Here’s When to Reach For a Sports Drink Over Water, According to a Dietitian

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I used to find any excuse to hydrate with a flavored sports drink over water – until I learned that my daily fitness routine doesn’t make a strong enough case for the sugary beverage.

“The difference between hydrating with a sports drink over water is the addition of important electrolytes like sodium and potassium that are lost through sweat,” Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, and the CEO of NY Nutrition Group, says. “Additionally, sports drinks also contain sugar, which is the quickest and most readily available source of fuel to the body.”

If you’re active for 60 minutes or less per day (or less than 90 minutes in a very cool environment), Moskovitz says there is a small chance your body needs extra energy outside of your regular diet.

In general, Moskovitz believes that sports drinks should be a limited part of your diet – which means my canteen is no longer strictly reserved for the sugary drinks.

Related: Coconut Water or Sports Drink: Which Is Better After a Workout?

That’s because many sports drinks are high in artificial sweeteners and can be hard on your gastrointestinal system during exercise. It’s especially important to look out for brands that contain caffeine, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms for those exercising at a high intensity.

During longer-winded workouts – especially on hotter days – when a sports drink could help prevent dehydration and fatigue, Moskovitz recommends picking a brand that features a mixture of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.

A personal favorite of mine, Gatorade, happens to align with Moskovitz’s recommendations. It contains the optimal amount of carbs/sugar per water, which is six percent or 14 grams of carbs per eight ounces of water, for hydrating and energizing the body.

If your strenuous exercise lasts over 60-90 minutes, Moskovitz recommends consuming about 30-60 grams of carbs – which equals about 1-2 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade.

Until my next hot yoga class or intramural soccer game, I’ll be counting on water with lemon for flavorful hydration.

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