When it comes to hydration and physical performance, many people immediately consider sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, the best option. While these brands may seem like the ideal choice considering the extensive recognition and popularity they receive, they are not always the best choice. To start, these drinks typically contain a significant amount of simple carbohydrates.
We do recognize carbohydrates as a vital energy source; however, it is typically recommended to consume a meal containing carbohydrates 1 to 3 hours prior to your exercise.1 This allows the body to prioritize its energy toward your workout, rather than digestion. At this point, many individuals will think, “Well if sugar is the issue, why not buy the reduced sugar or sugar-free options that companies offer.” The problem with these products is the fact that companies will replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners, usually sucralose, to reduce the carbohydrates without losing taste. Although most are considered safe by the FDA, artificial sweeteners are minimally digested or not digested at all by the body, which can lead to stress on the digestive system. Having to deal with discomfort or pausing your training to use the restroom is not a pleasant experience, since working out is obviously more enjoyable and beneficial without these interruptions.
The main benefit to sports drinks is the electrolytes since they aid in maintaining hydration status and fluid balance.2 There are simple ways to make your own hydration beverage. Simply using lemon, a pinch of salt, and black tea in cold water can provide you with a sports drink to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Also, adding a little honey will provide a small amount of carbohydrates for prolonged or high intensity training. The benefit is you can control how much goes into it.
Depending on the length of the workout, as well as your energy level, simple sugars are beneficial. Individuals engaging in workouts of 1 hour to 2.5 hours long benefit from 30-60 grams of carbohydrates from sports drinks for the added energy, but workouts lasting less than 45 minutes do not require the added energy from sugar in sports drinks.3
1. Mohr CR. Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition. Eatright.org Website. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-pre-and-post-workout-nutrition. Published February 13, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2007.
2. Harris L. Electrolytes: Oral Electrolyte Solutions. FP Essent. 2017
Aug; 459:35-38. Review. PubMed.
3. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Mar;116(3):501-528.
4. Image. Available at https://depositphotos.com/170025960/stock-video-closeup-slow-motion-side-view.html. Accessed April 2, 2018.
Adam Serpa is a Senior in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Pittsburgh. This article was previously published by the University of Pittsburgh.