Carbohydrates for Fuel
All parts of the body (muscles, brain, heart, and liver) need energy to work. This energy typically comes from the food we eat which is converted to glucose. Our bodies digest the food we eat by mixing it with fluids (acids and enzymes) in the stomach. When the stomach digests food, the carbohydrate (sugars and starches) in the food breaks down into another type of sugar, called glucose. The stomach and small intestines absorb the glucose and then release it into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, glucose can be used immediately for energy or stored in our bodies, to be used later.
It turns out that this absorption step which uses the glucose-transport is key – not only for providing the most efficient way for calories/fuel to reach your bloodstream, but also for the absorption of water.
Importance of Sodium
The small intestine is where the magic happens. This is where the body absorbs fuel, electrolytes, and water. Active transport mechanisms in the small intestine literally pump glucose and fructose molecules into the bloodstream. The transport mechanisms are sodium-potassium pumps and require sodium to be present with your fuel to work, which is why you need electrolytes mixed with your fuel.
Faster Hydration Using the Glucose Transport
This pumping action also causes water to be sucked from the small intestine into the bloodstream at a rate that’s higher than if you were only drinking plain water. The combination of glucose and fructose fuels, sodium, and water results in the maximum absorption of each. And that is what all of Tailwind’s products provide.
Sure, you can drink water or water with electrolytes, but to hydrate faster and for maximal absorption, you also need a small amount of sugar to take advantage of these specialized channels in the gut. Same goes for amino acids. Although aminos can also facilitate absorption, they are not as effective as sugar.
Bottomline: electrolyte drinks without sugars do not have the same effect in absorbing sodium, making them less effective for maintaining hydration during exercise. So the next time you are looking for a drink to optimize your hydration, look for a little bit of real sugar (glucose or cane sugar) – and skip the fake stuff.
Wright EM, Loo DD. Coupling between Na+, sugar, and water transport across the intestine. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;915:54-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb05223.x. PMID: 11193601.
Loo DD, Wright EM, Zeuthen T. Water pumps. J Physiol. 2002 Jul 1;542(Pt 1):53-60. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2002.018713. PMID: 12096049; PMCID: PMC2290409.