Wednesday, July 21

Sports Drinks and Bootcamp Workouts, Friends or Foes?

by Jill Tomich, LWMC

Electrolytes. We most often get our information about them from beverage companies. Sports drinks, super waters and low-calorie thirst quenchers are a big business that has grown 48% in recent years to bring in billions of dollars to sports food and nutrition companies.

Fancy advertisements tell us we need these drinks to exercise harder, run faster and jump out of helicopters like Tom Brady. But what are we paying for anyways? What do electrolytes do? And do you need them during bootcamp workouts?

What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes found in the human body are positive or negative ions that help carry electrical impulses. Think about little bolts of lightening in your body that jump across cells to help contract your muscles, keep your heart ticking in time, and maintain fluid balance. Whenever there is an electrolyte imbalance in the body, there is less lightening.  At that point your kidneys get a phone call. "Kidneys!! We're losing electricity!! Time to rev up the engines and try to balance out the positives and negatives."  But if the loss of electrolytes in your body is substantial, your kidneys won't be able to keep up. You could experience muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or muscle spasms.

When you sweat, you lose electrolytes like sodium
When you sweat during a boot camp workout, the highest concentration of electrolytes lost are sodium and chloride. These are very common ingredients found in sports drinks. You will also likely find potassium, magnesium and calcium. You lose these electrolytes in smaller concentrations when you sweat, but they are still important for the lightening to jump from cell to cell.

Do you need sports drinks during bootcamp classes?
During a typical 60 minute Ultimate Bootcamp workout, your normal diet of whole, nutritious foods should provide enough electrolytes (sodium, chloride, plus the others listed above) to keep you balanced and performing at your maximum. The caveat? You also need to be properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.  Starting an outdoor exercise class thirsty or dehydrated is always a recipe for a 60 minute struggle ahead.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule. If you're a heavy sweater (losing more than 2% of your body weight during workouts) or are a salty sweater (creating white salt marks on your clothes) or weather conditions are much warmer/humid than normal during a 60 minute boot camp class, you might need to consume additional electrolytes.  2-3 hours before the workout salted nuts, dill pickles or a bit of natural tomato juice might be the boost your body needs to stay balanced.  These are whole foods that provide other nutrients as well as carbohydrates to fuel your workout. An alternative if you're in a rush is a sports drink. Just be aware of additional calories you might be consuming or artificial sweeteners that might trigger feelings of hunger.

What about 90 minute Saturday boot camp workouts?
When workouts exceed 60 minutes, it's difficult for the body to maintain the lightening bolts. Your kidneys have probably done a good job keeping your electrolyte levels balanced so far, but now they're working overtime.  Your body needs an outside source of electrolytes. Without sodium and chloride, your body is having difficulty retaining fluids, including that jug of water you're carrying around.

You might "hit a wall", become very fatigued all of a sudden, or begin to experience muscle cramps at minute 60, 75 or 90 of your workout - every body is different.  These red flags are telling your body to SLOW DOWN. Something isn't quite right.

To recover, foods with sodium and chloride PLUS carbohydrates for fuel - like a handful of pretzels - can be a great remedy.  Next time you exercise for these longer periods of time, a sports drink that contains electrolytes and carbohydrates might be a good companion. As could any number of sports performance powders, gummies and gels. But always be an educated consumer. Look at the ingredients list for hidden sugars or artificial colors that might hinder your "A-game".

The bottom line...
is that in a 60 minute boot camp class most folks won't require additional electrolytes above and beyond what they get in their healthy diet. When the intensity, heat or duration of the workouts are kicked up a notch, it might be beneficial to consume more electrolytes before, during or after exercising - especially if you experience muscle cramps, nausea or dizziness.  While whole, nutritious foods are preferred for their additional vitamins, minerals and carbohydrate content, the right sports drink can also keep the lightening bright for your boot camp workouts.

Jill Tomich is co-founder of Greater Boston's Ultimate Bootcamp and is a certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant and Fitness Trainer. In her spare time, she also runs a bridal fitness and diet website at

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