How do sports drinks help our body?

Katie Davis
Nutrition & Dietetics
The biggest advantage of sports drinks compared to plain water is that they provide energy and electrolytes in addition to fluid. The type of energy is normally from sugar or carbohydrate. Since the body's main source of energy during exercise is carbohydrates, it is important to replace those carbs if your workout is longer than 60 minutes. If you don't replace the carbohydrates, you risk your body breaking down muscle for energy -- which is much less efficient for the body and obviously detrimental to sport performance.

The electrolytes in the sports drink (whether commercial or homemade) actually help your body hold on to the fluid you are drinking. As an experiment, do a long workout drinking only water and then perform the same workout on another day drinking a sports drink. I guarantee you will be visiting the bathroom much less frequently and/or producing much less urine.

While homemade sports drinks are better in terms of no artificial colors, preservatives, or flavorings, the advantage of commercial sports drinks is that they contain electrolytes in the amounts shown in controlled studies to be most effective for rehydration and improved performance. Trying to recreate this on your own can be tricky. However, this probably isn't a huge issue of concern unless you are a high-level athlete who is prone to muscle cramping or heavy sweating.
Lisa Marie Rosati
Herbal Medicine
Sports drinks help you not to become dehydrated while sweating. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more liquid than it replaces. Sports drinks serve a dual role by recharging your body with carbohydrates and replacing the electrolytes you sweat out during prolonged and strenuous exercise.

I'm not a big fan of the commercial sports drinks that are readily for sale since they are usually loaded with artificial flavors, preservatives and artificial colors. Think about the colors of your favorite sports drink; neon orange, bright yellow and every shade of blue and purple you can imagine. None of these colors are natural. I stumbled upon a recipe from Carrie Demers, MD, the director of the Himilayan Institute Total Health Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. I would like to share it with you.

Homemade Sports Drink
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Juice from a quarter of a lemon
  • Pinch of salt
Combine ingredients, stir, and chill the drink in the refridgerator to enjoy later. Drink during or after exercise.

For more information on Lisa's Back To Basics Health Coaching Programs visit:
Young Woman Drinking from Bottle
Heather R. Mangieri
Nutrition & Dietetics
During long duration (over 45 minutes) or high intensity exercise, sports drinks can be beneficial to our bodies in many ways. First, they deliver water to prevent dehydration. They also provide carbohydrates and electrolytes, possibly most importantly sodium, which is the primary electrolytes that is lost in sweat.

A sports drink with the recommended 6% carbohydrate concentration (look for 4-8% solution) that includes sodium, will be absorbed into the GI tract faster than water alone. This means, the energy obtained from the carbohydrate can be used to further fuel the activity. Further, the sodium from the sports drink will further promote thirst so that more fluid is consumed.
According to the advice in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Sports Nutrition manual, individuals exercising less than 45 minutes, don’t need to drink sports drinks in place of water during their workout.

Sports drinks can play a role in aiding hydration for athletes and the general population in extreme settings such as when training where peak performance is required over an extended period, when exercising in hot temperatures, and when exercising in high altitudes.

Sports drinks can fuel the active muscles of endurance athletes. The carbohydrates in sports drinks provide fuel in the form of added sugars. But with over 68 percent of Americans currently overweight, our diet is clearly adequate in calories to fuel a 45-minute brisk walk daily. We don’t need a sweetened beverage to help us make it around the block.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

During exercise, the body uses up fuel and water in order to keep moving. Sports drinks are an easy way to replace sweat, electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and carbohydrates. Sports drinks can become expensive, and research shows foods can be used just as easily and effectively as sports drinks. Sometimes people guzzle sports drinks when they become sick. Since these drinks are typically higher in sugar, opt for water or other unsweetened beverages to stay hydrated.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.