Sports drink or water? Well, that depends

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As most of the United States swelters through a record heat wave, GlobalSport Matters wondered what is the best way to stay hydrated as you try to keep your cool?

It’s no secret – hydration is critical for any athlete when it comes to reaching their full potential. Although commercials and other advertisements would tell you that Gatorade and similar sports drinks offer benefits that exceed what water can offer, what is more effective when it comes to hydration and recovery? According to a BMJ Journals study, 27 percent to 55 percent of the 318 college athletes that were screened for dehydration in a clinical setting via urine methods were deemed dehydrated. Those 318 athletes were also screened using a blood test, the results of which showed none of the athletes were actually dehydrated. In other words, an athlete might be told that he or she is dehydrated via urine screening, when their blood toxicity doesn’t actually show signs of dehydration.

The distinction between sports drinks and water comes when you look at what works for an athlete who participates in more rigorous activity. According to Unity Point Health, most sports drinks contain the same ingredients: carbohydrates, sodium, potassium and amino acids. Furthermore, the study goes on to say these sport drinks, since their inception, have always been designed to replenish carbs and electrolytes in high intensity athletes. So, what’s changed? Why are these drinks so readily available today for even leisure athletes? In short, the answer is the marketing and how these drinks are presented. “These drinks were never intended to be consumed by the general public, but unfortunately, they have been marketed to the masses with the underlying message that if you drink these, you will become a great athlete like Michael Jordan,” Dr. Andrew Nish, MD said in the Unity Point Health study. “Unfortunately, most people will just gain weight.”

As part of its marketing effort, Gatorade debuted at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival and at the NFL Combine a new interactive virtual reality simulation called Beat the Blitz.  The game is designed to show players what happens to the body as your level of hydration deteriorates and even simulates the effects with blurred vision and other modifications.

Marketing aside, an athlete’s activity level should be the deciding factor in hydration choice. “Water, water and water should be the beverage of choice for hydration,” Dr. Nish said, “before, during and after physical activity or exercise routines lasting less than one hour.”

The sports drinks can do more harm than good for that person looking to fit in some casual exercise. However, for professional or collegiate athletes, sport drinks can help hydration and can help the recovery process due to the number of supplements in the drink. After all, these drinks were designed for collegiate football players.

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