Sugars and liquids in endurance events

1. 3. 2020

It is easy to say eat lots of sugar and drink plenty of liquids. However, this is very general, and if not done correctly, it might accelerate collapse.

Sugars and liquids in endurance events

In my lectures, I compare the human body to a city. Let's imagine cells in the body as being individual households in a city. Somewhere on the outskirts of this city is a power plant with plenty of fuel (coal, water, wind …), which produces energy. Although the power plant can produce as much energy as you need, without enough voltage, you won’t be able to even turn on a reading light in your living room.

It works the same way in the body. Sugars can be used as fuel for our power plant, which is the liver. We can make a lot of energy through metabolic functions, but it all goes to waste if the energy can’t flow through the body. Where power networks have high voltage power lines, our bodies rely on electrolytes. These are fluids with electrically charged particles (ions) that can conduct electricity and serve as a way of transmitting necessary energy to the cells in our bodies.

Basically, we have two electrolytes – intracellular (inside each cell) where the main ion is potassium, and intercellular, where sodium is the main ion. Any physical activity increases our cells’ need for oxygen, accelerates and deepens breathing and increases blood circulation. The body begins to cool by sweating. Perhaps you have noticed that sweat is salty (from the main electrolyte – sodium). Most sweat is an intercellular electrolyte, which thus disappears from the body. This causes the body to lose power and potential, and could eventually lead to collapse, unconsciousness, or even death.

I often hear at races that the best drink for thirst is „clean“ water. But the opposite is true. Let's imagine that we are completely exhausted and thirsty. And now we pour the rest of our precious electrolyte (sodium) into a container. What happens when we add only water to this container? The sodium we desperately just gets diluted even more. This will only speed up the exhaustion process. For this reason, when under high physical stress, any liquids we consume should only be replenished with ionic beverages. “Clean” water in crucibles and endurance races should only be used for pouring on the body to cool it off.

Jakub Kubíček

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