For years now, research has been done on the benefits of sports drinks
compared to the benefits of water when exercising. As the product of a
billion-dollar industry, sports drinks are highly marketed and pushed
as the go-to drink for activity. As research continues, it appears that
the water vs. sports drink debate is not as simple as many think. Instead
of asking “should I drink water or a sports drink?” people
are beginning to ask “when should I choose water and when should
I choose a sports drink?”
“When, Not Should”: A New Development
Sports drinks have been scrutinized for years in relation to their actual
health benefits versus their perceived benefits. Drinking an electrolyte-packed
solution that promises better endurance and performance sounds like the
better option, until studies and research highlighted the high sugar content
of most sports drinks. While water is the safer, calorie-free option,
both have their pros and cons. The true benefit of either depends heavily
on the individual and the amount of exercise they are doing.
Questions to ask when choosing between water or a sports drink:
- Am I participating in short or prolonged exercise?
- Am I a “salty sweater”?
These two questions can help determine whether you should drink water or
a sports drink. Sports drinks were originally manufactured specifically
for a university football team undergoing strenuous practices and constant
exercise. This lifestyle does not reflect the average American’s
workout routine. As a general rule of thumb, sports drinks are more beneficial
if you are exercising a.) Beyond 60 minutes or b.) At high intensity or
c.) If you sweat a lot during your exercise. If none of these apply to
you, keep it simple and stick to water!
Breaking It Down
Sports drinks are packed with electrolytes. While that sounds energetic,
most people don’t know what electrolytes really are, or what they
do for the body.
Take a look at a basic list of electrolytes:
Electrolytes help your body absorb fluids. Sodium and potassium are the
most beneficial electrolytes in this respect. Choosing a sports drink
that has the right amount of sodium is crucial to successful rehydration.
Those undergoing training for longer periods or who sweat more than the
average person may benefit from a drink with more sodium in it.
How Much Is Too Much?
There are a few ways to keep tabs on your hydration levels throughout the
day and while exercising. One of the easiest ways to see how hydrated
you are is to take the “pee test”. When you urinate, check
the color—it should look like light lemonade. If it is any darker,
you are dehydrated. Any lighter, and you could be over-hydrated.
Another way to determine how much fluid to drink in a day is to take your
weight and divide it by two. The resulting number represents how many
fluid ounces you should consume in a day. Remember, you get lots of hydration
through your food as well, especially vegetables and fruits. If you are
exercising on any given day, drink 2-3 more cups of fluid beforehand.
One last way to identify your hydration level is to measure the rate at
which you sweat. Weigh yourself before exercise, then after again to see
how much fluid you have lost. Replenish every pound lost with approximately
2.5 cups of fluid.
Rehydration Is All About Knowing Your Unique Needs
Staying hydrated is an important aspect of your health and wellness. The
best thing you can do for your body during exercise is figure out what
it needs to refuel and rehydrate. Depending on your situation, you might
need a sports drink. In most cases, unless you are participating in a
marathon, intense workout, or football game, water should be just fine.
This article contains general information about medical conditions and
treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as
such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis
of a physician.
If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should
consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.