By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Should a racewalker drink sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade, energy drinks like Gatorade, or just plain water?
When Water is Right
Water is a racewalker's drink of choice when working out 90 minutes or less: With less than 90 minutes of exercise, the goal is to replace fluid lost and keep hydrated, and that can be accomplished with plain water. Yet, if a racewalker likes the taste of the sports beverages and if it will get them to take in more fluid, then I'm perfectly okay with that instead of water, even if the workout is less than 90 minutes.
However, take a look at the calories in the sports beverage that you choose. If you're looking to loseweight and you're racewalking for just 30 minutes at a time, do you really need an extra 100-150 calories instead of zero calories for water?
Energy drinks like Gatorade are different than sports drinks. They are more than simply fluid replacement. They are carbohydrate replacement in fluid form. They are not necessary for 90 percent of racewalkers, especially recreational racewalkers. They can work for long distance walkers who need to replace carbohydrate in a liquid form.
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, the Director of the Sports Medicine Nutrition Department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. She says, "Sometimes an athlete is looking for a beverage that will help speed recovery from exercise or assist with carbohydrate intake. In this case, energy drinks that deliver a high carbohydrate formula without unnecessary ingredients are advantageous. Liquid carbohydrate sources are convenient, easy to consume, and can help eliminate the discomfort associated with eating large quantities of food."
If you choose these type of energy replacement drinks because you are a marathon walker make sure that the drink doesn't have any extra ingredients that you don't want such as caffeine or herbal stimulants.
Bonci says, "Caffeine is not a fuel source for active muscle and even though it may provide a boost of perceived energy, the effect is shortlived."
Can You Drink Too Much Water?
You may have heard about marathon walkers who suffer from: drinking too much water. Although not that common, it has been seen more. often with the growth of the charity marathons encouraging the seven-hour plus walkers and joggers: The condition is called hyponatremia (depletion of salt in the blood from oversaturating the cells with water). It happens when the walker takes many hours to finish the race and is taking in only water, usually at every single water stop.
The solution for these long-distance walkers -- drink a sports drink like Gatorade instead of only water. Racewalkers who exercise 90 minutes or less per day will do well to drink plenty of plain water during their workouts, saving the sports drinks for their long walk of the week.
Choosing Your Beverage -- Some Guidelines from Bonci: