Sports drinks and energy drinks have become a popular substitute for water. They are sold in almost every grocery store, department store and pharmacy. Sports drinks are advertised in most sports magazines and all sports television.
But what about the controversy of sports drinks vs water? Which is better?
Gatorade is one of the most universally known sports drinks and is available in different colors and flavors that will satisfy most taste buds. There are other sports drinks that are on the market that have differing amounts of electrolytes and additives. All reportedly improve athletic performance.
In 1965 a group of specialists from the University of Florida began pioneering sports drinks to encourage their athletes to fight tired muscles without performance-enhancing drugs. What they found is that athletes who used the sports drinks became dependent upon them. Research found that after having used energy drinks 90 percent of athletes then preferred them to water after a tiring activity.
The original intent of sports drinks was to be used during an activity to help the athlete continue and not to refuel after an activity. Post athletic activity refueling is important and can be accomplished successfully without the addition of the empty calories found in sports drinks. In fact drinking them without exercising intensely will lead to quick weight gain, often the opposite effect that a client is trying to achieve.
But sports drinks vs water? Sports drinks are not an alternative to water, which is the major component of the body. They are stimulants, which help the athlete to continue to work, but they will never replace re-hydration with water. In fact, using a sports drink after an activity without also using water will lead to dehydration.
Most sports drinks contain carbohydrates to fuel muscles and supplements to replenish fluids and nutrients. There are three types of drinks. Isotonic that sustains energy for middle and long distance events; hypotonic that are best for jockeys and gymnasts; and hypertonic for ultra distance events and used with isotonic drinks.
The difference in each of these sports drinks is the amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes. The higher the level of these additives the slower they empty from your stomach and the longer you feel full.
So which is better: sports drinks vs water?
The answer lies in the amount of time you’ll be exercising, your drink preferences, and your pre-exercise hydration level.
Water hydrates best for people who are exercising between 25 and 45 minutes. Only the true endurance athletes really need sports drinks to replace their sodium loss from sweat. If you are exercising for 30 minutes you won’t need to hydrate during the workout unless you are outside in high heat. If you are going for 45 minutes water will hydrate you and maintain your performance.
Only you can answer this question best for your situation. You know your program. Use the drink that will help you perform the best.
Men’s Fitness: Sports drinks vs. Water
FitDay: Sports Drinks vs Water: Which is Better for Exercise
Running Competitor: Hydration 101
Harvard Health Publication: Trade Sports Drinks for Water
AARP: What Water Works Best For Workouts
Washington Post: Hydration: Water vs Sports Drinks
Penn State: Probing Questions: Are Sports Drinks Better than Water for athletes