Choosing what to drink during and after a workout can be tricky, too. Something we may often reach for is a sports drink. It’s for sport, we reason, it must be what we need – right?
Sports drinks are sophisticated products into which drinks companies pour a great deal of research, development and dollars. It’s a high-tech and lucrative business; one 2015 report found 60 percent of US adults drink sports drinks, whether they’re exercising or not.
"Sports drinks are formulated for athletes engaged in long, high-intensity training and sports sessions, to allow them to quickly rehydrate and recover."
When athletes are exercising intensely for an hour or more and sweating a lot, rehydration is really important. Sports drinks have been shown to delay fatigue and improve exercise performance in these circumstances. The carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) in these drinks is a quick source of energy and helps the gut absorb water. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium replace what’s lost in sweat, and sodium helps with rehydration too.
Pro athletes, then, need their hydration options. But what about the rest of us? Is a sports drink what we need after a big gym workout or a tough game of tennis?
The answer, according to the experts, is probably no – and the evidence seems to support this. One study looked at healthy men and compared the effects of water, coconut water and a sports drink after 60 minutes of dehydrating exercise on a treadmill. It found all drinks were equally as effective for rehydration.
A 2012 BMJ article concluded that despite many studies, the evidence for benefit from sports drinks is limited, and the drinks industry has used its marketing to influence advice about dehydration and re-hydration more than the evidence has.