There are three very important principles to sports nutrition:

  • Stay well hydrated,
  • Provide fuel to working muscles
  • Recover properly after training.

If all athletes applied these three key principles to their nutrition plan, improvements to training and performance would surely follow.  Yet for so many athletes, one or all of these key components are left behind.

Research in many different sports suggest that sweat losses resulting in a body mass loss greater than 2% of the pre-event body mass has a negative effect on athletic performance.  So, we know that avoiding fluids during activity is a bad idea, but does what we drink also make a difference?  Is drinking a sports drink better than water or is water sufficient?

Considering what we know about the high sweat rate of hockey players, consuming a sport drink, which contains carbohydrate, sodium and other electrolytes may be a better pick.  Yet, a 2008 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that many elite and professional ice hockey players choose to drink water over a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution during their on-ice practices.  So why is that?  Does it just taste better?  Is it the fact that many coaches only have water available for the players?

A more recent study set out to investigate that answer.  Palmer, et al set out to determine whether having only a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution to drink, compared with water only, during practice decreased fluid intake or affected other hydration and/or sweat measurements in elite players of an Ontario Hockey League.  What they found is that when players were limited to only a carbohydrate containing electrolyte solution they did not decrease their fluid intake during practice.   They also found that drinking the CES (carbohydrate containing electrolyte solution) improved sodium balance, and provided the players with some carbohydrate. Considering carbohydrates are the fuel that may help offset fatigue for later stages of practice, providing sports drinks during practice seems a logical answer.

The ultimate goal is to stay hydrated and fueled during practice.  To do this properly:

  • Begin practice well hydrated and fueled
    • Drink about 5-7 mL/kg body weight of water or sports beverage at least 4 hours before practice.
    • Have a salty snack a few hours before practice
  • For practices lasting >1 hour, a sports beverage that contains 6%-8% carbohydrate solution is recommended.
    • Hydrate and fuel during breaks or between shifts
    • Try to drink ½ cup- 1 cup of sports drink every 15 minutes during activity
  • Rehydrate after practice
    • Check your weight before and after practice to find out how much water weight is lost during exercise. Drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.
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