Whether you’re a casual runner or training for something serious, like a marathon, adequate hydration is key. Even mild dehydration (losing 1% to 2% of your body weight) can affect your endurance and race times. Which is why you should be sipping fluids before, during, and after exercise. Of course this begs the questions: which fluid? And, is plain old water or a sports drink the optimal pick?
Well, it depends. Let’s run through some of the fluid facts together.
Water is the clear choice for easy efforts
Water is the best choice if you exercise for less than 60 minutes at a moderate intensity level. Ideally you would let your thirst guide you, and drink water before, during, and after exercise. Every runner’s moderate pace varies, but is often defined as the pace at which you can easily hold a conversation while running. If this is your effort level , then H2O is right for you!
Save sports drinks for hard efforts
Sports drinks have gotten a bad rap lately, since they tend to be high in sugar—an ingredient being booed by health experts worldwide. You won’t hear this often, but there is a time and place where the sugar (and added electrolytes) can be good for you, and this is that time!
You may benefit from a sports drink if you exercise for more than 60 minutes at a moderate to high intensity level—the pace where it gets harder to sustain a conversation— for at least an hour. At this rate, you’re exercising hard enough to reap the recovery and rapid rehydration benefits of a sports drink.
Sports drinks contain about 20 to 50 calories and between 5 to 14 g of sugar per 8oz. serving. Glucose (a sugar) fuels exercising muscles. It’s possible to get glucose from any food containing carbohydrates, however, it’s way faster to get it from simple sources like sugar. Why do you want it fast? Because you won’t have time on the road to wait for your whole grain bread to digest. And after a long run, there’s a small window of time where your muscles optimally restore the sugar it used up during exercise. Restocking your muscles helps you recover and prepare for your next run.
You lose a lot of water, sodium, and potassium through sweat, and while water is great for quenching your thirst, sports drinks contain helpful electrolytes to help you rehydrate—fast! Sports drinks generally pack around 80 mg of sodium and 488 mg of potassium per 12oz. serving. This sugar-sodium-water combo help nutrients absorb into your system more quickly and easily than water alone.
Consider coconut water, too
Nicknamed “nature’s sport drink,” coconut water comes very close to specially formulated sports drinks. An 8-oz. serving has about 55 calories, 14 g of carbohydrates, 4 mg of sodium, and 514 mg of potassium. You’ll want to aim for 14 to 17 g of carbohydrates per 8-oz. serving, so with coconut water you’re set to “recover.” However, coconut water doesn’t have enough sodium to help with “rapid rehydration.” Could you drink the coconut water anyway and get your sodium from a handful of pretzels? Yup, you certainly could.
– by Trinh Le