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... if caffeine can boost your physical performance? Maybe-and maybe not. People react to caffeine in different ways. Caffeine does stimulate the central nervous system, so it may help you feel more alert and attentive. And it may enhance your performance.

For caffeine-sensitive athletes, caffeine may exacerbate pre-event anxiety and its symptoms. Although caffeine may have a mild diuretic effect that may not last long, noncaffeinated beverages are advised when rapid rehydration is needed, perhaps between tournament events. That's also an issue in hot weather and for endurance athletes.

If you enjoy coffee, tea, or soft drinks with caffeine, experiment during training, not competition. A single cup may help-or at least not hinder-your performance. But avoid caffeine tablets or several cups of caffeinated drinks. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) limits caffeine concentration to no more than 15 micrograms per milliliter of urine. You likely won't reach this level from caffeine in food (equivalent to seventeen caffeinated, 12-ounce sodas). But athletes who consume three 200-mg caffeine tablets may exceed this limit. Beginning in 2004 the International Olympic Committee no longer prohibited caffeine but monitors caffeine content in urine instead.

If you drink caffeinated beverages, drink enough other fluids, too. Despite any mild, short-term diuretic effects of caffeine, caffeinated beverages contribute to total fluid intake. Caffeine doesn't cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. For more about caffeine, see "Drinks: With or without Caffeine?" in chapter 8.

a benefit for high-intensity activity (perhaps sprinting or playing hockey) lasting thirty minutes or more.

Glucose (simple form of carbohydrate), in sports drinks is a more immediate fuel, or energy, source for working muscles. It may help prevent muscle glyco-gen from depleting too fast and so help lengthen performance time. (Muscle glycogen is carbohydrate stored in muscle.) Glucose in sports drinks also helps fluid get out of the gut and into the bloodstream.

Compared to juice or soft drinks, sports drinks are more diluted. This means that the fluid and glucose in a sports drink can be absorbed and used more readily by the body. If you'd like to see if a drink has about 6 percent carbohydrate, use this formula:

  • Find the carbohydrate grams and serving size (in milliliters—mL) on the label (8 ounces is about 240 mL).
  • Divide the carbohydrate grams by the serving size (in mL) and multiply by 100 to determine the percent of carbohydrate.
  • Example: 14 grams carbohydrate/240 mL X 100 = 6%

Besides fluid and energy, sports drinks supply electrolytes. As you perspire, your body loses very small amounts of sodium and other electrolytes. For most athletes, a normal diet replaces what's lost. But endurance athletes perspire much more, so they're at greater risk for sodium depletion. Sodium and other electrolytes in sports drinks may be beneficial. During exercise that's longer than 60 minutes, or for exercise performed in high heat or humidity, drinks with electrolytes help to enhance fluid absorption. See "Electrolytes: Sweat 'Em!" later in this chapter.

You don't lose vitamins when you sweat, so you don't need sports drinks with extra vitamins. The extra food you eat for more food energy also provides any extra B vitamins you need for energy production.

If you're an endurance athlete, experiment with sports drinks and other fluids during practices and low-key competition. If the flavor of sports drinks encourages you to drink more fluids—or if they give you a psychological boost—enjoy them, but don't overdo. Watching your weight? Remember: They supply calories.

"Energy" Drinks? These drinks typically contain more carbohydrates than commercial sport drinks.

They're also usually higher in caffeine. Since they aren't formulated for athletes' needs, they aren't advised for use during exercise.

Fruit Juice or Soft Drinks? Compared with sports drinks, sugars in soft drinks and fruit juice are more concentrated: 10 to 15 percent carbohydrate. They aren't recommended during exercise because of their high sugar content and, for soft drinks, their carbona-tion. Drinks with a lot of sugar take longer to be absorbed, and they may cause cramps, diarrhea, or nausea. Carbonation can make you feel full and make your throat burn, so you drink less fluid.

You can dilute fruit juice—if you like the flavor. Unlike sports drinks, diluted fruit juice doesn't provide sodium; depending on how much it's diluted, it may not contain enough "carbs" to help the athlete. Alcoholic Drinks: Not Now! Alcoholic beverages can impair, not enhance, your physical performance. Consider the reasons to skip alcoholic drinks—at least until after you replenish the fluids lost in your workout:

  • If you're looking for a carbohydrate source, look elsewhere. A 12-ounce can of beer has less than a third of the "carbs" provided by a 12-ounce serving of orange juice. Calories from alcohol don't fuel muscles.
  • Alcohol may have a short-term diuretic effect. It works as a depressant, affecting your brain's ability to reason and make judgments and perhaps your reaction time. And it may impair your coordination, balance, muscle reflexes, and visual perception.
  • For the endurance athlete it has another effect: When you drink a beer, wine, or mixed drink, your liver works to detoxify and metabolize the alcohol. This process can interfere with the liver's job of forming extra blood glucose for prolonged physical activity. The possible result? Early fatigue.

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