Dana Ryan
P.h.D – Director, Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education

Drinking adequate water is essential for a whole host of functions throughout our body, and it helps protect our immune system. However, while we are exercising, a significantly greater demand is being placed on our bodies, leading us to need more than just water.

During exercise, sports drinks are a great resource to help provide our body with what it needs, which is fuel for energy, but they contain electrolytes which is what we lose when we sweat.

How Dehydration Affects Your Workouts

When you exercise without drinking enough fluids, you’ll likely encounter some of the symptoms of dehydration. Dehydration can be mentally and physically draining, limiting the amount of exercise you can do. Dehydration does not, however, occur just during exercise; it can be a result of not drinking enough water throughout the day.

Typically, we recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day. You want to constantly be drinking water throughout the day to avoid being dehydrated, and this applies for both hot summer months as well as in the colder winter months.

When Are Sports Drinks Appropriate for Hydration?

Water is the preferred fuel for hydration if you are having a rest day or doing a light workout. Typically, workouts under 30 minutes do not require a sports drink.

On the other hand, if you are exercising for more than 30 minutes, your body will need fuel from carbs and electrolytes to replace what is lost through sweat. Sweat contains large amounts of electrolytes like sodium and chloride, and the more you sweat, the more you need proper hydration through high-quality sports drinks.

Also, as we are exercising, especially at high intensity, our body is going to be going through its carbohydrate stores quickly, so it is important that we are providing the body with the fuel that it needs.

What to Look for in a Sports Drink

Not all sports drinks are the same. With many “enriched water” products, it can be confusing to know what is best to put in your body during a workout. For a true sports drink, you want to have something with sugar, from glucose and sucrose, which your body will use as fuel, rather than a vitamin-enriched water.

You also want to make sure that it has electrolytes – mainly sodium – as that is what you lose the most through sweat.

Overall, once you get your heart rate up and really start sweating, you want to make the switch from water to a sports drink to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to perform at its best.