The effects of consuming carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages on gastric emptying and fluid absorption during and following exercise

Sports Med. Sep-Oct 1987;4(5):322-51. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198704050-00002.


A variety of beverages formulated to provide fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes during and following exercise are commercially available. Such 'sport drinks' commonly contain 4 to 8% carbohydrate (as glucose, fructose, sucrose or maltodextrins) and small amounts of electrolytes (most often sodium, potassium, and chloride). The efficacy of consuming such beverages has been questioned primarily because of concern that beverage carbohydrate content may inhibit gastric emptying rate and fluid absorption during exercise, thereby jeopardizing physiological homeostasis and impairing exercise performance. Gastric motor activity, and consequently gastric emptying rate, is governed by neural and humoral feedback provided by receptors found in the gastric musculature and proximal small intestine. Gastric emptying rate may be influenced by a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the caloric content, volume, osmolality, temperature, and pH of the ingested fluid, diurnal and interindividual variation, metabolic state (rest/exercise), and the ambient temperature. The caloric content of the ingested fluid appears to be the most important variable governing gastric emptying rate, providing a mean caloric efflux from the stomach of 2.0 to 2.5 kcal/min for ingested fluid volumes less than 400 ml. At rest, gastric emptying is inhibited by solutions containing calories in a manner independent of the nutrient source (i.e. carbohydrate, fat or protein). Consequently, plain water is known to empty from the stomachs of resting subjects at rates faster than solutions containing calories. Gastric emptying is increasingly inhibited as the caloric content of the ingested fluid increases. During moderate exercise (less than 75% VO2max), gastric emptying occurs at a rate similar to that during rest; more intense exercise appears to inhibit gastric emptying. When fluids are consumed at regular intervals throughout prolonged exercise (greater than 2 hours), postexercise aspiration of stomach contents reveals that solutions containing up to 10% carbohydrate empty at rates similar to plain water. There is ample physiological justification for the addition of glucose, fructose, sodium, potassium and chloride to fluid replacement beverages. Fluid absorption in the small intestine is stimulated by glucose and sodium (and to a lesser extent by fructose and other electrolytes). Glucose and sodium are absorbed via a common membrane carrier in the mucosal epithelium of the proximal small intestine. The potentiation of sodium uptake by glucose establishes an osmotic gradient for fluid absorption.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Beverages*
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Electrolytes / administration & dosage*
  • Gastric Emptying*
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Electrolytes