Unless you have never been to a sporting event or never watch television, you surely are aware of the potential benefits of a sports drink. On every bench, in every sport, the is a cooler or pack of water bottles that is branded with a sports drink company. There was even a movie based on this debate (The Waterboy!). Let’s take a look at what research has shown us over the years.
First, it is important to talk about dehydration. When you perform physical activity, the more work that you perform exercising the warmer your body will get. As your body warms up, certain mechanisms are put into place so that your body cools. The two major mechanisms include increased blood flow to the skin and sweating. Sweat evaporates from the skin, which allows it to cool. Because sweating is the body’s primary cooling mechanism, a substantial amount of fluid and electrolytes are lost during exercise. If not replaced, performance can suffer.
When it comes to fluid and electrolyte replacement, it is important to note that everyone’s requirements are different. The basketball player is going to have a different fluid and electrolyte requirement than the yoga instructor. In addition, body type, metabolism and genetics play an important role in determining how much you sweat. Therefore, it is impossible to give a general recommendation, but a few tips can help you make sure that you avoid dehydration and get the most out of your physical activity.
Winner: No clear winner
When it comes to pre-hydrating yourself before a workout or activity, there is no clear winner between water or a sports drink. The overall goal before every workout should be for you to start the workout at a neutral state of hydration. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends slowly drinking fluids during the 4 hours prior to your workout. The best marker of hydration is the color of your urine. If your urine to too yellow, you should drink more.
Here, you have a clear choice. If you drink water, you should consider eating a small, salty snack as you drink. Sodium will help your body pull water from your gut so that you can retain it. You may also choose to consume a sports drink that contains a similar amount of sodium. If you have a goal to lose weight, choose a sports drink that has no additional calories.
Winner: Sports drink
Few will question the recommendation of drinking a sports drink during your physical activity. As discussed, you will sweat during your activity and lose both water and electrolytes. If these are not replaced, performance can suffer. This can include both a decrease in physical and mental functioning. Sports drinks contain fluids and a blend of electrolytes to help replace what was lost during the exercise bout. Sports drinks also contain carbohydrates, which provides a continual source of energy (glucose) to your body. For the most part, your body does an excellent job of using fuel stored in muscles and fat, but with high-intensity or prolonged exercise, a carbohydrate supplement can be helpful.
How much to drink? The best advice is to make sure that your weight before your workout routine is the same as the weight afterwards. Some make the mistake of thinking that immediate weight loss after a workout is a good sign of fat burn — not true. In fact, it is a sign of dehydration, which can slow down the fat burning process. So, if you are not sure if you are drinking enough during your workout, weight yourself before and after. You may be surprised.
In general, it is advised to consume between 1/2 and 1 liter per hour during your workout. This can be adjusted based on your pre and post-workout weights.
Winner: No clear winner, but probably water
Drinking water after your workout is probably the best plan to take — here’s why. After every workout, you should eat as soon as possible within the first 10-30 minutes. If you are taking a whey protein isolate supplement and eating food, you will get your fair share of sodium and other electrolytes. Particularly, if you eat a sandwich and a piece of fruit, you will surely replace lost electrolytes, naturally. Combine this with water, and your fluid and electrolyte needs will be met. However, if food is not readily available, a sports drink is the next best option.
If your post-workout weight is less than your pre-workout weight, then you should drink 3/4 of a liter of fluid for every pound loss, according to The American College of Sports Medicine.
Keep in mind that if you neglect to replace fluids and eat, your workout is pretty much useless.
I hate to disappoint the Waterboy, but sports drinks and H2O both have their place in keeping you hydrated. To keep it simple, drink water before and after your workout, but prefer a sports drink during your workout or event. Keep your weight stable and you can ensure that you are maintaining your hydration status.