As the temperatures heat up, many of us find ourselves reaching for a cool drink to stay hydrated. When is it appropriate to grab a sports or electrolyte drink, and when is it best to go with water? Andrew Nish, MD, UnityPoint Health, helps us understand what the best drinks are for hydration.
Sports and electrolyte drinks often seem like the perfect way to quench your thirst when working out, but according to Dr. Nish, there’s a very limited group of people who should be drinking them. The recommendation is adults and children should only have sports drinks during extended and heavy exercise that lasts longer than an hour.
“Water, water and water should be the beverage of choice for hydration before, during and after physical activity or exercise routines lasting less than one hour,” Dr. Nish says.
He says two hours before intense exercise, it’s best to drink 16 ounces of water, not a sports drink. After prolonged and strenuous activity, rehydration should mainly be done with water, if the athlete has been consuming sports drinks during the actual event.
However, eight to 16 ounces of a sports drink would not be unreasonable following an intense and long workout.
Sports drinks were designed for those performing intense physical activity. In fact, the original sports drink, Gatorade, was developed to help replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes in high intensity athletes at the University of Florida in 1965.
“These drinks were never intended to be consumed by the general public, but unfortunately, they have been marketed to the masses with the underlying message that if you drink these, you will become a great athlete like Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, most people will just gain weight,” Dr. Nish says.
He says sports drinks, electrolyte drinks or any sugary drinks, like juice, lemonade, soda or Kool-Aid, should not be consumed for meals or snacks and should not replace water. These sugary drinks often lead to excessive caloric intake and substantially increase the risk of obesity in both children and adults.
Drinking too many sugary sports drinks can also lead to tooth enamel erosion. Dr. Nish says that’s because most sports drinks have a pH between three and four, which is associated with enamel demineralization.
The average person should be drinking eight to 12 ounces of water each hour during the heat of summer. If you are working in the heat for several hours, Dr. Nish suggests you consume 12 to 16 ounces a couple hours before work.
“Look at the color of your urine for signs of proper hydration. Light yellow or clear urine means you are properly hydrated. Dark, concentrated urine means you do not have enough fluid on board,” Dr. Nish says.
If you become thirsty, it’s a sign that you’ve waited too long to drink water. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, cracked lips, decrease in urine output and dark urine, irritability, drowsiness, dry skin, low energy, headache and extreme thirst.
“Save your money and drink water,” Dr. Nish said.
Water should be the primary hydration source for children and adults, and sports drinks should only be used during time of high intensity and prolonged athletic events.
If you have any questions about hydration during exercise, please make sure to consult your UnityPoint Health primary care provider