What to Drink When You Exercise
The options include sports drinks, energy drinks, and just regular water.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
We all know that when we work out, it's important to stay hydrated. Something we may not be so clear on is what exactly we should drink when we exercise.
Ordinary water, of course, is the classic choice. But with store shelves everywhere full of sports drinks, energy drinks, and various flavored and fortified waters, what's an exerciser to do?
Experts say it all depends on your taste -- as well as the length and intensity of your workouts. Here's a look at how the various drinks measure up.
Flavored or Unflavored?
When I'm really thirsty, the only thing that hits the spot is good old H2O -- preferably cold. But that's just me.
Are you someone who will drink more if your drink is flavored (and there are plenty of you out there)? Then you're better off drinking whatever ends up helping you drink more when you exercise. The bottom line is hydration.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends flavored drinks when fluid replacement is needed during and after exercise to enhance palatability and promote fluid replacement.
And how do you know when fluid replacement is really needed?
"Exercising 1.5 hours to three hours is long enough to warrant fluid replacement due to sweat losses," says Kristine Clark, Ph., FACSM, director of sports nutrition for Penn State University Park. "How much sweat is lost influences how much sodium and potassium are lost."
The longer you exercise and the more heavily you sweat, the greater the need for a sports drink to help replace these lost micronutrients, Clark says.
"A sports drink can do many great things to increase energy levels without the complications of digesting and absorbing a meal," says Clark.
Sports Drinks and Exercise
Basically, a sports drink offers your body three things it might need before, during, or after vigorous exercise:
What About the Average Exerciser?
So what if you're just a "weekend warrior" when it comes to tough workouts? Or an avid exerciser who's not quite of athlete standing? Do you really need a sports drink when you exercise?
The answer, it seems, lies in how much you're sweating.
The American College of Sports Medicine says that during exercise lasting less than one hour there's little evidence of any difference in performance between exercisers who drink beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes, and those who drink plain water.
And, according to Clark, someone exercising 1.5 hours in a cool environment (who is probably not sweating much) is more in need of fluids or water than electrolytes.
The ABCs of Vitamin Water
I totally get adding electrolytes to drinks to help your body recover from vigorous exercise, but vitamins? It's still best to get vitamins and minerals naturally from foods and beverages -- like vitamin C from citrus and dark leafy green vegetables, and calcium from dairy products.
"Athletes will not need vitamin and mineral supplements if adequate energy to maintain body weight is consumed from a variety of foods," the American Dietetic Association and American College of Sports Medicine say in a position paper on nutrition and athletic performance.
But if you really like the idea of vitamin water, here are some things to think about: