Hey, Gatorade: your marketing in the ’90s was genius. Thanks to you, everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike.” If drinking Gatorade was one of Michael Jordan’s tricks to being able to dunk from the free throw line and become renowned as the greatest athlete of all time, then maybe the rest of us could make our dreams come true by doing the same.
These days, plenty of those same wanna-be super-athletes are still gulping down the iconic sports drink, on the marathon circuit or in between layups. But according to science, there might be an even better beverage for endurance—and it consists of just two ingredients that pretty much everyone has in the kitchen.
A few months ago, researchers at the University of Bath in England tested the effects of drinking water, water mixed with sucrose (also known as plain old table sugar), and glucose-based sports drinks on 14 male long-distance cyclists. (Both sucrose and glucose are simple carbs that provide the same amount of energy, but the body processes each differently.) They found that ingesting sucrose and glucose can reduce fatigue—but sugar water was the most effective at enhancing the subjects’ stamina. (They estimated efficiency of carbohydrate use by measuring the difference between carbon dioxide exhaled and oxygen used during exercise with each drink.)
Drinks comprised of sucrose seemed to minimize gut discomfort, too. Since table sugar is made up of a combination of glucose and fructose, the study suggests that blending different sources of sugars makes them easier and quicker to absorb from the gut.
Researchers say that long-distance athletes might want to consider sucrose-based drinks for staying comfortable during their workouts—and maximizing their performance in the process. Certain beverages, including some versions of Gatorade, do use sucrose, as well as dextrose, a form of glucose. But keeping it simple with homemade sugar water could be way more beneficial than swigging sports drinks, which often have artificial flavors.
Keep in mind that the study is very limited since they only worked with a small, select sample group that performed a very specific exercise. But since the “sports drink” being touted here is only sugar and water, it might be worth trying it for yourself to see if it works for you. The researchers’ recommendation: when exercising for longer than two-and-a-half hours, take about two teaspoons of sugar diluted in a half-cup of water. Whatever you do, researchers advise not to exceed more than a half-cup of sugar per hour. If you ask us, that’s a lot, so it’s probably best to stay on the conservative side, especially if you’re diabetic or insulin resistant.
We wonder if this is what Stephen Curry drinks?
Photo credit: Alicia Cho