Think Your Drink

When it comes to hydrating purposes, what’s better – water or sports drinks? This question often arises when it comes to choosing what to drink during practice or athletic competition. Sports drinks are extremely popular thirst quenchers and training aides. Depending on the brand, a sports drink typically contains a form of simple carbohydrates (sugars), potassium and sodium (electrolytes), and water – all necessary elements for sustained, high intensity activity. Water hydrates; electrolytes enhance the absorption of water and glucose and assist in maintaining blood volume; carbohydrates provide energy for activity. All great substances, but there’s a caveat. 

runners-1438373-639x239When to Power-up with Powerade (or similar drink).

As a general rule, activities lasting less than 60 minutes do not necessiate the use of a sports drinks as a re-hydration tool. However, research has long supported the use of sports drinks for activity lasting over 60 minutes. When compared to water, sports drinks significantly boost an athlete’s endurance due to the carbohydrate concentration and electrolyte balance.  During practice or competition, an athlete loses fluid (99% water and ~1% electrolytes) through the processes of sweating and breathing. After 2-4 hours of continuous exertion, electrolyte and carbohydrate replacement becomes increasingly important; hot weather also increases the need for electrolyte and sugar replacement. Dehydration and energy depletion will negatively impact an athlete’s performance. In order to off-set the impact of heavy exercise, sports drinks and/or gels are indicated to replenish what is lost to allow the athlete to successfully complete the practice or event. Another benefit of sports drinks is the wide variety of flavors available, which may entice the athlete to drink more fluids and avoid a dehydrated state.

When to Reach for Water deer-park-bottles-1478083-640x480

While certain sports drinks offer many benefits to those who engage in heavy and prolonged activity, they are not always the best or healthiest choice for the recreational individual. The growing popularity, availability, and variety of sports drinks have influenced individuals to consume these products on a daily basis – even during sedentary activities. Generally, consuming sports drinks during non-active times is not cause for alarm; however, being aware of the quantity and calories being consumed is wise.

Depending on the brand and variety of sports drink, a normal 32-ounce beverage contains four, eight ounce servings and has 50 calories per serving. In addition, each eight ounce serving contains 14g of sugars and 110mg of sodium. If one were to consume the entire 32-ounce beverage, he or she could take in an excess of 200 calories, 56g of sugar, and 440mg of sodium. Now that is something to pay attention to! For those trying to maintain a healthy caloric intake or manage body weight, consuming sports drink products on a daily basis could create some real barriers to success. This is not to say that sports drinks cannot be part of a healthy diet; of course they can! But in order for that to be true, being mindful of what the drink contains is critical.

Be Sports Drink Savvy

Here are some tips to help keep the consumption healthy, balanced, and reasonable.

  • Pour single servings (8 ounces) of the beverage in to smaller cups. This will encourage portion control.
  • Mix half a serving (4 ounces) with cold water and ice. This will cut the sugar and calories in half and still give water flavor.
  • Consume adequate amounts of water throughout the day before enjoying a few sips of your favorite sports drink; try not to rely on these types of beverages for your hydration needs. Water is often the best tool.
  • Evaluate why consuming sports beverages is appealing to you. If it is simply because water seems bland, try making your own “sports drink” by using fresh fruit to flavor water or combine part real fruit juice (100% orange juice works well) with cold water and green tea. Mix and enjoy!

Stay smart about your thirst quenching practices. It’s All About That Balance.


Erin Nitschke

Passionate wife, mother, college educator, writer, blogger, and health and fitness professional.


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