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Drinking Away Your Progress

Drinking Feature

Who doesn’t want to drip colorful beverages while slam dunking from 15 feet out? Sure, sports drinks have their place (in sports) but if you’re guzzling Gatorade, or something similar, in the gym, you may just be drinking away your progress.

By Robert Fure

If you’re heading to the gym frequently, odds are you want to be bigger, faster, or smaller and stronger. When trying to gain weight, you need to up your caloric consumption, so knock yourself out with the sports drinks. However, if you want to cut some weight down, drinking energizing drinks during your workout may be wiping out some of the progress you’d otherwise be making.

To understand why, we first must understand what’s happening when you work out to lose weight. Your body runs on calories, whether they come from food or liquids. When your stomach breaks all this stuff down, it converts it into glycogen, which could be considered your fuel reserves. When you start working out, your body first depletes these reserves. Then, with nothing else to burn, your body switches over to fat cells as food. That’s the goal. Now, in the middle of a workout, when the glycogen is gone and your body wants to burn fat, if you pop open a bottle of Gatorade (depending on the size you’re going to drink between 125 and 400 calories) and flood the system, you give your body two options – work to break down the fat for fuel or just grab all that newly acquired and easily expendable fuel.

Imagine your body as a locomotive. You’ve got a wood furnace full and burning. You want to throw all the wood behind you in there to lighten the load. As you’re chugging along and its time to throw some wood on the fire, instead of taking from the pile behind you, you cut down trees along the way and toss them in. Does the pile of lumber behind you ever get any smaller? Nope. That’s what’s happening in your body when you consume calories during your workout – you ignore the fat deposits and use the immediately available calories for food. Drinking 250 calories during your workout cancels out the number of calories you would have burned in 30-40 minutes of aerobic activity. All that time spent sweating to the oldies and you’ve got nothing to show for it on the scales.

In general, you should avoid calorie filled fruit waters, sports drinks, or anything that is going to put calories into your body while you’re working out, for optimal results. There really is no need for these kinds of beverages on your weight loss diet, though if you choose to drink them, count those calories in your daily diet. Like I mentioned, if you’re trying to gain weight, or want to help maintain hydration and performance during athletic activity, these drinks are ok. Water is often your best bet in any case and to burn the most fat during a workout, go in on an empty stomach and keep working out on an empty stomach.

 
  • Adam

    Sorry Bob, but some of the facts you stated just aren’t true. What’s most important to losing weight is remaining in a calorie deficit throughout the day (you burn more than you eat). Caloric intake during your workout isn’t going to change whether or not you gain/lose weight. Drinking sports drinks are actually very important during intense workouts, as your body is losing those all important electrolytes that water just can’t replace. A side effect of losing electrolytes without replacing them (via Gatorade, etc) is becoming tired, losing focus, and other, more severe, side effects such as feeling dizzy and even nauseous. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

  • Robert

    No Adam, we wouldn’t want that. And while I agree that one of the most important things in the weight loss process is a caloric deficit, you shouldn’t ignore the science of your body and how it processes calories. Drinking something like gatorade adds calories to your diet, which must be accounted for – denying you 250 calories of food, which could be 63 calories of protein you’re missing out on.

    Also, if you’re working out long enough that you’re seriously depleting your body of electrolytes, you’re probably working out too long, potentially cannibalizing muscle during the workout. Sports drinks were invented to help people who exercised strenuously for upwards of 3 hours – a training session in the gym should be under half of that time.

    My original point, that providing your body with easily accessible calories while working out prevents the body from burning fat for fuel, is still an extremely valid one. Having a 200 calorie deficit is good, but disrupting your fat stores during exercise is far better. The November 2008 issue of Muscle & Fitness supports this view (on pg. 54).

    Thanks for reading and stimulating conversation!

  • fikco

    After each run around my park I would guzzle down gatorade in order to replace the elctrolytes. I guess that’s a wrong move. As my idea was to go on cardio to become smaller sized. Thanks Robert.

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