Working Out Hard? Be Sure to Choose the Right Sports Drink

By Dr. Justin Dorfman, Reliant Medical Group Internal Medicine
(Board-certified in Sports Medicine)

Do you take your exercise seriously? Runners, cyclists, soccer players and other athletes who engage in cardiovascular workouts can really work up a sweat when training or competing. Consuming a sports drink can be an important way to help you rehydrate and replace lost energy stores and possibly prevent a decline in performance.

Sports drinks, which have become increasingly popular, contain carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes to help replace the salt you lose through sweat. When picking out a sports drink, look for one that is about four to eight percent in carbohydrates. This will help you get the energy you need while still being easy for your body to digest while exercising. For the body’s electrolyte needs, most sports drinks contain sodium and a smaller amount of potassium. Chances are that any sports drink you choose, such as Gatorade or Powerade, will have all the sodium and potassium you need. Some sports drinks also contain other ingredients such as calcium or protein to help replenish the body. These ingredients are probably not necessary as long as you eat a healthy diet.

Keep in mind that you don’t really need a sports drink unless you are exercising for longer than an hour. If you are exercising for a shorter period than this, drinking water should be fine. If you are exercising to lose weight, remember that your body will burn the carbohydrates in the energy drink before burning any fat. Just like any sweetened drink, consuming sports drinks can make you gain weight if you consume too many. So try to avoid sports drinks that contain more sugar and calories than you need.

One healthy alternative to sports drinks is coconut water, which is a natural source of electrolytes (including potassium). A 2012 study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that coconut water was equally as effective in hydrating participants as a sports drink. A key benefit of unsweetened coconut water is that it is low on the glycemic index, so it won’t dramatically raise your blood sugar. (Some sports drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup, which can spike blood sugar levels and promote body-fat storage.) So coconut water may be an excellent choice unless you are engaging in extensive, high-energy workouts.

If you are looking for a post-workout recovery drink, you may be surprised to know that many people feel milk or chocolate milk from grass-fed cows* is a great choice. Milk contains carbohydrates that can help restore your energy plus proteins to help build muscle. It’s also often less expensive than just about any energy drink you’ll find.

Whatever drink you choose for your workout, remember that staying hydrated is an important way to help your body perform at its highest level and avoid cramps, feeling tired, dizziness and other problems caused by dehydration. So be sure to drink up before, during and after your workout.

*Many people believe that the diet of grass-fed cows produces healthier milk with more omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene and linoleic acid than cows that are not fed on grass.

Working Out Hard? Be Sure to Choose the Right Sports Drink

About Justin Dorfman, DO

Dr. Dorfman has been practicing adult and sports medicine for over a decade. He enjoys working with patients each day and helping them with their problems. Some of his treatments include concussions, patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), and osteoarthritis. “My philosophy of care is to approach each patient individually to look at the bigger picture,” he explains.  In his spare time Dr. Dorfman participates in triathlons and...

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