Sports Drinks: Should You Drink Them Instead of Water?

When you think about electrolytes, what is the first thought that comes to your mind? For many, they think about popular hydrating sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade that are believed to be a “magic elixir” to improve high-intensity exercise performance. However, for others, they will tell you to ditch the added sugar electrolyte drinks and just drink plain water, so which is correct? In this article, we will compare water to sports beverages to debunk the infamous question of: which one is better? Keep reading and buckle your seatbelts because we are about to dive in!

Water vs Sports Drinks

Did you know that water makes up the majority of your body weight? According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the heart, and brain are composed of 73% water and the lungs are roughly 83% water. Muscles and kidneys are approximately 79% and the skin contains 64% water – that is a lot of water that makes up the human body! Water is critical for your body’s proper functioning, serving a number of essential functions, such as:

  • It regulates your internal body temperature by respiration and sweating
  • A vital nutrient to the life of every cell
  • The proteins, amino acids, and carbohydrates that your body uses as food are metabolized and transported by water in the bloodstream
  • It assists in flushing out waste, mainly through urination
  • Forms saliva
  • Lubricates joints
  • Acts as a shock absorber for brain, spinal cord, and fetus

From urine, sweat and feces to respiration, people naturally lose water daily. To replace these losses and promote good health, it is recommended to drink fluids throughout the day.

Sports Drinks: The Main Ingredients 

The main ingredient in sports drinks is water, but they also contain other substances like carbohydrates and electrolytes which are supposed to improve performance. These carbs found commonly in these trendy drinks are often in the form of sugars like sucrose, fructose, sucralose, and glucose. This amount of sugar is not healthy and can raise your blood sugar, especially the artificial sweeteners. However, as society evolves into a much healthier direction, no sugar or zero-carb, zero-calorie sports nutrition drinks that use ingredients like stevia are starting to emerge, becoming a very popular choice amongst many looking to provide their body with a healthy dose of electrolytes and rehydration without the extra calories. 

Electrolytes 101: What are The Basics?

What is an electrolyte anyway? Consumers are motivated to purchase and consume these sports drinks because of the electrolyte label slapped across the bottle, but what exactly are they and why are they so important? Electrolytes are substances that contain free ions making them electrically conductive. Physiologically, the primary ions of electrolytes include calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen carbonate and hydrogen phosphate. These important gradients are crucial to a variety of body processes including blood pH, hydration and are critical to proper muscle and nerve function. 

Needless to say, electrolytes are important! Since sodium and chloride (sea salt) make up the largest proportion of electrolytes in sweat, it is imperative that fitness and gym enthusiasts alike replenish what they lose from a heart pumping, sweat-dripping physical activity. Your body is always aiming for balance, so the moment you lose too much sodium for an example, other electrolytes will follow, leaving your body depleted. Without the proper balance of these electrolytes, severe muscle contractions and/or muscle weakness can occur along with other medical emergencies – not good!  

Okay, so what’s better: sports drinks or water?

The notorious battle between sports drinks and water is arguably one of the biggest controversies in the dynamic world of fitness. Why you may ask? Sports drinks tend to come with a bad rep because they are commonly filled with artificial coloring, fillers and not to mention – loads of sugar. However, like we mentioned, there are new options hitting the market that can provide your body with the electrolytes you need to keep your body functioning, without the unnecessary sugar and artificial ingredients. 

While water should be the number one choice at hand to rehydrate your body, if you are an intense triathlete or about to run a marathon or even participate in strenuous activity for over an hour, a sports drink is going to be your best bet to replenish your body with the electrolytes lost through sweat to keep you going at your best. In fact, a recent study by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) supports that athletes can stave off fatigue 37% longer if they consume sports drinks. They also have better motor skills, run faster, and are mentally sharper. 

Water may quench thirst, but it doesn’t actually replenish any of the lost electrolytes, vitamins, carbs or minerals that a sports drink can. In addition, too much water can lead to frequent urination which can cause your body to lose even more electrolytes. Sports drinks do not only work to replenish what is lost, but they can also help the body to hold on to the electrolytes it already has for a longer duration of time. 

The Bottom Line 

So, should you drink sports drinks instead of water? The answer is: it depends. Like we mentioned, everybody is different with unique fitness goals. If you are an athlete that is constantly exerting energy, then it is important to replenish the essential nutrients that have been depleted, so a sports drink or electrolyte powders would prove itself beneficial. If you are just looking to stay hydrated throughout a typical workday, we suggest drinking filtered water that has been remineralized with a simple, natural mineral supplement like Hi-Lyte Concentrate in all of your daily water.  

Many people do not realize this but healthy food like bananas and avocados are full of nutritious electrolytes. If you are eating a balanced diet and not exerting too much energy, you do not need heavy electrolyte supplements because you get them through the food you consume. However, if you are following a special low-carb diet like Keto that restricts some of these foods, supplementing your electrolytes will help to keep you on track, but it is important to stay clear of the carb-filled, sugary sports drinks options. For those who would benefit from electrolyte supplements, make sure to reach for high-quality electrolyte supplements like Adapted Nutrition’s K1000 Electrolyte Powder which has the perfect mineral ratio with zero sugars. It is made with hard to get nutrients like 1,000mg of potassium as well as calcium, chloride, magnesium, sodium and 72 trace minerals to power your body’s electrical system and provide energy at a cellular level. Water and sports drinks are equally important. Think about your specific needs to decide which is best for you!