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When, Why, and How to Take Advantage of Chilled Drinks for Hydration

There’s a reason that if you watch the Olympic Games closely, you’ll notice that some teams aren’t just swigging water from water bottles. Rather, they appear to be sipping slushies—that refreshing combination of water and ice that many of us remember from when we were kids. It turns out that this frozen water is more than just a tasty treat, it can be a good way to cool off athletes during hot practices and games.

And there’s good news for coaches on limited budgets: You don’t need to spring for a slushie machine to take advantage of the benefits of chilled drinks. Here, TrueSport Expert Stephanie Miezin, MS, RD, CSSD, and Director of Nutrition at Canyon Ranch, shares some tips for how to best use chilled drinks to improve your athletes’ performance, as well as their comfort during hot competitions and practices.

Do chilly drinks actually make a difference when it comes to training in the heat?

“The short answer is yes,” says Miezin. “Research does show us that having chilled beverages—an iced beverage or a slushie-type drink—can help with exercise performance, especially in the heat.”

The way chilled beverages help is by first providing that refreshing feeling for an athlete, especially on a brutally hot day. But the more research-backed reason is based on core body temperature, says Miezin. “Part of the mechanism at work is that a chilled beverage decreases core temperature slightly, and that decrease in core temperature is what helps an athlete have better temperature regulation, and therefore, better performance.”

However, she doesn’t recommend trying to test temperature for athletes. Unless you have access to core temperature monitors that are swallowed by the athletes, you’re not going to be able to tell if an athlete’s temperature is dropping.

What temperature does it have to be outside before chilled beverages are helpful?

Most indoor activities (with the exception of ice-based sports) are going to be in areas that are warm enough to warrant access to chilled beverages for athletes. Outdoors, there are many factors at play, and it’s impossible to give a specific temperature recommendation as far as how hot it needs to be before adding ice to your communal water jug.

An athlete should consider swapping their lukewarm water for a slushie or chilled drink when it is clear that training or competition is going to happen in a hot and/or hot and humid environment where they would expect to sweat, Miezin says. “We might see the most benefit from slushies and cold beverages when we get a head start and have an athlete drink them before starting to exercise in those environments,” she explains. Drinking slushies and cold drinks during training or competition can absolutely help as well, and it is likely best to have these drinks both before and during the activity for the greatest cooling effects.

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