Do I Need a Sports Drink?

You’ve probably seen commercials of young people playing or exercising in the summer sun, followed by a reminder to drink fluids with electrolytes (a “sports” drink, such as Gatorade® or Powerade®). Do you need a sports drink to stay hydrated?

Why sports drinks?

Sports drinks were developed specifically for athletes who train intensely for more than an hour at a time because they tend to sweat a lot, leading to loss of both fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride, as well as some potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Having low levels of certain electrolytes can cause physical symptoms, such as:

  • Muscle cramps, loss of appetite, or dizziness (low sodium)
  • Irregular heartbeat (low chloride)
  • Muscle weakness, muscle paralysis, or mental confusion (low potassium)
  • Muscle cramps, nausea, or confusion (low magnesium)
  • Osteoporosis, osteopenia, or muscle spasms (low calcium)

If you have lost electrolytes through sweat, drinking water may not be enough to help rehydrate you. Drinking too much water without electrolytes can lead to even lower amounts of these electrolytes in the blood – which can cause symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, or muscle weakness.

Should I have a sports drink after exercise? Most people who exercise regularly do not need a sports beverage to rehydrate afterward. If you are exercising less than an hour, you are less likely to have lost a lot of fluid or electrolytes in your sweat. However, if you exercised outside in higher heat and humidity and sweated more than usual, you may benefit from a sports beverage. Be aware that most contain sugars, so opt for the smaller size bottle and drink water with the sports drink.

If you are experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion (i.e., heavy sweating, dizziness, weakness, nausea, or headache), move to a cooler place and drink cool water or sports drinks. Contact your doctor if symptoms get worse. If you are not sweating despite heat; have red, hot, and dry skin; or have dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, or rapid heartbeat, call 9-1-1 immediately, as you may be suffering from a heat stroke.

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