Ever since we were children we have watched the commercials and seen the advertisements reassuring us that strong athletes drink “sports” drinks when competing. What these companies do not tell us is the added sugars, sweeteners, food dyes and artificial ingredients that are also in these drinks.
For example, one bottle of G Series Thirst Quencher orange Gatorade, which is 12-fluid ounces contains a total of 52.5 grams of sugar! The label states that the bottle contains 2.5 servings and 21 grams of sugar per serving, therefore, a total of 52.5 grams of sugar.
Furthermore, the bottle of sports drink contains mystery ingredients such as; dextrose, natural flavor, phosphate, gum arabic, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, glycerol ester of rosin and yellow 6 (yellow food dye).
In an effort to avoid the incredibly high amounts of sugar and mystery ingredients found in sports drinks, athletes can look to the wide assortment of healthy, natural electrolyte-filled drinks such as coconut water, aloe water, cactus water and watermelon water.
- Why Drink Electrolytes During/After Exercise?
- 1. Coconut Water
- 2. Watermelon Water
- 3. Aloe Water
- 4. Cactus Water
- 5. Homemade Hydrating, Electrolyte Beverages
- The Healthiest Sports Drinks & Why to Ditch the Gatorade!
- Why to Ditch the Gatorade (& Powerade, Etc.)
- The Healthiest Sports Drinks
- Sports Drinks
- Sports drinks and performance
- What’s in a sports drink?
- Practical applications
- Potential side effects
- 1. Water
- 2. Electrolyte-Infused Water
- 3. Pedialyte
- 4. Gatorade
- 5. Homemade Electrolyte-Rich Drink
- 6. Watermelon
- 7. Coconut Water
- What to Avoid When You’re Dehydrated
- Symptoms of Dehydration
- Electrolyte Replacements 101
- What are Electrolytes?
- Sweating and Losing Electrolytes
- How to Replace Electrolytes?
- The Best Electrolyte Replacements
- Sports Drinks vs. Water: When It’s Best To Use Each
- Fluid absorption rate
- What is best to drink before and during running
- What to drink after running
- Calculating your sweat loss for optimal hydration
- RunnersConnect Master Extra
- What should I look for in sports drinks?
Why Drink Electrolytes During/After Exercise?
During exercise, the body will sweat water and minerals to cool down and prevent heat exhaustion. The water and minerals lost during exercise must be restored in order for the body to create balance and function properly. As a result, companies began creating sports drinks that contained electrolyte minerals, carbohydrates and water to provide exercisers with an optimal source of fuel.
The problem, however, occurred when high amounts of sugar and unhealthy, mystery ingredients were introduced to the mix. Who wants to guzzle down sugar and food dye when they are trying to improve their health and exercise?
Listed below are several healthy, natural electrolyte-filled drinks that will re-hydrate you, taste great and do your body good! Give these a try the next time you exercise and see how you feel.
1. Coconut Water
The coconut water beverage is one that has become quite popular among health enthusiasts. Coconut water is said to offer an assortment of health benefits including antioxidants, phytonutrients, natural enzymes, naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, and much more.
One of the greatest benefits athletes enjoy when consuming coconut water is the naturally occurring electrolyte minerals. Minerals such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur and manganese are all available in coconut water. These minerals re-hydrate and create balance in the body. For additional information on coconut water, click here to learn the benefits of coconut water vs. water.
Keep in mind: Not all coconut water beverages are created equally. The brand of coconut water that you choose will determine that health benefits that the specific brand of drink offers. Some drinks may have been pasteurized and heated, some contain mystery ingredients, some contain added juices and flavors. There are many different coconut water options so make sure to read the ingredients list and the nutrition label to ensure optimal health.
2. Watermelon Water
We all love enjoying a fresh bowl of watermelon after a long, hot day. Why not try a bottle of watermelon water. The ingredients included in watermelon water includes an assortment of watermelon flesh, grind and often times the addition of a lemon.
