The truth about sports drinks

April 20, 2022

It’s a frequently asked question:

“When I’m training should I opt for Sports Drinks rather than water?”

There’s no real right or wrong here for me but I must admit I’m a great believer in allowing thirst to be the guide when it comes to the intake of fluids and my drink of choice is almost always water.

Some nutritionists and trainers say that the body needs more than water alone, pointing to the fact that there is simply not enough Sodium in good old H20, and they also claim that the pleasant taste of a sports drink actually makes you take on more fluid that you otherwise would. To be honest, I’ve personally never struggled with the taste (or tastelessness) of water and if I got particularly bored with it I’d just add a piece of cucumber or fruit to my drinks bottle.

There are a few recognised advantages of Sports Drinks which are:

  • They contain dissolved minerals, including Sodium, which help regulate fluid balance within the body and can aid in the transport of fluid to the bloodstream and to key areas such as muscles
  • The Sodium which they contain not only stimulates thirst, but also helps with the retention of any water taken on board
  • Dissolved carbohydrates which are present within some brands reach the bloodstream rapidly and can provide an energy blast

But, on balance, there are some disadvantages to be considered:

  • There tends to be around 100 calories (sometimes more) per drink which may lead to weight gain and counteract any weight loss advantage you were hoping to achieve through training 
  • These drinks contain high amounts of sugar which can be problematic for those with diabetes and can also lead to dental problems over the longer term
  • There is a cost associated with adding these drinks to your workouts which may not be considerable, but water is, of course, free!

‘Sports Drinks’ is the fastest growing sector in the UK soft drinks market but, for me, this may say more about the huge amount of money being spent world-wide in their promotion, rather than the indisputable proof of their necessity. Care must also be taken not to confuse these drinks with Energy Drinks (Monster, Red Bull etc.) which contain high amounts of caffeine, a substance which introduces its own challenges to maintaining general health and well-being.

When I advise clients on their training programmes I always lean towards water and its ability to refresh and hydrate naturally. I accept that there are some who could benefit from the added boost of the electrolytes Sports Drinks provide, but these would be clients who are undertaking intense sweat- inducing exercises over long periods of time – for example, long distance cyclists – rather than performing general fitness activities. 

For me, a successful Personal Training programme is one which is tailored specifically to the individual and aims to improve overall health (both physical and mental). Good, balanced nutrition is part of the plan, and, for me, water more than adequately covers the hydration needs of the majority. That said, I’m also a fan of personal choice and encourage my clients to come to their own conclusions. There are many research reports and studies out there and this BMJ article makes a comprehensive read for those who’d like more detail. 

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