How did athletes stay hydrated before 1965? They drank water. It seemed to work just fine until marketing and modern sports medicine decided that water was not good enough. Do we really need electrolytes? What are electrolytes anyway? The beverage market has been transformed and someday sports drinks may start to outsell soft drinks. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi own huge shares of the sports drink market because it represents the future of their business.
When you exercise your body loses fluids through perspiration. This process is accelerated in the heat and these fluids must be replaced or you will suffer from dehydration. Dehydration can cause dizziness, headaches, fever and low blood pressure. Your internal organs will also begin to shut down without enough fluids. Dehydration is a serious condition but in most cases it can be resolved by drinking some fluids.
Sports drinks claim to be better for your body than water because they replace electrolytes. Electrolytes are simply minerals that your body needs and consumes on a regular basis. Some of these include sodium which actually regulates the amount of water in the body. Another is potassium which is important for maintaining a regular heartbeat and proper muscle function. Magnesium is an underappreciated electrolyte because it is necessary for over 300 different biochemical reactions in the body. These minerals are found in most sports drinks and your body does sweat them out so they do need to be replaced.
However, if you are truly dehydrated nothing gets absorbed into and passes through your body faster than water. While it is true that sports drinks contain minerals that your body needs they also contain significant amounts of sugar. Sugar reduces the absorption rate which means it takes your body longer to consume sports drinks. The additional minerals in sports drinks can also increase fluid retention which is not optimum for rehydration.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drink sports drinks. Much depends on the type and amount of exercise you get. Water is usually the best drink you can consume before and during a workout because it can be absorbed quickly into the body and does not increase fluid retention which can cause fatigue while working out. Sports drinks are good after a workout because your body needs to replenish the electrolytes that were lost. Drinking a sports drink after exercise also means your body can focus on absorbing those lost minerals instead of competing with your working muscles for energy.
Water is also best for workouts that last 30 minutes or less. If you’re running a long road race or working out for over 60 minutes then you may consider replenishing your fluids with a sports drink but be aware of the sugar content. Harvard Health Publications recommends diluting your sports drinks with water to reduce the sugar content and help your body process them more quickly. Despite the barrage of commercials and ads bombarding you with the benefits of sports drinks water is still the best thing you can give your body when it’s dehydrated. Sports drinks do have value but only for extended workouts that last over 60 minutes. In some cases just eating a piece of fruit (especially bananas) will have the same effect.
Severe dehydration is a serious condition but it is actually quite rate although we’ve been trained to think we need to replace our fluids every few minutes. The best thing any athlete can do is drink water when they are thirsty and avoid prolonged exposure to heat. In the vast majority of cases water is the best thing for you unless you’re in the middle of a marathon or training several hours a day.
About the Author of “Do Sports Drinks Really Work?”:
Trip Albagdadi is a regular guest contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online as well as traditional print publications.
Photo Credits for “Are Sports Drinks Really Better Than Water?”:
“Featured Banner Image (Blue Gatorade)” – Gatorade via photopin (license)
“Sports Drinks vs. Water” – Gatorade in the land of the Gators via photopin (license)
“Do Sports Drinks Really Work?” – Pixabay
“Water is the Best Remedy” – Plastic Water Bottles Mountain Ice Hunger Takes Flight KFB May 20, 20107 via photopin (license)