Watermelon water boasts six times the amount of electrolytes of a standard sports drink and it includes benefits such as L-Citrulline, vitamin C, lycopene and antioxidants. The electrolyte minerals in watermelons include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, choline, lycopene and betaine.
If you do not wish to purchase watermelon water, you can also make your own. Try blending watermelon flesh with some lime or lemon juice, and a touch of mint. For added sweetness, you can also add natural, organic sugar.
3. Aloe Water
Aloe water is a drink created from the aloe vera plant, which is well-known for its healing properties. Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. In an effort to offer the beneficial properties of aloe vera, the plant has been broken down into a beverage to create an easy to drink method of consumption.
The same way that aloe vera heals the exterior layer of the skin after a sunburn, the plant is able to heal the interior layers of the body.
Aloe vera water contains vitamin B12, folate, choline, copper and potassium, 20 amino acids and seven of the eight essential amino acids. In addition, aloe vera water boasts anti-inflammatory properties that aid in constipation and heartburn.
4. Cactus Water
Water derived from the cactus plant is well-known as a naturally hydrating, plant-based drink. Cactus water contains hydrating antioxidants, naturally occurring electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals, it is low in sugar and does not contain food dyes.
Cactus water is known for its hydrating effect and anti-inflammatory properties.
Non-GMO brands of cactus water to try include Caliwater and TrueNopal.
5. Homemade Hydrating, Electrolyte Beverages
There are a number of electrolyte-filled foods available that can be created into homemade, hydrating beverages. Citrus foods such as lemon, lime, and orange offer electrolytes and are great to add to any drink. Bananas are filled with potassium, along with additional electrolyte minerals and vitamins. Vegetable such as celery, kale and cucumber are also refreshing sources of natural hydration and taste great with a natural sweetener.
Try creating your own hydrating drink combinations using ingredients such as:
- Fresh squeezed orange juice
- Watermelon flesh
- Sea salt
- Baking soda
- Maple syrup
- Almond milk
- Natural sugar
If you’re looking for some awesome natural energy drink recipes, click here. Alternatively, for healthy, plant-based electrolyte filled food options, click here.
Maintaining proper hydration is very important, regardless of whether you are exercising, sweating profusely, or outdoors for a long period of time. Always be conscious of your water consumption. Feeling thirsty should not be the only indicator that you need to drink water. The minimum amount of water to drink each day is eight cups. If you are sweating or exercising this amount should be increased.
Lead image source: Wikimedia Commons
The Healthiest Sports Drinks & Why to Ditch the Gatorade!
You’ve just run 4 miles. Up hill. You’re exhausted and you’re thirsty. What’s better than chugging an ice-cold Gatorade to replenish!? Well, WATER is. (And my list of the healthiest sports drinks, of course, which we’ll get to in a moment.)
Why to Ditch the Gatorade (& Powerade, Etc.)
And here’s why:
- Sugar Overload: Gatorade is basically refined SUGAR WATER!! If you drank the whole bottle below, you will have consumed 35 grams of sugar, or almost 9 teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than your daily sugar needs as an adult (about 6 – 9 teaspoons of sugar per day)!! This can:
- Hinder performance: The energy dips and fatigue after a sharp sugar spike are exactly opposite of the sports drink claims! And, this amount of sugar can delay gastric emptying, causing sloshing in the stomach, and can actually have a net dehydrating effect, because the stored body water will be pulled into the small intestine to dilute the sugar.
- Rot your teeth (we all know this)
- Cause fat storage: The body has to store that excess energy somewhere
- Harmful Chemicals: From the artificial food dyes – which are especially toxic to children and their neurology – to the questionable “natural and artificial flavors” to the endocrine disrupting/GMO brominated vegetable oil, Gatorade is far from anything healthy.
So, what are the healthiest sports drinks to replenish electrolytes?
