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Exercise and Hydration: Water or Sports Drinks?

Exercise and Hydration: Water or Sports Drinks?

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We've all seen the commercials for bottled water. They tell us how clean, pure, and refreshing this life giving liquid is. It's essential to all living things and without it we could not exist. Can a brightly colored sports drink replace water? With all the electrolytes, nutrients, vitamins, and even carbohydrates that you can replenish, you would think that science has actually done one better than nature in the hydration department. Well, let's find out, shall we?

Why Keeping Hydrated is Important

What's all the hubbub about water during exercise? We need to keep hydrated to maintain proper body functioning. Proper hydration allows us to have the ability to regulate body temperature through perspiration, helps to lubricate joints and tissues, and allows our bodies to transport nutrients and eliminate waste products. Dehydrating yourself can lead to a greater load of work on your heart, muscle cramping, dizziness, and fatigue. Your body can even go through heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Should I Keep Hydrated With Water or Sports Drinks?

When looking at hydration during exercise it is important to consider the duration of your activity. If you are exerting yourself for a long period of time, say for a half-marathon or Ironman/woman competition, you may need something more than just water. This is because when you work your body that intensely for that long, you are going to use more of your body's sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes. For intense activities over an hour, you may still want to use a sports drink too since you'll need some calories to continue activity.

Let's be realistic. Not everyone exercises that intensely for that long. For most of us plain old water will do. This is, of course, assuming that we replenish our lost electrolytes through proper diet and nutrition following exercise.

About Electrolytes and Hydration

So why are electrolytes so important? Electrolytes are substances that work as electrically conductive mediums. Muscles contract and expand to do work by use of electric impulses passing through our muscles. When we have the proper level of electrolytes in our bodies, our muscles are able to contract and expand properly. A balanced diet will replenish missing electrolytes on its own while our bodies will simply excrete any excess as waste.

So sure, sports drinks have their place in a workout routine, but they don't have to be a part of everyone's regimen. During shorter, less extreme workouts you can remain hydrated and lubricated by clean water alone.

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