Sport Drinks or Water: Which is Appropriate for Hydration?

when are sports drinks appropriate for hydration

Physical fitness and vigorous workout sessions have taken the world into quite a stir. In between gymming, long practice sessions, and tedious schedules, what goes somewhat unnoticed is the hydration of the sportspersons.

Hydration in sports is one of the key parameters to be taken care of. When you sweat your body out while working out, you lose a major chunk of electrolytes and a lot of fluid stores. 

Dehydration ultimately leads to fatigue, nausea, extreme headaches, heat exhaustion and directly affects your exercise performance.

With water being the main and primary source of optimum hydration for your body, being involved in sports and daily workouts require more than just plain water. 

Sports drinks or electrolyte drinks have come up as a masterstroke for athletes and other sportspeople to replenish their lost electrolytes and obtain a sudden boost of energy.

This article is a guide as to when are sports drinks appropriate for hydration over water and why and how you must consume them in your daily schedule.

The Benefit of Sports Drinks over Water for Hydration in Sports

As we already discussed above, in sports, the body needs more than just plain water to compensate for all the losses and sports drinks or electrolyte drinks are a good substitute for that.

Here are the reasons why you should choose sports drinks over water for hydration during high-intensity training of the prolonged-time period-

  • Sports drinks provide an instant energy boost which helps both in increasing the performance capability during the session and sustaining longer hours of practice. Post-exercise, the recovery effects are tremendously positive with sports drinks.
  • Sports drinks are quite beneficial in replacing lost fluids. Although water is still the preferred and wise choice for rehydration, endurance athletes and people involved in tedious workouts may find it easier to quickly replenish themselves. Also for people who do not like plain water, sports drinks are available in various flavors.
  • The electrolyte component of sports drinks is their key advantage over water. Sports drinks are rich in major electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc. With simple plain water, replacing lost electrolytes is not enough, especially if you are into very high-intensity and long-duration workouts. 

Also Read: 7 Healthiest Electrolyte Drinks of 2022 To Fuel Your Body

Best Time to Take Sports Drinks

Sports Drinks contain elements like electrolytes which are important for athletes & can benefit them in their performance, but they should be taken during heavy workouts which last longer than an hour

The timing of consuming sports drinks depend largely on factors like-

  • Type of workout you are doing
  • How much you generally sweat
  • Duration of your workout

You might be surprised to learn that you do not only consume sports drinks during a race. You must begin as soon as you start warming up. 

Again, this facet depends on person to person. For many people, sipping on sports drinks regularly does not work out but for others, it’s just fine.

If you start your workout session in a very hot and humid environment especially if it’s high-intensity, it will be better off for you to prior prepare your body for the upcoming sweat loss and heat exhaustion. This can be done by consuming sports drinks before your workout.

You may need to consume some carbohydrates to fuel your workout, but these do not have to take the form of added sugars in your electrolyte drink. Instead, bring a snack to your workout that is less likely to cause stomach upset.

In general, most people drink electrolytes after a workout to replenish lost ones through sweating. 

Plain water can be sufficient to rehydrate after a short or low-intensity workout, but for a very long duration activity, the fluid loss is considerably more and thus the body needs quick and fast recovery supplements to rebalance.

People who are training for endurance events, such as a marathon, half marathon, or triathlon, and who do intense workouts every day must be careful to replace electrolytes to avoid entering their workouts depleted and dehydrated.

In all such situations, sports drinks are a great go-to choice for quickly replenishing the electrolyte stores and cover-up for all the water loss.

Tips to Stay Hydrated in Sports

  • Hydration should begin at least 24 hours before the event. One to two hours before the exercise, drink 2-3 – 8 oz. cups of fluid, and 15 minutes before the activity, drink 1-2 – 8 oz. cups of fluid.
  • Caffeinated beverages such as colas, coffee, tea, and energy drinks should be limited or avoided as overdosing on caffeine can be dehydrating due to its diuretic properties. 
  • During the competition, continuing to drink water and sports drinks equally will help you to stay hydrated and maintain electrolyte levels for normal muscle and nerve function.
  • Even though high temperatures can cause you to sweat more, you need to rehydrate during cooler temperatures as well.
  • Rehydrating doesn’t stop after the event – it’s necessary for 24-48 hours post-activity, so keep drinking!
  • If your urine is clear to light yellow, you are having adequate fluid and water in your daily routine. This is a quick hack to know your hydration status.

Bonus: Can we Use Electrolytes For Energy?

Bottom Line

Although sports drinks are great for hydration and energy, as a nutritionist, my advice would always be to look upon the nutrition labels before you buy any branded sports drink. Watch out for the sugar and calorie content in them and make sure you do not overconsume them.

If you are into mild and moderate exercises lasting only for a few minutes, prefer water over sports drinks.

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