HomeHealth articlesdrinking waterHow Is Hydration Different With Water and a Sports Drink?

Hydration With Water Versus Sports Drinks

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Is it a good idea to replace sports drinks with water? Read the article below to take a closer look at this proposition.

Written by

Dr. Zeba Jabeen

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At November 2, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 11, 2022

Why Is Hydration Important?

Water is crucial for good human health and is the major constituent of almost all body parts. The human body comprises 60 % water, which serves various functions like regulating body temperature, flushing out toxins, transporting oxygen throughout the body, etc. Water is taken in as food and beverage and excreted through urine, feces, sweat, and breath. It is essential to maintain a balance between water intake and excretion.

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claims that a requisite fluid intake per day is approximately 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for adult males and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for adult females. This does not only include water. Instead, it combines all fluids consumed from the food and drinks eaten.

After physical training or a workout, especially an intense one, a lot of water and electrolytes are lost from the body as sweat, like sodium, potassium, and even some carbohydrates. Since water alone cannot substitute all these nutrients, folks have started relying on sports drinks or beverages. So, it is imperative to always stay hydrated daily, irrespective of whether a person is involved in the exercise.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when fluid loss from the body surpasses its intake. Decreased consumption of fluid, particularly water, can result in dehydration too. This condition is caused by excessive perspiration, fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.

An individual’s hydration level can also be affected by personal factors like his age, medications, health conditions, etc., and environmental factors such as weather and the altitude of his place. Not having sufficient water intake can have a detrimental influence on both physical and mental performance.

The common manifestations of dehydration are:

  • Fatigue.

  • Dizziness.

  • Increased thirst.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Increased perspiration.

  • Decreased urination.

  • Dark-colored urine.

  • Dry skin.

  • Confusion.

  • Headache.

However, a healthcare provider should be contacted immediately if you or anyone around experiences any of these signs or symptoms. Extra hydration is imperative when a person is ill with conditions like fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. People who get involved in physical training sessions or work outdoors in hot weather have increased chances of dehydration, so it is necessary to look for the warning signs. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration during a sport or exercise can cause decreased endurance, fatigue, reduced motivation, and a higher perceived effort. So, if workouts are a part of your daily routine, carry a handy hydration bottle.

Why Is Water a Good Choice for Hydration?

Water is an essential element of life. In addition to this, Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that calorie-free drinks, particularly water, should be the primary beverage consumed. Nutritionally, water is a great option due to its zero calories, sugar, caffeine, or fat content. It also provides adequate hydration.

Other benefits of water are as follows:

  • It helps in the composition and repair of every body cell.

  • It regulates body temperature.

  • It flushes out toxins from the body through sweat, urination, and feces.

  • It acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord.

  • It helps in the formation of various body fluids like saliva.

  • It provides lubrication to the joints.

  • It aids in digestion.

  • It keeps the mucus membranes moist.

  • It transports oxygen throughout the body.

When Should You Go for a Sports Drink?

Sports drinks are a beneficial choice for athletes to replenish water and lost nutrients. But, it is not mandatory to have them, especially if a person exercises at a light to moderate level for less than an hour. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the average person seek hydration from water, not from sports drinks.

Sports drinks are advised when excessive sweat is lost, like in those athletes who get involved in strenuous training. Athletes with increased sweat rates, very salty sweat, or those who exercise for more than one to two hours need sodium replenishment, and sports beverages are a good alternative. Sports refreshments may also benefit athletes competing in extended tournaments conducted in hot weather conditions, like a tennis match series or a marathon. They also may be fruitful for those wearing thick and heavy attires, like football players or BMX competitors.

A sports drink can be considered to be consumed in the conditions listed below:

  • Continuous exercise lasting longer than an hour.

  • Training in extreme environments, like increased heat and humid conditions.

  • Increased sweat loss.

  • When excessive and thick clothing is needed, more sweat is produced.

Drinking during a workout aims to prevent increased dehydration and abnormal electrolyte levels. But, the sweating rates and the loss of electrolytes differ individually, so it is best to consult a healthcare provider and work on a customized hydration program.

What to Look For in a Sports Drink?

Sports drinks are composed of carbohydrates and electrolytes to aid in replenishing nutrients excreted during exercise. Certain sports drinks are industrially manufactured and marketed in bottles as ready-to-drink items, and some can be bought as tablets or powders that can be added to water and consumed.

Sports drinks are produced with the right amount of carbohydrates and fluids, so they move out rapidly from the gut and are quickly absorbed by the intestines. Although most contain sugar, certain sports drinks are prepared with artificial sweeteners and are free of carbohydrates, so the nutrition labels should be carefully read before purchasing them.

Sports drinks also carry a mix of electrolytes and minerals, including sodium and potassium. Sodium elevates the thirst mechanism, making a person consume more fluid. It also enhances fluid absorption and retention. Potassium is incorporated as it helps in muscle contraction during exercise.

For every eight ounces of the drink, it should contain the following ingredients:

  • Carbohydrates: 12 to 24 grams.

  • Sodium: 82 to 163 mg.

  • Potassium: 18 to 46 mg.


Hydration is essential for the body to function correctly. Sports drinks are an excellent substitute for water and other available beverages as they are specially made for the specific purpose of hydrating sportspersons and athletes. Moreover, they are usually free of adverse effects, so they can be easily included in the sports routine.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop



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