Okay, I know that sounds pretty silly. You just take off the cap and take a sip. But the truth is that there are some basic things to know about Gatorade and all its cousins that should guide you in making a decision about whether you need one or whether water would be a better choice.
What Happens When You Exercise?
When you exercise, you sweat. Sweat is mostly water with bits of “other stuff” mixed in, including salts like sodium which are known as electrolytes. The longer you exercise, and the more you sweat, the more water and salts you lose and you gradually become dehydrated.
In addition, as you exercise you burn “fuel,” most often in the form of carbohydrates. If your exercise session lasts longer than an hour you may start to run out of gas, your blood sugar may start to drop, and it may become difficult to continue.
What is a Sports Drink?
In addition to the obvious liquid component, most sports drinks contain sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates, as well as some number of calories.
Please note that there is a difference between sports drinks and energy drinks. Energy drinks usually contain high levels of caffeine and other chemicals and are never a good idea for use with exercise.
So What Should I drink?
During an average 30-60 minute, moderate-intensity workout, most of us do not sweat enough to need help from a sports drink in order to rehydrate and replenish our electrolytes. A nice glass of water or two will do the trick (cool or lukewarm water work the fastest).
If, however, you’ve been out for over an hour, have done a particularly strenuous workout, or have been exercising in a really hot and humid environment, then you might want to think about having a sports drink. In any of those situations you would probably also want to bring some liquid along with you during your workout. Taking little sips every so often will help keep your body hydrated, and if you’re going for a long distance, then a sports drink will give you an infusion of carbohydrates to keep your motor running.
One More Thing
Sports drinks are really never for casual consumption. They contain empty calories which are great for an energy boost while exercising, but do nothing but pile up when you’re at rest. They also have a lot of sodium. Most of us already get (much) more than the recommended maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. There is no reason to sit around and drink even more!