How often should I be drinking while running?

In a 2020 study, researchers looked into whether the timing of when someone drinks their sports drink while running would affect their performance. 

How did they run the study?

Recruiting both runners and triathletes, participants were given a 10% carbohydrate solution to consume as their sports drink while exercising. One group was told to consume their 200mL drink every 20 minutes, whereas the other group drank a 50mL amount (of the same drink) every 5 minutes. Overall, both groups ended up drinking the same amount of the carbohydrate solution. 

Researchers also switched which experimental group the individuals participated in, creating a counterbalanced crossover design that would better account for any individual participant differences.

To determine whether this difference in sports drink timing would impact a runner’s performance, researchers measured their participants’ exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rate. In other words, they measured the rate at which an individual was able to metabolize the carbohydrates they were consuming.

What did they find?

They found that individuals who were consuming their sports drink at a larger volume every 20 minutes showed a higher exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rate than those who drank a smaller volume every 5 minutes. In fact, the average exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rate for those who drank every 20 minutes was 23% higher than those who drank every 5 minutes. 

It’s also important to note that there was no difference in the participants’ reports of GI symptoms for either method of drinking.

What might explain these results?

One reason for why larger volumes of fluid at lower frequencies might have produced a higher exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rate might be that the larger volume of drink created a larger bolus, aka a larger mass of consumed substance in the stomach. This larger bolus might have increased gastric pressure and thereby increased gastric emptying from the stomach to the small intestines. Increased gastric emptying would thereby allow the carbohydrates in the sports drink to reach the small intestines and be absorbed and used as fuel more quickly.

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Mears, S. A., Boxer, B., Sheldon, D., Wardley, H., Tarnowski, C. A., James, L. J., & Hulston, C. J. (2020). Sports Drink Intake Pattern Affects Exogenous Carbohydrate Oxidation during Running. Medicine and science in sports and exercise52(9), 1976–1982.

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