There are 10 minutes left in the game on a humid summer afternoon. The score
is 1-1, and your team has been pressing for the clinching goal. You know you
have the skills, but you just can’t seem to dig deep enough for that extra surge of
energy. Although your heart is in the game, your body can’t seem to keep up.
There seems to be nothing left in the tank. What happened?
While this is a common occurrence which could simply be chalked up to poor
conditioning, another common factor is the nutritional depletion of electrolytes
and vitamins. Your body depends on these factors for efficient muscular
contractions and nerve transmissions. Water is the carrier of these nutrients, and
thus during any exercise in which you are sweating, optimal hydration is of the
essence. Sweat is comprised mostly of water but it also contains: sodium,
chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. All of these nutrients are
essential in the biochemical process of energy production and thus must be
replaced in order to keep your body functioning at maximum capacity.
How do you know if you are losing these nutrients?
Well, if you are sweating, you are losing nutrients. In addition, if you feel thirsty,
you are already dehydrated and your electrolytes are out of balance. Thus, it is of
utmost importance to drink before you actually feel thirsty. The danger with
dehydration is that there aren’t many warning signs, but as you lose more fluids
the initial symptoms that you may experience include: thirst, dry mouth, fatigue,
weakness, head rushes, or muscle cramps. It’s pretty simple, if you are tired,
weak, and your muscles aren’t responding, how can you expect to perform?
Thus, general fluid replacement guidelines to follow are:
• 500 mL, 1 to 2 hours before an event • then 500 mL per pound of weight loss after the event. However, every athlete is different and you will have to figure out what quantity is best for your pre, during, and post-game needs. How do I replace electrolytes in a healthy way? Although sport drinks are available, they often contain chemicals, preservatives, artificial colouring, excess amounts of sugar, caffeine or stimulants such as guarana or ginseng, and if you are using them often, the cost can add up. A recipe for a simple and natural electrolyte replacement drink is: • 1 tsp of organic blackstrap molasses (or honey or pure maple syrup). Make sure to mix this with the water before adding the rest. • 1 tbsp of lemon or lime juice for flavour (optional) The benefit of molasses is that it contains all of the major nutrients that are lost in sweat including iron, as well as several B vitamins which are helpful in energy production. The rest of the ingredients ensure adequate electrolyte replacement. What snack foods to eat is another common concern for the athlete. Foods that contain essential vitamins that are often depleted as well as being easy to eat are ideal. A few great ideas include: • pumpkin / sunflower seeds, or almonds (magnesium) • orange slices (vitamin C, potassium, calcium) So, if you are looking for that missing competitive edge that will elevate your game to the next level, look no further than nutritional science. While nobody can predict the way the ball will bounce or even a questionable call by the referee, these things are out of your control. However, the foods you put into your body are completely up to you. When everything is said and done, it is your choice – do you need the soda pop and chocolate bar or is your body really asking for nutrients that will help improve your athletic performance? Game on!


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