Water vs. sports drinks – Is one better for you?

Should you drink water when you exercise, or should you grab a sports drinks? We see ads all the time promoting their benefits for sports performance. Do you need their extra sugars and electrolytes? Or will water hydrate you just as well?

I’m not a nutritionist, but I have discussed this question with a number of them over the years. There is not one absolute right answer for every athlete, but I share some points to consider in this video.

Sports drinks can have a lot of calories.

Some contain 150 calories or more. That might not sound like much, but it can add up if you drink a few of them. Especially for kids who drink them throughout the day, those drinks can provide calories they just don’t need.

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The length of your training session plays a role.

For a short period of training, maybe less than an hour or 45 minutes, drinking water is usually sufficient. When training longer than that or in hotter, more humid conditions, the sports drinks can supplement the electrolytes you lose in sweat and provide sugars to help with absorbing the fluids.

Drink water throughout the day.

One of the keys with proper hydration for active people, especially if you will train outside in the heat is to hydrate throughout the day. Drink small amounts of water, not just during and after your exercise, but before and frequently throughout the day.

Don’t drink too much all at once.

There is a rare but dangerous condition called hyponatremia that can occur when people drink too much water all at once. It has mainly been seen in marathon runners. You can prevent this condition through the last tip, by drinking small amounts all day. By doing so, you avoid being very thirsty during your competition and drinking so much that it actually becomes dangerous.

Also read:
4 tips for training and competing in the heat
Hydration strategies for young athletes

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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