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Water vs Sports Drinks for Athletes: Quench Your Thirst Right

Water vs Sports Drinks for Athletes: Quench Your Thirst Right

Which is better: water vs sports drinks for athletes? Hydration is important during any sort of physical activity. This is true for casual home workouts and intense competitive events like marathons and basketball games. Everyone knows that people can’t live without water but does that mean it’s better than sports drinks?

The debate: water vs sports drinks for athletes

Why we need water

Our bodies are largely composed of water—about 60-70 percent. Water is essential to keep our cells healthy and metabolic processes running. It is a detoxifying solvent for chemicals and waste products. Theoretically, humans can live weeks to months without food but only a few days without water.

Hot environments, fever, and physical activity all increase the body’s temperature. Normally, the body compensates through sweating, as it helps release heat and cools down the body. Water is lost through sweat and other excretions like urine and stools.

As a general rule, adults should drink at least 2 liters of water per day. More water is needed if you are sick or have lost a lot of sweat. Water isn’t just in liquid form; it can also be obtained through the food that we eat, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

Without any tests or examinations by a doctor, you can gauge dehydration by checking signs and symptoms. One of the earliest signs of dehydration is thirst. Dry lips or skin are other signs that your body needs more water.

With mild dehydration, drinking water is usually enough. If water loss persists and electrolytes are lost (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating), oral rehydration salts may be necessary.

More severe levels of dehydration can be life-threatening and require hospitalization. In this case, water is not enough. Signs of severe dehydration include sunken eyeballs, dry mouth, lack of tear or saliva, inability to urinate, and muscle spasms. If untreated, severe dehydration can cause loss of consciousness and death.

Dehydration is avoidable and should never reach the point of fainting or death. Always bring a bottle of water with you when you plan to exercise or stay outdoors.

Do athletes need sports drinks?

Water is definitely necessary but what about sports drinks? Firstly, sports drinks are generally a mixture of water and powdered juice with sugar, electrolytes, and vitamins. As mentioned previously, we lose water through sweat and waste. While water is necessary, we lose more than water when we sweat.

Sweat contains a mixture of ions, cations, salts, and lipids. This is why oral rehydration salts and sports drinks contain more than water. During strenuous workouts or games, sports drinks can keep you hydrated and improve your performance.

In addition, sports drinks contain sugar or carbs in addition to electrolytes to give your body fuel. Water alone is good enough for shorter and less intense sessions.

water vs sports drinks for athletes

Should we replace water with sports drinks?

No, sports drinks should not replace your normal water intake. While electrolyte drinks can replace what you lose in sweat, they often contain too much sugar and artificial coloring. A bottle of sports drink may contain as much sugar as a can of soda.

Too much sugar and salt can actually cause you to become more dehydrated. In addition, the extra calories may be sabotaging your diet. You should drink both water and electrolyte solutions while training.

If you don’t like drinking plain water, try diluting your sports drink with water. This is a way to get water and electrolytes while reducing the amount of sugar you consume.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, sports drinks are suitable for athletes and gym-goers who do heavy activity. However, these drinks cannot replace water. Adults should aim for at least 2 liters of water per day and increase intake with activity. If you experience any signs or symptoms of severe dehydration, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Sports drinks vs. energy drinks vs. plain water: What’s best for thirsty kids? https://www.aappublications.org/content/32/6/32.2 Accessed January 7, 2021

Should You Drink Water or Sports Drinks During Physical Activity? https://www.cooperinstitute.org/2019/07/25/should-you-drink-water-or-sports-drinks-during-physical-activity Accessed January 7, 2021

Water Intake, Water Balance, and the Elusive Daily Water Requirement https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315424/ Accessed January 7, 2021

Food Intake and Starvation Induce Metabolic Changes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22414/ Accessed January 7, 2021

The Water Content Range for Selected Foods https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/table/T1/ Accessed January 7, 2021

Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6773238/ Accessed January 7, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole G. Nera, RPh, PharmD on Jan 11
Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel