By Aaron Vaughan and Eliza Parker
If you listen to the advertising, you might think sports drinks do it all. More energy. Improved performance. Better concentration. But do they?
People use sports drinks, such as Gatorade or PowerAde, to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost from sweating after exercise. A major component of staying hydrated is electrolyte balance. But what are electrolytes, exactly?
Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium that keep the body’s balance of fluids at the proper level. Salt and electrolytes are needed for muscle contraction – which are key to getting the most out of your workout.
While water is typically the best choice before, during and after physical activity, if only water is taken into account for fluid loss, electrolytes will not be replaced. Sports drinks and electrolyte tablets can be beneficial for endurance athletes to hydrate and restore any electrolytes lost during physical activity.
The ideal concentration of a sports drink is (per 8 fl. oz.):
- 14 g carbohydrates
- 28 mg of potassium
- 100 mg of salt
When is it best to use a sports drink versus water?
The more you sweat, the more replenishment you will require. If taking part in endurance exercise lasting longer than 45 minutes to an hour, an 8-12 fl. oz. sports drink will provide electrolyte and blood sugar to assist you in sustaining and recovering from performance. However, if you are exercising lightly, sports drinks may lead to weight gain due to the excess amount of sugar – doing more damage than good.
What do you need to know about consuming sports drinks?
- Water is usually the best choice before, during and after physical activity.
- Don’t use sports drinks to replace water or low-fat milk during meals or snacks.
- Don’t use energy drinks in place of sports drinks.
- Don’t allow children or teens to use energy drinks.
Aaron Vaughan, MD, is the Director of Primary Care Sports with Mission Orthopedics and a nonoperative physician with Asheville Orthopaedics Associates. Eliza Parker, MS, ATC, LAT, is a corrective exercise specialist and interactive metronome provider with Mission Sports Medicine.