First, it’s very unlikely you’ll need such replenishment unless you’re doing strenuous activity over 2 hours (or you’ve got a stomach bug or you’re in labor :)).
In these instances, it’s definitely recommended to consume a healthy sports drink to rehydrate. Sodium is especially important in this mix, because it helps transport water through the walls of the small intestine, where 95% of fluid absorption takes place. It also helps to prevent hyponatremia, a serious condition caused by a lack of salt in the blood, which leads to water imbalance and build-up in the brain.
The Healthiest Sports Drinks
Check out these options for healthy rehydration!
- Homemade healthy sports drink:
- 16 oz. of water
- Juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon (contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium)
- 1/4-1/8 teaspoon Himalayan, Celtic, or sea salt (for added minerals!!)
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup (to aid in absorption of water)
For other DIY healthy sports drinks, check out Food Babe’s suggestions here.
- Unsweetened coconut water (this has simple sugars and a ton of electrolytes, but may need a pinch of sea salt to boost sodium)
- Kombucha or fermented pickle or sauerkraut juice (bonus: you’ll get probiotics for a healthier gut and immune system!)
- An electrolyte replacement like this one with water
- Bone broth! Homemade is best, and has calcium and magnesium for muscle relaxation, along with amino acids to refuel the muscles and joints.
Note: For improving endurance and performance and recovery, consuming 1 glass of beet juice or black coffee or low sugar (or diluted) tart cherry juice 1 hour before training or competition can help!
For more on hydration, check out my post here!
Sports drinks and performance
For optimal performance, athletes should be hydrated and adequately fuelled during exercise. Although there are a wide range of beverages marketed with reference to sport or performance; sports drinks are specifically designed to provide the right balance of carbohydrate, electrolytes and fluid to adequately fuel exercise and provide fluid for hydration. When used appropriately they can result in performance benefits.
Table 1 below compares the nutritional composition of commercially available sports drinks available in Australia. If drinking sports drink products in powdered form it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that the carbohydrate and electrolyte balance is optimal for gut absorption, fluid balance and fuel delivery. Incorrect preparation may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort and a negative impact on performance.
n/a = no value given
|Gatorade||Gatorade Endurance||Powerade||Powerade Zero||Maximus||Staminade|
Fat – total
PER 1 Litre
n/a = no value given
What’s in a sports drink?
Carbohydrate can have performance benefits in a range of sporting events by providing a fuel source for muscles and the brain. Carbohydrate also contributes to the palatability (taste) of sports drinks. Most sports drinks contain 6- 8% carbohydrate (6-8g/L). Carbohydrate concentrations above this can impair gastric emptying and lead to gut upset during exercise and impair performance.
Sports drinks include the electrolytes sodium and potassium. The sodium content of sports drinks encourages fluid intake by driving the thirst mechanism, while also increasing absorption and fluid retention. Sports drinks may also help with salt replacement for athletes who are heavy or salty sweaters. Low sodium drinks may not be suitable when speedy rehydration is necessary (i.e. when there is a need replace a fluid deficit in a short period of time). The addition of potassium to sports drinks helps maintain electrolyte balance and can assist with muscle contraction during exercise.
Flavour is an important feature of sports drinks that helps to increase voluntary fluid intake (compared to water) during or after exercise.
Some beverages marketed as sports drinks have other added ingredients like vitamins, minerals, protein and herbal ingredients. These extra ingredients are likely to offer very little (if any) additional benefit over standard sports drink and may affect the palatability, and subsequently consumption of the fluid. Some sports drinks also contain caffeine which can have performance benefits. For more information see the Caffeine factsheet.
- Before exercise
Sports drinks may be useful before an event to fine tune fluid and fuel (carbohydrate) intake. The carbohydrate in sports drinks can increase carbohydrate availability, while the added sodium may reduce urine losses before exercise begins.
- During exercise
Sports drinks are primarily designed for use during exercise lasting more than 90 minutes by providing optimal fluid and fuel delivery. Sports drinks may allow athletes to perform for longer and more effectively in training and competition by providing energy to working muscles and the brain.
Sports drinks can help meet nutrition recovery goals by replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat and helping to replenish glycogen stores. If there is limited time between training sessions or competition, drinks with higher sodium content may promote more effective rehydration. To meet all recovery goals, the ingestion of sports drinks should be complimented with foods and fluids that provide adequate carbohydrate, protein, and other nutrients essential for recovery.
Potential side effects
Excessive consumption of sports drink can cause gastrointestinal upset. It is recommended that athletes drink small amounts frequently (rather than a lot at once) and trial options during training.
Acidic foods and fluids are one of the factors linked to tooth enamel erosion. Sports drinks, together with fruit juice, soft drink, wine, beer, tea and coffee are all examples of acidic fluids. The use of sports drinks alone is unlikely to cause dental erosion. However, athletes who use large quantities of sports drinks for prolonged periods should pay extra attention to dental hygiene. For more information see the Dental Health for Athletes factsheet.
The ideal sports drink depends on personal taste preferences and individual tolerance. While the exact nutrition composition of sports drinks varies, they generally contain similar amounts of carbohydrate and electrolytes. Sports drinks should be trialled during training rather than in competition. Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you develop an individual fluid plan including sports drinks that is appropriate for you. To find one near you,
Looking for the best drink to fight dehydration? It turns out there are quite a few options when it comes to filling your body back up with water and electrolytes. Whether you’re looking for post-workout replenishment or trying to keep your body hydrated during a bout of the stomach flu, these options will help you feel better.
As you can imagine, water is one of the best drinks to fight dehydration. Drinking water throughout your workout helps replace the water you’re losing by sweating. It’s also key to drink when you’re not feeling well. And, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’ll probably be able to find a glass of water.
2. Electrolyte-Infused Water
What’s even better than water? Water with electrolytes. When you’re dehydrated, you’re depleted of electrolytes that help your kidneys function—drinks like Smartwater and Trader Joe’s Alkaline Water Plus Electrolytes can come to the rescue and ward off a headache or other mild dehydration-related issues.
Pedialyte is an advanced, medical-grade hydration formula containing the key electrolytes potassium, sodium, and chloride designed to restore your body’s sugar and electrolyte balance. Good for both children and adults, Pedialyte gets you on the fast track to feeling better, especially when you’re sick with a stomach flu or other illness.
A favorite of athletes and workout warriors, Gatorade is chock full of electrolytes—but it’s also high in sugar. Sugar, in this case, is not all bad: it’s actually helping your body absorb the electrolytes more efficiently. Plus, Gatorade does have an option with less calories and sugar called G2 for those watching their sugar intake.
5. Homemade Electrolyte-Rich Drink
With the right ingredients, you can whip up your own electrolyte-infused drink. The key is including sugar, salt, and plenty of water. This delicious lemon-ginger electrolyte drink recipe calls for ginger, lemon, lime juice, agave, sea salt, and mineral water.
It’s not a drink, but watermelon is 92% water. Any time you eat watermelon, you’re getting water and a hefty dose of vitamin A, vitamin C, and electrolytes.
7. Coconut Water
Coconut water is nature’s version of a sports drink. It contains five main electrolytes: potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium. Like a sports drink, coconut water also has sugar. What’s the difference, then? A store-bought sports drink has up to four times as much sodium as coconut water, but it also contans high-fructose corn syrup instead of natural glucose and fructose.
What to Avoid When You’re Dehydrated
On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find drinks that can actually make you more dehydrated. Namely, drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Avoid reaching for coffee, tea, and soda, no matter how refreshing it looks. As for alcoholic beverages, keep this in mind: the higher the alcohol concentration, the more dehydrating the drink—that’s why it’s important to always drink water alongside your cocktail!
