Wellness Wednesday: Should You be Drinking Water or Sports Drinks?


Loudoun County, Va. — It’s extremely hot outside, you’ve been exercising for an hour-and-a-half, your muscles are weak, your shirt is drenched, you’ve recently noticed a minor headache and you’re beyond thirsty. Do you reach for your water bottle filled with water or do you grab a bottle of one of those flavorful sports drinks?

The water versus sports drinks debate has been a topic of discussion for many years. There are a multitude of opinions because there are different circumstances in which one choice trumps the other.

For instance, if you exercised for less than 60 minutes at a low-intensity you should drink water, because you have not been sweating enough to lose more than water.

The body uses water to:

  • Provide hydration to every cell, tissue and to organs
  • Regulate the body’s temperature
  • Transport oxygen and nutrients
  • Dispose of waste

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the adequate intake of water for non-active men and women ages 19-30 is 3.7 liters and 2.7 liters per day, which averages out to be 15.6 cups per day for men and 11.5 cups per day women.

Depending on the amount of physical activity each person participates in, that amount doubles or even triples at times.

Another rule of thumb is that you should drink 4-6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes during intense periods of activity.

If you do a high-intensity workout for longer than 60 minutes, then the choice of replenishment would switch from water to a sports drink, mainly to replace the depletion of electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Electrolytes are electrically charged ions in the body that have their respective duty to perform vital functions inside the body. After exercising, there are five key electrolytes that the body needs to replenish after they have been depleted:

  1. Sodium controls the total amount of water in the body, regulates muscle and nerve functions
  2. Chloride maintains proper pH balance and respiratory difficulties
  3. Potassium regulates heartbeat and muscle function, nerve transmission
  4. Magnesium synthesis of both DNA and RNA, maintains heart rate, stabilizes blood sugar
  5. Calcium transmission of nerve impulses, blood clotting and muscle contraction

In addition to electrolytes, carbohydrates are ingredients in sports drinks, which provide energy needed during prolonged exercise.

Carbohydrates improve cognitive function and the ability to maintain focus as well as limit fatigue.

However, most sports drinks contain sugars which are not ideal for anyone looking to lose weight. Common sugars such as glucose, sucrose and fructose are often found in sports drinks to add flavor but don’t add any nourishment, therefore they should be avoided.

In addition to sports drinks with sugars, you should also avoid carbonated sports drinks, as they only offer empty calories without any beneficial long term effects.

Instead of reaching for that flavorful bottle of Gatorade or Powerade, try some coconut water which contains all five essential electrolytes and no added sugars or fats.

In conclusion, if you are working out at a low-intensity for less than 60 minutes then water will be sufficient. If you are working at high intensity for more than 45 minutes, you need a sports drink to replenish the lost electrolytes.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

  • Mild to Moderate Dehydration
  • Dry, Sticky Mouth
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Severe Dehydration
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Irritability and Confusion
  • Dry Skin that doesn’t back when you pinch it
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • In serious cases, delirium and unconsciousness

NOTE FROM OUR SPONSOR: If you or someone you know has experienced or is currently experiencing any of these issues or just have generally achiness/pain call our office today at 703-450-4300. We can evaluate you and determine what steps you need to take to return back to your pain free life!


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Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is a premier physical therapy clinic. We offer outpatient orthopedic and sports physical therapy as well as specialty programs.

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