Whether you’re a serious athlete or a recreational exerciser, it’s important to make sure you get the right amount of water before, during, and after exercise. Water regulates your body temperature and lubricates your joints. If you’re not properly hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level. You may experience fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, or more serious symptoms.
For most people, water is all that is needed to stay hydrated. However, if you’ll be exercising at a high intensity for longer than an hour, a sports drink may be helpful. The calories, potassium, and other nutrients in sports drinks can provide energy and electrolytes to help you keeping going longer.
Sports drinks have other advantages over water for athletes and exercisers that go beyond better hydration. Specifically, the calories in sports drinks have been shown to increase energy and endurance, limit the immune system suppression that sometimes follows hard workouts, reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, and promote faster recovery.
Water provides no sodium, and sodium helps the body hold onto water and helps fluid get to the right places in the body, like muscles and blood. For training over an hour at medium to high intensity, look for a drink that provides between 13-19 grams of carbohydrate per 8 oz serving, and at least 80-110 mg sodium and even more for longer duration training.
Sports drinks have three basic ingredients:
These three ingredients work to rehydrate, reenergize, and replace lost electrolytes.
The sugars in sports drinks can also help replenish the fuel you use during exercise. The body stores fuel as carbohydrates in the muscles and the liver and releases sugar into the bloodstream for instant energy. But after prolonged exercise – about an hour of intense exercise like a fast run or hard cycling – the carbohydrate stores are depleted and blood-sugar levels can drop. A steady source of sugar during strenuous exercise for an extended period can help fight off fatigue and enhance performance. With lower intensity exercise, such as jogging, it may take two hours or more before energy needs replacing.
If you’re simply an active person who plays social tennis, swims, or goes to the gym a couple of times a week, you don’t need sports drinks. However, for long periods (an hour or more) of strenuous exercise, they may be beneficial.
Brink-Elfegoun, Thibault et al. “Effects of Sports Drinks on the Maintenance of Physical Performance during 3 Tennis Matches: A Randomized Controlled Study.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11 (2014): 46. PMC. Web. 8 Dec. 2016.
Alsunni, Ahmed Abdulrahman. “Energy Drink Consumption: Beneficial and Adverse Health Effects.” International Journal of Health Sciences 9.4 (2015): 468–474. Print.
Abby Housefield, “Electrolytes for runners: The Definitive Guide”, runnersconnect.net, accessed December 2016. https://runnersconnect.net/running-nutrition-articles/electrolytes-for-runners/
Anna Schaefer, “Is Gatorade Bad For You?” healthline.com, accessed December 2016. http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-gatorade-bad-for-you
Kyle Levers, “Nature’s Gatorade: Effectivness of Coconut Water on Electrolyte and Carbohydrate Replacement”, huffinesinstitute.org, accessed December 2016.
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