Sweat drips from your forehead as you round the track and finish your daily run. You’re feeling weak and thirsty. You walk slowly to your gym bag and grab the sports drink you’ve been waiting for since you started your workout. The brightly-colored beverage instantly replenishes your electrolytes and quenches your thirst.
In this situation, a sports drinks offers the correct combination of hydration and nutrients for a hardworking body. But, in most situations, sports drinks can add harmful amounts of sugar and sodium to your diet.
There are times when a sports drink is necessary and times to just say “no.” Here’s what you should know.
1. Sports drinks help delay fatigue
If someone is participating in a high-intensity sporting event or workout, a sports drink can help replenish much-needed fluids and electrolytes that are lost while sweating.
Sports drinks also provide readily available carbohydrates to the working muscles, which is very important when it comes to an athlete’s performance.
2. Sports drinks contain high amounts of sugar
While these athlete-inspired drinks also contain nutrients like sodium and potassium, which are crucial to the athletic body, they also contain high amounts of sugar.
On average, sports drinks are 50 calories and contain about three tablespoons of sugar per cup.
3. You can overdo it easily
The average American consumes far too much sugar and sodium, and consuming sports drinks during moderate exercise—like walking on the treadmill or doing yard work—can actually do more harm than good.
Too much sugar and sodium can be detrimental to your health. Over time, you can put yourself at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even tooth decay.
4. Not for non-athletes
Sports drinks are a helpful tool for those who participate in high-intensity exercise on a regular basis. These high-sugar beverages are only recommended for those who are serious athletes or working out in hot conditions.
If a person is working out for a long time, having some extra calories like the ones provided in sports drinks isn’t a bad idea.
5. Reach for water first
The best alternative to sports drinks is simply water. However, there are lower calorie options such as ‘diet’ sports drinks. These are normally artificially sweetened to help cut calories. The benefit is that they still get electrolytes and fluid but fewer calories. Just be smart about which artificial sweeteners you reach for.
6. Can keep you from weight loss goals
If your main goal is to lose weight, sports drinks are probably not going to help you achieve that goal. The goal with weight loss is to use the calories you already have, not to consume more calories than you can actually burn in a workout. So, limit how many sports drinks you consume and get plenty of water.
When in doubt, water is always the best option.
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About the author
This content has been written or reviewed by a member of the Baylor Scott & White Health medical staff.