MPH Blog

Should I Drink Water or a Sports Drink?

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:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium

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.