Symptoms of Dehydration
Not sure if you’re dehydrated? In addition to thirst, these are the tell-tale symptoms of dehydration:
- Dry Mouth
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
Dehydration can be illness-related, due to the vomiting and diarrhea caused by a stomach flu and food poisoning. Dehydration can also be caused by exercise, heat, or even travel. The next time you’re feeling dehydrated, grab any of the above drinks to get your body back in balance!
Electrolyte Replacements 101
The best electrolyte replacements – powders, drinks, tablets, mixes, supplements.
What electrolytes are, how to replace electrolytes and why we lose them.
What are Electrolytes?
Nope… it ain’t just salt. Electrolytes are, by definition, substances that break down to electrically conductive particles (called “ions”) when dissolved in a polar solvent. To cut through the scientific jargon, let’s focus on what that means for your body. In other words, when electrolyte minerals are mixed with water (the “polar solvent”), they become electrically charged.
Consuming adequate levels of this electrolyte solution is essential for the human body to function. Maintaining a proper balance of these nutrients during intense physical activity is even more important.
There are a lot of electrolytes – mainly salts, acids and bases. However, there are only a handful that naturally occur in body fluid. These are:
Calcium (Ca): Critical to maintaining general bone health, an important consideration with the constant stress backpacking, cycling, running, etc places on your bones. Calcium also ensures your blood properly clots – very important when cut.
FDA Recommended DV: 1,000 mg
Food Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, seafood, greens, soy.
Potassium (K): This mineral is essential for a lot of organs to function properly, including regulating your heartbeat and kidneys. It also helps with maintain fluid levels, ph balance, and prevent muscle cramps.
FDA Recommended DV: 4,500 mg
Food Sources: Bananas, dates, sweet potatoes, squash, coconut.
Sodium (Na): Sodium is vital in regulating body fluid volumes. Specifically, regulating water levels, blood pressure and blood volume. The major positively charged ion – called “cation”.
FDA Recommended DV: 2,400 mg/day
Food Sources: Most anything with salt (sodium chloride). Naturally occurs in beets, chicken, milk, celery.
Chloride (Cl): Works hand in hand with Sodium in regulating your body fluid as well as cell balance. The major negative charged ion – called “anion”.
FDA Recommended DV: 3,400 mg/day
Food Sources: Most anything with salt (sodium chloride). Naturally occurs in tomatoes, lettuce, seaweed, cauliflower, radishes.
Magnesium (Mg): Acts a vehicle in transporting other electrolytes like potassium and calcium through cell membranes. Makes it crucial for the nervous and muscular systems as well as well heart rhythm.
FDA Recommended DV: 400 mg/day.
Natural Food Sources: Fish, nuts, seeds, dark greens, dark chocolate, bananas.
Other important electrolytes are Bicarbonate (HCO3) and Phospate (HPO4). See all FDA recommended daily values.
Sweating and Losing Electrolytes
We lose electrolytes when we lose bodily fluids – dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. During exercise and intense physical activity, we lose large amounts of electrolytes through sweating.
ALL of our common electrolytes are depleted when we sweat. Sweat is mostly water which makes hydration essential. However, sweat also contains large amounts of sodium and chloride as well as small amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and bicarbonate.
Go for a long run on a hot day or hike up a big mountain and you can sweat out a huge amount of these electrolytes. Losing too many electrolytes will lead to an imbalance. An improper balance can cause headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, dehydration and even seizures. Going for an extended period of time with an imbalance can lead to some seriously nasty problems like this long list of deadly diseases.
The rate at which an individual loses electrolytes varies drastically. Activity, intensity, humidity, elevation, gender, weight, etc all play a role in depletion rates which makes estimations so difficult and relatively, inaccurate. We also sweat with varying concentration levels of electrolytes. That being said, for sodium, a general rule of thumb to is to replace 80-240 mg per hour. See another depletion study.
How to Replace Electrolytes?
