Staying hydrated in the summer sun is important for everyone, not just swimmers. Three questions that I’ve received recently might also be questions that you have about hydration, so let’s provide some answers:
“My daughter, a 14-year old swimmer, not only spends hours in the pool training and competing, but also skateboards and plays beach volleyball. She is complaining of lack of energy and headaches; could it be related to her hydration habits?”
Absolutely! Of course, if headaches persist, she should discuss with her doctor, but, feeling tired and having headaches could be a sign of dehydration. With all the activities described, she needs to carry a water bottle and drink water throughout the day. She needs at minimum, 9 to 10 cups of fluids per day, and likely more, with all her activity. Buy her one of those fancy water bottles that keeps water cold all day long and encourage her to sip water throughout the day. Also, encourage water containing fruits for snacks; grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and berries are all summer fruits with a high-water content.
“I get confused about what beverages to recommend to my young swim team. As a coach, I know they should not drink sugary beverages, but when is it OK to recommend sports drinks or juice-based sports drinks that claim to have less sugar.”
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate and fuels brain and muscle, so for active swimmers, it is fine to recommend sports drinks for the right occasion and in the right amount. I like Jill Castle’s advice in her book “Eat Like a Champion,” about her “over/under rule.” If training is over an hour, suggest sports drinks. If under an hour, water is best. While it is true that beverages marketed to kids – such as flavored water sports drinks in individual pouches – contain 20% less sugar than sports drinks, the pouches are small (177 mL with 8 grams of sugar) and they use stevia, a non-nutritive sweetener to enhance the taste. Sports drinks are not as high in sugar as many think. Compare a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade or Powerade to 20-ounces of a bottled fruit smoothie. The sports drink contains 34 grams of sugar, yet the healthy-sounding fruit smoothie might contain 50 grams or more. Sports drinks are made to hydrate; carbohydrate for energy and electrolytes for replenishment.
“I’m a 17-year-old swimmer who also competes in triathlons. I’ve seen some new beverages with isomaltulose or Palatinose claiming they provide sustained energy. What is it?”
Isomaltulose is sugar with a twist. Regular table sugar (sucrose) is made up of two sugars: glucose and fructose joined together with a bond or linkage. Isomaltulose is sugar with a slight rearrangement of the linkage between glucose and fructose resulting in slower digestion of the sugar and a more stable blood sugar response. It is a full-on carbohydrate, providing the same energy as sugar, but with a slower, lower raise in blood sugar. A handful of studies show that it can improve performance in cycling and those who use it say it doesn’t cause any stomach or intestinal upset. Products that use isomaltulose (Palatinose is a brand name of isomaltulose) contain about 24 grams per bottle. I suggest trying it during a training session and see if you like the taste and results.
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at https://chrisrosenbloom.com/.