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Sports Drinks: Balanced Hydration or Extra Calories?

posted Jul 16, 2015, 9:37 AM by Rachel Griffin   [ updated Nov 4, 2015, 12:34 PM by Julia Quam ]
Electric colors, electrolytes…and electric hydration?  Sports drinks are a popular beverage for a hot day or before or after a workout but when are they actually beneficial and when are they just extra calories?

Sports drinks are specifically formulated to provide a delicate balance of carbohydrates, sodium, and other electrolytes to re-hydrate and refuel quickly and effectively.  Unfortunately, these beverages have been marketed as performance-enhancing to even the casual exerciser. While sports drinks are not the worst thing that you can put into your body, they can be a source of unnecessary sugar and calories, which could actually undermine what you are trying to accomplish in your 30-45 minute gym session.

Carbohydrates in a beverage affect the rate of fluid absorption.  The fluid in beverages with a higher carbohydrate content (such as sodas, juices, and sports drinks) is absorbed more slowly than the fluid in water, since water is carbohydrate free.  Thus, water is the most readily absorbed fluid, and it is the best choice overall for hydration.  Options other than water would be a diluted sports drink (4oz sports drink + 12oz water), lower calorie sports drink  or water with electrolyte tablets added and dissolved.

If you are exercising for more than 60 minutes at a high intensity or in a humid climate you may want to rehydrate and refuel.  A sports drink is a good option to accomplish both re-hydration and refueling, especially when a balanced snack is unavailable.

For tips on calculating how much you should drink in general, check out one of our previous blog posts about exercise.  

No matter what your activity level is, it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day and to remember that every time you eat or drink is an opportunity to nourish your body. 

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