For endurance activities like long-distance backpacking, running and cycling, most athletes consume electrolytes before, during AND after activity. Note you may not need to proactively replace electrolytes if you are doing moderate physical or are active for less than an hour. After all, over consuming too many can create problems as well – like Hypernatremia.
There are a ton of electrolytes replacements on the market – from sports drinks, powder mixes, dissolvable tablets, performance chews, jelly beans, and supplements.
Try to keep it natural. A LOT of replacements for sale are chemically fortified, contain heavily refined sugars, artificial sweeteners (like harmful aspartame) and artificial coloring. You can always make your own with ingredients from the grocery store. Coconut water is often called “nature’s Gatorade” and contains an array of essential electrolyte minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
If you’re up for experimenting, an easy DIY electrolyte drink recipe is:
● 1 part lemon juice
● 2 parts orange juice
● 2 parts coconut water
● 6 parts water
● pinch of salt
● spoon of honey
The Best Electrolyte Replacements
*Note we intentionally excluded Dr. Price, Vega, Gatorade, Powerade, Propel for various reasons.
NUUN – TABLETS
Drop a tablet in your bottle and watch it fizz away. 10 Nuun tablets come in each convenient pop-top bottle. Only 1 g of sugar per tablet. They champion simple ingredients and include fruit powders and leaf extracts. There are several variations ranging from 10-60 calories, optional caffeine, flavors, and electrolyte combinations.
SKRATCH LABS – MIX
Dubbed the “all natural sports drink” – Skratch Labs is a tasty option to mix or shake into a sports drink. Each serving contains 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Depending on your needs, these high levels could be a deal breaker or music to your ears. Naturally flavored by real fruit.
LYTESHOW – LIQUID CONCENTRATE
This concentration is not designed to be a sweet and tasty sports drink and adds a slightly tart flavor when added to water. However, this stuff packs a punch. It does not have any artificial sweeteners or flavoring – just water and electrolytes. Unlike most replacements, Lyteshow prioritizes Magnesium over Sodium.
ULTIMA REPLENISHER – MIX
Another great all-natural energy mix in easy packets. The best thing about Ultima Replenisher is the long list of electrolytes, vitamins and minerals that are provided. They prioritized Magnesium over Sodium even more than LyteShow. Therefore, note this is a low Sodium mix. Also there are 0 calories and 0 g of sugar.
See Ultima Replenisher.
SALT STICK – CAPSULES
Not as fun or tasty to consume as other replacements on the list. Depending on your activity, the pill form could be the easiest option. These tablets provide dense levels of four main electrolytes – Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium. Don’t count on much else though.
See Salt Stick.
GU ENERGY – MIX
Gu mainly focuses on gels, but also offers some seriously tasty energy drink mixes for endurance athletes. Most servings provide around 70 calories and 9 grams of sugar. Others (like Roctane) get up to a whopping 250 calories and 16 grams of sugar. Also available with caffeine and in packets.
TAILWIND NUTRITION – ENDURANCE FUEL
Mix this with water, shake, and now you have a relatively high-calorie drink complete with electrolytes for hydration. No artificial ingredients added. Enjoy its variety of light, refreshing flavors minus the “gut bomb”. There is also a caffeinated option available. See Tailwind Nutrition.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.
Sports Drinks vs. Water: When It’s Best To Use Each
Most runners have repeatedly heard that advice that the must drink fluids as the summer months approach or when heat waves strike. Well duh, who doesn’t drink when it’s hot?
Instead of boring you with yet another “news flash” article about how you need to drink more when it’s hot, I’m going delve into some of the specifics of summer hydration – when you should be drinking water versus when you should be drinking sports drinks (or an electrolyte beverage) and how to calculate exactly how much fluid you need on any given training run.
To preface, this article is about hydration and drinking protocols during training, not during a marathon race or while you’re practicing your marathon nutrition strategy. During marathons or fueling for marathon specific long runs, refueling is important and another topic entirely.
