While most people understand the importance of staying hydrated during a workout, it’s not always so clear what they should drink when exercising. Even though plain water ranks as the classic choice, the shelves of the store everywhere are full of various fortified and flavored waters, energy drinks, and sports drinks. So what’s the thirsty exerciser to do?
According to the experts, what you drink depends largely on your particular tastes, as well as the duration and intensity of a workout. Here’s how the different types of drinks match up.
Unflavored or Flavored Water
For some, plain water offers all the flavor they need to stay hydrated during a strenuous workout. However, others may not particularly enjoy drinking something without flavor regardless of the situation. The bottom line is staying hydrated, so you should drink whichever type of water will encourage you to drink more as you exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking flavored beverages during and after workouts to help promote fluid replacement and to enhance palatability. As a general rule, anytime you exercise for longer than 1.5 hours, you need to replace the fluids lost from sweat. How much a person will generally sweat depends on the amount of potassium and sodium lost during a workout.
The longer and harder you exercise, the more rehydration you’ll need during and after working out. Strenuous exercise can even rob your body of minerals that keep your energy levels high and able to work out for longer durations. During these types of workouts, you might want to consider the use of sports drinks.
While flavors and brands can vary, all sports drinks offer your body three basic things during and after working out.
- Hydration. You need to consume at least 17 ounces of fluid for every two hours you spend exercising to adequately rehydrate the body, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. The college also recommends that you start the process of rehydrating early in your workout before you start to feel dehydrated, and at regular intervals throughout the time you spend working out.
- Fuel. Sweetened sports drinks contain carbohydrates that help keep you energized and help offset the effects of fatigue. Research conducted at Gatorade has determined that the optimal percentage of carbs in a sports drink for increasing fluid replacement and boosting energy is six percent.
- Minerals or Electrolytes. Chloride, potassium, and sodium are all examples of electrolytes removed from the body by sweat during a workout. The more you sweat, the more electrolytes you lose, so drinking a beverage that helps replace these lost minerals only makes sense.
While consuming energy drinks while working out can provide you with a boost of caffeinated energy, they don’t generally offer the electrolytes of sports drinks and contain far more calories than water. A regular-sized can of Red Bull (8.4 ounces), for example, comes with 110 calories of carbohydrates and 193 milligrams of sodium along with any energy the beverage supplies.
To stay adequately hydrated during a two-hour workout would mean consuming at least two cans (220 calories), which leaves you spending a good portion of the workout just burning off the calories from these beverages. So you may want to consider whether the energy offered by these types of beverages outweighs the calories.