Staying well hydrated is key to being able to survive steamy summer exercise. Athletes who fail to drink enough end up feeling needlessly tired, grumpy, headachy and irritable. The goal: Drink enough so that you need to urinate at least every four hours. That means, you should need to go to the bathroom before each meal (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner).
Should you drink water or sports drink to maintain proper hydration? Here’s what you need to know:
Water does the job when you have food in your stomach. Food helps retain fluid in your body. In comparison, plain water consumed on an empty stomach quickly goes in one end, out the other. That’s why marathoners and other endurance athletes who don’t eat much before or during exercise would be wise to choose a sports drink. In contrast, hikers, bicyclists, and people who eat before and during extended exercise can do fine with just plain water.
Sports drinks often taste better than plain water. Better taste encourages better fluid intake and that can reduce the risk of becoming dehydrated during extended exercise. Fitness exercisers: think twice before purchasing a sports drink. Do you really need the extra sugar and calories?
Sports drinks are advertised as electrolyte replacers. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals — commonly named sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium — that you lose in sweat. Advertisements do NOT tell you this: You consume abundant electrolytes in food. Your pre-exercise meal provides more electrolytes than you’d get by drinking a sports drink.
Sodium, one of the electrolytes added to a sports drink, helps retain fluid in your body. Yet, the amount of sodium in a sports drink is low compared to what you eat in typical meals. That is, a Chipotle burrito bowl with chicken, black beans, rice, cheese & guacamole contains more than 2,000 milligrams sodium. That’s 20 times more than in 8 ounces of most sports drinks and two times more than you might lose in a quart (two lbs.) of sweat.
Here is how some beverages and foods compare in sodium content:
Cytomax, 8 ounces 90 mg sodium
Gatorade, 8 ounces 110 mg sodium
Chocolate Milk, 2%, 8 oz. 150 mg sodium
V-8 Vegetable Juice, 8 oz. 640 mg sodium
Dill pickle spear 350 mg sodium
Beef Jerky, 1 ounce 600 mg sodium
Salt, ¼ tsp sprinkled on food 600 mg sodium
Chipotle burrito bowl 2,000 mg sodium
When you will be exercising for more than two hours in hot weather, chose salty foods (or sprinkle salt on some of your food) before you exercise. For example, add salt to your omelet at breakfast or include mustard and cheese with a turkey sandwich. Getting a hefty dose of sodium into your body before you even start to exercise retains fluid, delays the rate at which you might become dehydrated, and enhances endurance.
The bottom line: As a summer athlete, you can easily consume plenty of electrolytes in your pre- and post-exercise meals. Drink a sports drink for taste and fluids, more so than for electrolytes.
For more information: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook