When to Reach for a Sports Drink

For optimal athletic performance, your body needs hydration, carbohydrates and electrolytes. Liquids regulate body temperature, cushion joints and protect kidneys; carbohydrates supply energy. “Everyone thinks carbs are the demon,” says Jessica Crandall, dietitian, personal trainer and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But they need to be replenished when you are active—even if you are on a weight-loss plan.” Electrolytes, WebMD states, are “minerals … that affect the amount of water in your body, blood pH, muscle action and other important processes.”

“The science says that after the first hour or so of athletic activity, you need electrolyte and carbohydrate replenishment,” Crandall says. Enter sports drinks, which supply liquids, carbs and electrolytes (specifically, sodium and potassium). “An electrolyte drink may help you replete the nutrients and liquid your body needs for performance,” she says.

Read on for three occasions when you should reach for one, keeping in mind that these apply to longer workouts only.

  1. You sweat profusely during your workout—from intensity or heat. Excessive sweaters lose more electrolytes, Crandall explains. She recommends that athletes drink 16 to 24 ounces for every pound they lose through sweat. (Step on a scale before and after a workout to gauge the difference, then hydrate.)
  2. You are dehydrated before beginning an intense workout. One example: You go for a morning run right after awakening. If you don’t bring a water bottle with you, you will become dehydrated, Crandall says. “Dark urine is the first clinical sign that you are dehydrated. Even a 1 percent change in hydration levels can decrease performance,” she adds.
  3. You work out intensely for more than one hour. Think a 60-minute cycle class, not a 30-minute leisurely ride to brunch.

Crandall counsels athletes to “practice first and see how your body does with these drinks” rather than “trying them out on race days.” If you’ve decided to try sports drinks, she advises seeking out products with the following nutrient levels: 55 to 110 milligrams per cup of sodium, 30 to 50 milligrams per cup of potassium, and a minimum of 15 grams of carbs for every 45 minutes of athletic activity. She also recommends checking ingredient lists for any added supplements. For instance, for some people, caffeine and sugar substitutes may cause digestive upset.

Crandall also recommends reaching for water first when such beverages are not needed. “Although they may taste good and quench thirst … the liquid calories add up quickly,” she says.

Need to rehydrate after an intense sweat sesh at the gym? Check out 24 Hour Fitness’ retail area.

Photo credit: YakobchukOlena, Adobe Stock