Sports Drinks or Water?

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Sports Drinks or Water?

Sports drink companies spend a lot of time and money trying to convince cricket players that their products increase hydration levels and thereby boost performance. So do they really? To answer this question properly, we need to take a look what happens to hydration levels during a cricket match and the best way to combat the effects.

But firstly, why is hydration important for cricketers? Fluid loss of even 2% of body weight begins to negatively affect a cricketer’s performance. At this level a player’s speed, endurance, and concentration begins to decrease. These abilities decline further at a fluid loss of 3%, with one study finding that players’ performance fell by as much as 15%.

So what actually happens to your hydration levels during a cricket match?

Put simply, you burn energy and sweat. Cricket matches involve exercise, over long periods of time, and usually in hot conditions. And when this happens the body sweats to cool your temperature so you can keep performing well. But it’s not all great because during exercise, the body loses 3 important things. We’ll take a look at each of them in some more detail below.
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Water

Water makes up approximately 70% of your body mass and many of the body’s functions depend on it. It’s the obvious thing you lose when you sweat because you can feel and see it on your skin as it happens. But if you don’t replace the water you lose, functions that are critical to perform at your best begin to decline. In fact, with water loss of just 2% of your body weight, your concentration and fine motor skills begin to fall away rapidly.
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Electrolytes

Electrolytes also leave your body through sweat, the most important to hydration being sodium. These nutrients improve hydration by increasing the amount of water that the body can absorb, reducing urine output and stimulating thirst to encourage you to drink more. Electrolytes basically supercharge hydration when taken with water and can also help to prevent other issues like muscle cramping.
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Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is a primary source of energy for the body especially when undertaking high intensity exercise. When carbohydrate stores are inadequate to meet fuel needs it results in fatigue and a reduced level of performance. The fuel needs of each person will be different depending on their role in the team but it’s important that your carbohydrate replacement keeps pace with the rate at which you’re burning it.
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So now that you know what you’re losing, what’s the best way to replace it?

Keeping on top of what you’re losing is crucial to keeping your performance levels high for the length of a cricket game. But what’s the best way to do that? Not all products are created equal. Let’s take a look at the 3 main categories in a little more depth below.
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Water

As mentioned earlier, water is essential for the body to function. So it makes sense to think that plain water is what you need to rehydrate the body. And that was certainly the old school wisdom that stood for a long time. But as we’ve learned, water is not the only thing that is lost during exercise and needs to be replaced.

In fact, rehydrating with plain water has a couple of other problems. Water can reduce sodium levels which lessen the sensation of thirst and increase. This means less fluid in and more fluid out which will actually speed up dehydration.
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Sports Drinks

So are sports drinks the answer? A lot of research has gone into developing sports drinks to provide fuel and fluid to increase endurance and delay the onset of fatigue. A number of studies have concluded that sports drinks perform better than water for this purpose.

However the problem is that most sports drinks are manufactured with an emphasis on taste, to promote sales to the general population, rather than on maximising rehydration. The result being that many of these drink are higher in sugar and lower in electrolytes than what is required for effective rehydration.
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Electrolyte Additives

Electrolyte additives often come in the form of powders and tablets that are dissolved in water before drinking. They are specifically formulated with maximum hydration in mind. This generally means higher electrolyte content, less sugar, and less artificial flavouring.

Because the emphasis is on hydration rather than popularity, they will often have an unpleasant taste. But when the goal is to maximise rehydration, then a specific electrolyte drink or additive is more effective. Electrolyte drinks are readily available from a pharmacy.
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The Final Word

Cricket is a unique physical and mental challenge made more difficult by the length of the game and the hot conditions you often have to play in. To perform at your best, you need to be able to maintain your hydration and energy levels for the duration of the game.

You need to plan your energy and fluid consumption to match how it will be spent throughout the day. Each player will have different water, electrolyte and carbohydrate requirements depending on their role in the team. But for the most efficient rehydration, specific electrolyte drinks and additives are your go to solution.

Energy and fluid loss through sweating is part of the game and every player faces the same challenge. It is the player that can maximise their energy and hydration levels that will have the advantage and perform at a higher level.
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