Exercise And Sugar Myths About Water For Athletes And Caffeine And Athletes

The relationship between food intake and athletic performance is delicate, and rumors abound about the possibility that shifting certain aspects of your diet might dramatically improve your athletic skills, strength, endurance or focus.

These rumors circulate most often among athletes who are highly motivated to find whatever advantages or shortcuts they can on the sports field, and many of these rumors seem to revolve around water, sugar and caffeine. Can water actually diminish your athletic skills? Can caffeine make you stronger or more coordinated? In both cases the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. In fact, even sugary snacks can have a place in an athlete’s healthy diet.

Here are three things you didn’t know about connections between water and athletes, caffeine and sports performance and exercise and sugar.

1. Too Much Water for Athletes Can Be Deadly

Water hydration is a vital component of overall health, especially for athletes. For most athletic activities, water provides all the hydration athletes need to maintain physical function and proper coordination between nerve cells and muscle cells. In some circumstances, however, water may not be enough and may even be harmful. These situations occur after athletes have been engaged in sustained, strenuous motion for a long time, usually about an hour and a half or more.

During high endurance activities, large amounts of fluid are lost through the sweat glands and the ordinary process of respiration. These fluids contain salts, sugars and other minerals in addition to water, and replacing them with water alone can dilute the minerals that remain in the body. In severe cases, this can lead to water toxicity, which can be deadly.

After more than an hour and a half of sustained activity, endurance athletes should limit water intake to 17-25 ounces per hour, and consider substituting sports drinks with added minerals and electrolytes.

2. Caffeine Can Boost Sports Performance

Before running a marathon on a hot day, a cup of coffee may not seem very appetizing, but coffee may actually help improve athletic performance during activities that require long-term endurance. Caffeine can help mobilize fat stores and help muscles use fat as fuel, which can preserve glycogen stores for longer periods of time. Caffeine may also alter your perception of fatigue and may combat pain and inflammation.

Unfortunately, like any other drug, caffeine also carries several potentially negative side effects. Consult with your doctor before adding caffeine or any other drug to your regimen.

3. Exercise and Sugar Can Work Together

In a majority of cases, consuming sugar before you exercise does not actually hurt your performance and can even provide a burst of beneficial energy. However, some sugar-sensitive athletes are prone to problems with crashes and rebound hypoglycemia.

Whatever the case, it’s better to consume sugary snacks within a few minutes, rather than hours, of engaging in athletic activity, before the body begins to release the insulin that contributes to a crash. In spite of the benefits of sugar, most experts still recommend slow burning sugars, like oatmeal, rather than candy.


Clark, N. (2009). Frequently asked sports nutrition questions. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from http://www.epru-archive.com/news/news-and-events.php?n=993

Jenky. (1995). Caffeine and the athlete. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/caffeine.html

Nutrition Man. (2008). Effect of sugar on athletes. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from http://www.peakperformancenutrition.info/effect-of-sugar-on-athletes/

ScienceDaily. (2009). Caffeine reduces pain during exercise, study shows. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090330200831.htm