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Sports Drinks vs. Water

Submitted by Stella Morgan on July 20, 2007

Adequate hydration is very important for an athlete while performing an exercise. Appropriate fluid consumption will also help the body to maintain temperature, blood circulation and proper muscle function. Drinking the right kind of fluids will influence the comfort, performance and safety of an athlete. As low as even one or two percent weight loss due to sweating leads to a drop in the blood volume, which in turn puts pressure on the heart to work harder to pump blood through the blood stream. This act hinders the performance of elite athletes and prevents them to achieve their goals.

It is often confusing for athletes involved in high intensity long duration exercise if water is actually the best way to hydrate them or they should opt for some sports drinks.

Water is a natural choice for hydration; it is commonly used for hydrating the athlete’s body before, during and after exercise. Many athletes prefer the taste of water and moreover it is readily available and less expensive mode of hydration.

However to achieve optimal hydration it may sometimes be insufficient to perform its best. Drinking too much water or overhydration along with sweating can also dilute plasma sodium levels leading to hyponatremia.

With increasing boom in the sports beverage industry supported with various researches, athletes often choose sports drink for hydration. Sport drinks are formulated to be more effective than water as they tend to supply carbohydrates as a source of fuel and replace the electrolytes that are lost during intense work outs.


Drink enough fluids (avoid dairy) or in other words water consumption should be around 17 ounces two hours before an exercise and additional 10-15 ounces within 15-30 minutes of an event. Through out competition it is important to remain hydrated, thus drink 6-10 ounces of water or diluted sports drink every 10-20 minutes. Electrolyte replacement drinks can be consumed after one hour of exercising.

Fluid consumption can be up to 150% of the weight lost during an exercise.

For intense activity lasting longer than an hour, beverages containing carbohydrates in the concentration of 4-8 % are recommended. Although plain water is considered appropriate for activities lasting less than an hour, 4-8% carbohydrate beverages are also suitable. It is important to replace the electrolytes lost in perspiration, 0.5-0.7 g/l of sodium is recommended for activity lasting longer than an hour. This will also help to increase the palatability of sports drinks and in turn increase fluid consumption. Adding sodium in the drink can be beneficial in 2 ways, maintains osmolarity and thus desire to drink and reduce diuresis that can occur when only plain water is ingested.
Some athletes prefer caffeine intake because of its ergogenic properties, but one should not forget that caffeine acts as a diuretic and causes water loss from the body. So it is wise to select a decaffeinated beverage, sports drink or water.
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