Are sports drinks good for hydration when walking?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Sports drinks are designed for exercise situations where people lose a lot of fluid and electrolytes. They are also meant to provide a source of carbohydrates as fuel for the body. Therefore, they tend to be higher in empty calories and added sugar. It’s pretty easy to forget how many calories we consume in liquid form! Unless you are sweating a lot or walking strenuously for greater than one hour, water or other unsweetened beverages would work just as well.

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. 

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.

Picture of woman walking
Amaris Noguera
Nutrition & Dietetics

The need for electrolyte replenishment (which is what sports drinks provide) depends on the duration and intensity of walking, as well as how much fluid you are losing via sweat. In general, for a short brisk walk water should suffice for hydration purposes. Since sports drink contain significant amount of sodium, sugar and calories, you want to limit how much you consume and reserve sports drinks for your more rigorous, lengthy walks. You will need to tune in to your body's cues and determine whether a sports drink is necessary, for example, such as in very warm weather, if you feel lightheaded or dizzy, during a longer walk, in more rigorous terrain, or at the start of an exercise regimen your body is not accustomed to.

Additionally, be mindful of energy drinks, which some may confuse as sports drinks. Energy drinks usually contain all the electrolytes that sports drinks do, but have added stimulants such as caffeine or guarana. For a calorie-conscious choice, consider a lower-calorie sports drink or electrolyte-infused water to replace electrolytes lost during your exercise without adding more calories than you may need.

If the walk is of a length distance then sports drinks may help keep your body slightly replenished. However, often time these drinks are filled with sugar and are truly not as beneficial as they may claim. If you are looking for additional hydration aside from water then find a more natural drink such as coconut water.

Mainly water is your best form of hydration. You should not need any addition supplements such as a sports drink for walking. They may taste good but are not always good for you.

That depends on several variables...The most important thing is to not let yourself get dehydrated. You don't have to feel yourself sweating profusely in order for dehydration to take place! Whether you are walking briskly outside, in pleasant weather or if you are walking inside, in a climate controlled environment; You are better off rehydrating with just plain cold water. If water seems boring, you can try flavoring it with a little lemon, orange, or other fruit essence for a hint of flavor.

However, if you walk briskly outside in very hot, humid weather, or for a very long time in hot, dry conditions, then it would be prudent to alternate between drinking water, along with a sports drink that can help replace electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, which are lost as you sweat, as well as some glucose polymers to help replenish used glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. Unlike your muscles, your brain can only function properly on glucose. You can make sure that you are getting a sufficient amount by assesing how you feel. A brisk walk, especially uphill, or in harsh environmental weather conditions can be a stronger workout than you think...but you should always feel invigorated and alert while exercising! If you feel faint, dizzy, constantly thirsty, or develop a headache, especially if you are sweating profusely or have stopped sweating, slow down your pace until your heart rate drops and get in the shade as soon as possible, preferably indoors in a cooler area, and rehydrate! These can be signs of dehydration, low blood sugar, possible heat stroke, among other things. You should end your walking session for that day. If you cannot, you would do well to take as much time as you need to cool down and properly rehydrate, especially before continuing further. Taking the time to properly prepare for whatever conditions you might be facing on any given day you have chosen for your walk, can go along way in ensuring you complete it with little ill effect!

Continue Learning about Walking

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.