hot weather riding conditions.

Cons – requires more energy products to keep you going on long training days or events.

Look out for drinks that contain 5-8grams of carbohydrate, some sodium and electrolytes for hot weather riding days.

Hypertonic

Hypertonic drinks have the highest carbohydrate concentration, usually above 10% of the total coming from carbohydrate sources, and can be used in the days before an event to load up on carbohydrates or after an event to replenish depleted energy stores. Some athletes take these drinks during ultra events in conjunction with an isotonic drink or water, stopping the potential dehydration effects in hot strenuous conditions, as hypotonic drinks take longer to digest.

Pros – good for carbohydrate loading before an event, will replenish used energy stores after an event.

Cons – leads to dehydration if taken in competition, not good for dental health and can lead to digestive upset.

Look out for drinks that contain over 10 grams of carbohydrate per 100 ml of drink.

When drinking sports drinks you should consider the pros and the cons, each of these products have large amounts of sugar and high levels of acidity. If you are going to use energy drinks you should try to drink them when they are cold, do not swish them around your mouth and should be consumed in mouthfuls not little sips; lowering the amount of time acidic products are in your mouth.

Youth Riders

All youth events are short in duration and your training sessions should match. For Go-Ride sessions you will need water based juice, giving you the energy you need to keep going and stay hydrated. Other sources of energy can come from a good breakfast, lunch and dinner with some healthy carbohydrate rich snacks.

High doses of sugar, caffeine and stimulants found in energy drinks at an early age, such as taurine and guarana, could be harmful physically and mentally. Keep your meals, snacks, drinks healthy and you will not have a problem with keeping on top of the energy needed to ride your bike.

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