Sports Drinks Vs Water - A Guide to Exercise Hydration

Author: Dr. Dana Ryan
The young man wore all parts of his body and drink water to prepare for jogging on the running track around the football field.

Staying Hydrated The Right Way
Water is an essential component for a wide variety of bodily functions, ranging from regulating temperature to lubricating joints, organs and tissues, ensuring proper cell function and maintaining the immune system. But during an intense workout or sports activity, water alone may not be enough for our body to maintain optimal performance levels.

Sports drinks can help fulfil this need, by providing excellent fuel for energy. However, not all sports drinks are good for you – know which to choose, and when to drink them.

How Dehydration Affects Your Workouts
Exercising without drinking enough fluids can be detrimental, as it leads to dehydration symptoms such as headaches, dry mouth, low energy, and muscle fatigue. Dehydration can be mentally and physically draining, limiting the quality and duration of your workout.

While water consumption should always be the first priority, sometimes our bodies need added sugars and electrolytes to maintain energy levels and hydration status during exercise.

When Should You Choose A Sports Drink Over Water?

If you are having a rest day or only engaging in a light workout, opt for water to hydrate. The rule of thumb is that workouts under 60 minutes do not require a sports drink.

On the other hand, if you have a very active day, or are carrying out sports or exercise for more than 60 minutes, a sports drink is good. It will provide your body with the necessary electrolytes to replenish the liquid lost through sweat. The more intense your workout, the more your body sweats away electrolytes, sodium, and chloride which need to be properly refuelled through high-quality sports drinks.

Sports drinks are the most convenient way to hydrate and consume key nutrients during intense exercise. A carbohydrate-electrolyte drink increases athletic performance by elevating blood sugar and maintaining high rates of carbohydrate oxidation, ultimately preventing fatigue and reducing perceived exertion.

What To Look For In A Sports Drink?
Though there are many ‘enriched water’ products out there in the market, not all are healthy. It is important to check the nutrition label to understand the ingredients, to ensure a right balance of nutrients your body actually needs. For a 240ml sports drink, it should contain only about 8-16g of sugars (from glucose and sucrose, in a 3-6% carbohydrate solution), as well as 80-160mg of sodium. These two are the most important ingredients – other additions such as electrolytes or vitamins are a bonus.

Do keep in mind that sugar isn’t necessarily bad in a sports drink, if taken correctly for its functional use as an energiser. However, if your exercise is not intense enough to use up the necessary quantity of nutrients and water, sports drinks can add excess calories to your diet.

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This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Before embarking on any physical activity, please consult your physician.