Fitness experts remain undecided about the effectiveness of sports drinks after exercise. Some experts believe they’re too full of sugar to do any good, while others claim they’re an effective way to replace bodily fluids lost while working out. What do we think? Well, it depends. Let’s dive deeper into what sports drinks are and let you decide what’s right for you.
Sports Drink Defined
What is defined as a sports drink? A sports drink, or “energy drink,” is any beverage meant to rehydrate, boost energy, and replenish electrolytes lost in sweating. All sports drinks contain water, sugar, salt, carbohydrates (sugar), and potassium. Some drinks contain extra ingredients (like amino acids) to help build muscle mass. (1)
Side note: Beware of the hundreds of “energy” drinks on the market. Many of those drinks claim to be sports drinks, but actually contain more sugar and caffeine than is necessary for anyone trying to lose weight through a workout.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential to ensuring that your body’s cells are working properly. In the world of nutrition, we use the word “electrolyte” to refer to minerals dissolved in the body’s fluids, creating electrically charged ions. The electrolytes that are the most important in nutrition are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. (2)
Unless you’re exercising vigorously, you lose only a few electrolytes when you sweat. Normal electrolyte loss can be replaced by drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet. Yet when you have a really hard workout and sweat a lot, you may lose too many electrolytes. If you are doing moderate exercise in a very hot environment, you may also lose electrolytes that can’t be replaced by drinking water alone. This is where sports drinks come in.
Since sports drinks contain sugar, they can help replenish electrolytes lost during a workout, and can also give you a boost of energy. But that doesn’t mean you should guzzle them down before and after each exercise, because like we said above, one concern with sports drinks is that they deliver unneeded calories. Some contain 150 calories, the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.(4)
Experts recommend drinking up to three cups of water for every pound of weight lost while working out. But that may be difficult for some people because they don’t like drinking large quantities of water at once. So if you’re one of these people, opting for an energy or sports drink is going to lead to better hydration.
But you don’t need a sports drink to recover from a workout. Drinking water along with edible sources, like energy bars or fruit, contain just as many carbohydrates as sports drinks. If you choose this option, you can drink plain water to hydrate.