Sports Drinks or Plain Water?

Photo Credit: saw2th CC-BY-SA-2.0 2007

Is it better to drink plain water or a sports drink when exercising? Water is essential for life. It is critical that you remain hydrated before, during and after exercise.  Minerals, such as potassium, are lost during exercise. Plain water does not contain all the nutrients you use up when exercising, but it is absorbed more rapidly than other drinks. Some sports drinks can provide lost nutrients and electrolytes if you engage in strenuous exercise lasting more than 60 to 90 minutes. A good rule is to drink water or a sports drink before, during and after exercising. Drink about 8 ounces of water or a sports drink every 20 minutes during exercise. 
Plain water is the best way to stay hydrated, because it is absorbed faster than sports drinks. Unlike water, many sports drinks provide carbohydrates for energy and replenish minerals to restore your electrolyte balance. When you sweat, your body loses sodium, potassium and magnesium. Water can re-hydrate your body but not replenish lost minerals. The carbohydrates in some sports drinks can also help to replenish your blood glucose levels for extra energy when you need it. Read the label when choosing a sports drink. Ideally, the carbohydrates in a sports drink should be fructose, sucrose or glucose based. Check the calories in the drink as well. Most sports drinks contain few calories, but if you are counting calories avoid drinks with high-calories.

You can make your own sports drink at home. Mix 1/2 plain water with 1/2 fruit juice for medium intensity exercise. Add 1/3 water to 2/3 fruit juice for more strenuous exercise to replace more lost minerals and for extra glucose for energy. You can mix your favorite juice with water. Natural grape juice, apple juice and orange juice all contain the minerals, vitamins and sugars needed to replenish your lost energy and electrolytes. Avoid using carbonated water and steer clear of juice “drinks.” Most juice drinks contain a small amount of natural juice and are high in sugar and calories. 
For more information about exercise and hydration, see:

WebMD, What To Drink When You Exercise, by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, 2007

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About Robin R.
I’m an AFPA certified personal trainer & nutrition consultant, NASM certified corrective exercise specialist, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I specialize in weight loss, functional strength training, total body toning, aerobic conditioning, plyometric training, nutrition planning, and home-based boot camp style workouts for women. My goal is to make every personal training session fun and effective for my clients. My services include both in-home personal training and online fitness coaching.

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