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by Collin Stark December 01, 2021 5 min read

Sports drinks are all the rage among popular high-level athletes, and we get the appeal.

They come in a variety of delicious and colorful flavors … and some even promise health benefits, like a boost of energy, or electrolyte replenishment...

But just because your favorite athlete is advertising a sports drink doesn’t mean it’s a replacement for water.

You might be wondering ... are sports drinks bad for you? The short answer is no, not when used appropriately.

But … are sports drinks a magical fix for staying hydrated and healthy?

Absolutely not!

So, the question is ... when are sports drinks appropriate for hydration? Let’s get into the important differences between the two.

Hydration and Exercise

Our bodies are, on average, made up of 60% water … and we lose water every day through sweat, urine, and breathing.

Water is used in every function of the body, from protecting organs & tissue, to regulating body temperature, as well as carrying oxygen and important nutrients to our cells.

Are You Drinking Enough Water?

It’s amazing how many things the body can do with water. But the problem is ... that can be seriously harmful when the body doesn’t have enough water, which is what we call dehydration.

When you are dehydrated, your body doesn’t function properly. As a result, you aren’t getting the nutrients you need … the digestive system is slower and dysfunctional … and body regulation suffers in general.

Signs of dehydration

If you’re experiencing these symptoms regularly, or during/after a workout, there's a good chance that you could be suffering from dehydration:

• Higher body temperature
• Thirst
• Early-onset fatigue
• Muscle cramps
• Nausea or vomiting
• Dry mouth
• Dizziness
• Faster, harder heartbeat

Athletes and fitness junkies need to remember that severe dehydration can be deadly, and that replenishing with water is essential when it comes to hydration.

7 Habits That'll Improve Your Workout

Sports Drinks vs. Water

People that work out a lot, whether they’re an athlete ... or simply working on a fitness goal, need to stay hydrated.

Water lubricates your joints, supports muscle growth, and flushes toxins from your system.

Without water, you simply won’t have the same power, focus, or endurance that you would have when fully hydrated.

It varies from person to person ... but generally, for the purpose of optimizing performance and health, people who are under 200 pounds should drink 100 ounces of water or more per day.  Those heavier than 200 pounds should drink at least 120 ounces of water per day.

Note: That doesn’t include hydrating for a workout.

To keep your body hydrated, keep in mind thatnothing can or should replace water.

So, why the hype around sports drinks?

Some of the popularity can be attributed to marketing and flashy advertising.  Just because an athlete endorses a sports drink doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone.

Hydration Sticks

That said, it CAN be easier to keep yourself hydrated when you actually like what you're drinking...

Because yes, getting more fluids in your body can help keep the body hydrated.

The thing is, sports drinks don’t necessarily hydrate the body better than water.

Therefore, water should generally be your go-to hydration drink.  That said, a good workout might call for a sports drink that has the beneficial ingredients your body needs to perform at its best.

What Ingredients in Sports Drinks are Beneficial?

Sports drinks are largely made of water, so they can be hydrating. But, in addition to that, they can also help provide the body with:

• Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are an important source of energy, and need to be replenished when working out. In sports drinks, the general source of carbohydrates comes from sugar. On average, sports drinks are about 6-8% carbohydrates.

• Electrolytes: These are essential nutrients that our body needs to function, and are especially important for workouts. We lose electrolytes when we sweat, so sports drinks can help replenish some of them.

• Sodium: Sodium, which is a type of electrolyte, helps the body retain water.  You can expect your sports drinks to have at least some sodium to replenish what is lost through sweat, and keep your body functioning as it should.

• Amino Acids: Amino acids, like BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) or EAAs (essential amino acids), can help with preserving lean muscle tissue during intense training ... and can be found in SOME sports drinks, but not all.

When To Use Amino Acids

What Makes Sports Drinks Unhealthy?

As important as carbohydrates are, in sports drinks, they typically come from large doses of sugar.

It’s normal for the body to get energy from glucose, which means sugar isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this situation.

But, not everyone needs large amounts of sugar, and consuming too much of it on a consistent basis can be counterproductive to your goals.

Sports drinks that are high in calories and sugar may not really help if your workout isn’t intense or long enough to cause the depletion of your muscle’s glycogen stores, or stored carbohydrates in the muscle used to fuel intense exercise.

This is because there’s no need replenish what isn’t actually depleted if the workout isn’t intense or long enough.

A healthy lifestyle is all about balance … so it’s always best to check the nutrition label to see what kind of ingredients you're about to consume, and how much of each ingredient there is.

Then, you can make a decision based on how long and intense the workout is going to be.

If you’re going to be working out for at least 60 minutes, the ingredients in sports drinks, in some cases, can help with keeping your intensity up for that longer workout ... especially if you know you’re going to be sweating a decent amount!

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So, When are Sports Drinks Appropriate for Hydration?

Use sports drinks only during a long and intense workout. What counts as a long workout? Most experts suggest at least 1 hour of exercise.

A healthy diet is often a better source for most of the electrolytes found in sports drinks ... so consider your level of training or exercise, your caloric intake, your fitness goals, and your overall health strategy before consuming your next sports drink.

If your workouts aren't very intense, it’s best to avoid sports drinks.

When the body doesn’t need their beneficial ingredients outside of a workout, the cons of sports drinks outweigh the pros … as they become just another source of calories and sugar.

If it’s a shorter and less intensive workout or activity, the answer is water, water, water.

You can always look into electrolyte supplements like 1st Phorm’s Hydration Sticks if you will be in the heat and/or sweating a lot, and want to stay hydrated and balanced ... but won’t be exercising intensely enough to need the sugar intake that sports drinks typically provide.

For those longer workouts, you should still be drinking plenty of water before, during, and after the workout to stay hydrated.

You can also consider the environment you’re working out in. If you’re running a marathon in the heat, you’re going to sweat more. In this case, you might also benefit from the more immediate effects ofsports drinks.

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The Bottom Line

Remember, your health journey is about being intentional. Never having a sports drink isn’t going to help you … but neither is casually drinking them, just because they taste good.

You shouldn't try to replace water. Instead, you can add sports drinks to your exercise routine, as they CAN be beneficial in certain situations.

If you’re mindful about sports drinks and the nutrients they can help supplement, they can be both a tasty and beneficial addition to your health.

Any time you’re considering asports drink, check out 1st Phorm’s high-quality health supplements designed for exercise and better living.

Ready to be more intentional about your workout diet?Check out some of 1st Phorm’s nutrient-packed supplements here to get started.

Collin Stark
Collin Stark

NASM Certified Personal Trainer NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist NASM Certified Nutrition Coach