Fluid absorption rate
First, it’s important you understand how sugar and electrolytes impact your fluid absorption rates. The speed at which water, electrolytes, and sugars can be absorbed into the blood stream is one of the main determinants of what type of beverage you should choose when trying to stay hydrated.
The absorption of fluids into the body is largely dependent upon two factors: (1) the rate at which it is absorbed through the walls of the small intestine; and (2) the speed at which it is emptied from the stomach. Both of these factors are controlled by the composition of a liquid in terms of its carbohydrate (sugar), and electrolyte concentrations.
As a general rule, the higher the carbohydrate content of your beverage, the slower the absorption rate will be. Consequently, trying to maintain proper hydration and balanced electrolyte levels during a run with sugary sports drinks is difficult. On the other hand, plain water passes through the body too quickly and without providing the necessary sugar to spark the insulin response and ignite the recovery process.
Therefore, your choice for hydration will depend on whether your primary aim is rehydration (keeping the body cool and maintaining fluid balance) or the replenishment of energy (sugar and electrolyte stores).
What is best to drink before and during running
Most sports drinks on the market are what sports scientists call isotonic, which means they contain a carbohydrate solution that is at 6-8% concentration. These drinks are in the middle of the spectrum in terms of absorption rate, with water being the most readily absorbed (hypotonic) and something like fruit juice, being greater than 8% sugar concentration (hypertonic) being the least absorbable. Because the sugar concentration of most sports drinks is higher than that of most body fluid they are not readily absorbed into the blood stream and are thus not optimal for hydration.
Before and during your run, rehydration should be your main priority. When training in warm conditions, rehydration will allow you to maintain fluid balance and stay cool. Accordingly, your best choice before and during your run would be water, a heavily diluted sports beverage, or water with electrolyte tablets.
By drinking water alone, diluting your sports drink, or using electrolyte substitutes, you provide your body with the best combination of electrolyte replacement and immediate absorption. Likewise, electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, reduce urine output, speed the rate at which fluids empty the stomach, promote absorption from the small intestine, and encourage fluid retention.
Furthermore, not only do you want to shy away from consuming unnecessary amounts of simple sugar when you can avoid it, research shows that when a runner consumes high-glycemic (Gl) foods, like high-sugar sports drinks or energy bars, an hour before a run, he or she may become fatigued more quickly.
What to drink after running
After you are finished working out, water or a diluted sports drink is not the best choice for your recovery needs. Water and diluted drinks do not contain enough of the sugars and electrolytes that your body needs in order to bring itself back into balance.
In addition, because water or highly diluted drinks are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, consuming high quantities results in a rise in plasma volume (in non technical terms, this means your body is oversaturated with water). This rapid absorption leads to a further imbalance of electrolytes and frequent bathroom stops, which will only increase fluid loss and decrease your desire to drink.
Your best choice post workout is a drink that contains a fair amount of sugars, electrolytes and possibly some protein. Scientific literature has consistently shown that drinking a beverage that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is optimal for recovery. Therefore, at the very least, you should be drinking a sports drink after you exercise to help ignite the recovery process.
Calculating your sweat loss for optimal hydration
When it comes to losing and rehydrating and replenishing electrolytes every runner is different. Some runners are “salty sweaters” and some people sweat very little. The most efficient way to rehydrate properly is to put back exactly how much fluid you’ve lost while running. This will help you avoid an upset stomach from drinking too much, becoming a victim of hyponatremia, or not drinking enough and becoming dehydrated.
Unfortunately, most generalized advice doesn’t cut it when it comes to how much you need to rehydrate: some say drink to thirst, which may not keep up with your own body’s sweat loss rate if you’re a heavy sweater,; or 8-10oz per hour, which doesn’t factor in temperature, humidity, or environmental factors.
This makes rehydrating properly sound daunting, but calculating your exact fluid loss in any given temperature and humidity is actually quite easy if you use a sweat loss calculator and create a reference chart. All you need to input is your weight before and after each run, any fluid taken or lost through going to the bathroom, and the distance/time you ran. The calculator will do the hard work for you.
RunnersConnect Master Extra
Download your FREE Sweat Rate Calculator now in your members-only download section.
If you are unsure about how to calculate how much water to consume, and electrolytes to use, this will give you your exact needs.
Not a RunnersConnect Master member?
Use this calculator a few times in different temperatures and record your results. You’ll now have an easy reference chart for exactly how much fluid you need replenish on any given run and in any given temperature. This will help you avoid dehydration, over hydrating, or getting a sloshing stomach this summer.
A version of this post originally appeared at competitor.com
What should I look for in sports drinks?
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates can be essential to performance by replenishing what is lost during activity, mostly through sweat. For activities less than 60 minutes, water is the best drink to replace lost fluids. If your exercise session or mission exceeds 60 minutes, then sports drinks can be helpful. Follow HPRC’s guidelines for maintaining important nutrients such as fluid, carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium during activity to keep well hydrated and on top of your game.
Sports drinks, which have been around since the 1960s, can be a quick and convenient way to replace nutrients and fluids lost during exercise. They’re used before, during, and after physical activity to minimize dehydration and restore lost nutrients such as electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and others), carbohydrates, and vitamins. However, this article focuses on sports beverages designed for use during exercise. Remember that energy drinks and recovery drinks/protein shakes are not the same as carbohydrate-and-electrolyte sports drinks.
- For exercise less than 60 minutes, water is sufficient.
- For exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes, research supports consuming electrolyte-and-carbohydrate drinks.
What Nutrients are Important?
- Fluid maintains the hydration essential to performance optimization. Losing just 2% of body weight through dehydration can impact performance. For more information, see HPRC’s Hydration postcard. In general, you should drink 3–8 oz. of a sports drink every 15–20 min. (A gulp is about 1–2 oz.) Fluid needs depend on many different factors, so be sure to drink when you’re thirsty.
- Carbohydrates are a quick source of energy, and they help maintain blood sugar. Both are vital for performance. However, sports drinks with more than 20 grams carbohydrates per 8 oz. may cause stomach upset.
- Sodium is lost through sweat and should be replenished. Sodium helps stimulate thirst and retain fluid.
- Potassium is also lost in sweat. It’s important for rehydrating and maintaining muscle contractions.
- Vitamins: Some sports drinks contain B vitamins, but there is no evidence that additional B vitamins during training will improve your exercise performance if you get enough from food.
What should my sports drink contain?
Per 8 oz., a sports drink should contain:
- Carbs: 12–24 g
- Sodium: 82–163 mg
- Potassium: 18–46 mg
Many commercial sports drink products (such as Gatorade, Powerade, Cytomax, and All Sport) are designed to meet these fueling guidelines. However, ingredients vary among different products, so you should always read the Nutrition Facts panel on the label for nutrient information.
Choose one that tastes good so you will actually drink it. Avoid trying new products during races and missions. Experiment only when you are training, so you can see if a new drink causes any stomach issues.
You can even make your own sports drink using this simple recipe:
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup hot water
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3½ cups cold water
Dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water. Add the juice and the remaining water; drink or chill if preferred. Makes one quart.
Nutrition per 8 oz: 50 calories, 12g carbohydrates, 110 mg sodium, 40 mg potassium
Well-balanced meals, snacks, and water/fluid combinations should always be the first choice to ensure hydration and general nutrition. However, in training and combat zones where intense physical activity may be combined with extreme environmental conditions, performance is likely to suffer if you aren’t well hydrated and you’re low in essential electrolytes and carbohydrates. Sports drinks can help maintain fluid and nutrient levels under these conditions. In addition, sports drinks can provide a convenient way to hydrate and consume nutrients when options are limited. However, keep in mind that if you aren’t exercising strenuously enough to deplete nutrients and water, these sports drinks can add excess calories and sugar to your diet.