Water is generally the best choice for day to day hydration needs, including both before and after exercise. However, requirements change when we consider sweat losses during exercise. When we sweet, we lose not only water, but also electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. If we are sweating a substantial amount and rehydration with just water, it does not replace these important electrolytes.
Rehydrating with just water poses the risk of a dangerous condition called “hyponatremia,” which is when our blood sodium levels fall too low. Those that participate in long-endurance type events and rehydrate with just water need to be especially aware of this. Symptoms of hyponatremia include headaches, swollen hands and feet, confusion, and disorientation. It is a serious condition that can lead to seizure, coma or death.
If you’re exercising for over an hour, participating in intense exercise or in hot and humid conditions, then a sports drink or electrolyte containing beverage should be considered over water. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade provide carbohydrates in addition to electrolytes. Electrolyte drinks, on the other hand, such as Nuun or E-load, tend to be just electrolytes with no additional carbohydrates.
If you are taking in carbohydrates from sources such as gels and chews during exercise, selecting an electrolyte beverage over a sports drink may be the safer option. The carbohydrates from the gels plus the carbohydrates from the sports drink can be too concentrated for some people, leading to bloating, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal issues. This is one of the reasons that rehydrating with only fruit or pop is generally not recommended during exercise.
For athletes participating in stop and go type activities such as soccer, basketball, or football, mouth rinsing with a carbohydrate drink such as a sport drink has been shown to improve performance. Read more on this by clicking here.
As always, I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing your race day hydration plan in training. Check the race details online well in advance of race day to determine what type of fluids will be offered on course. Practice with these fluids during training, so that you can have peace of mind on race day. If they are not providing a fluid that will meet your hydration needs, then create an alternative plan such as bringing your own fluids in a racing belt. Don’t waste all your hard training by failing to properly hydrate and fuel your body.
Want to learn more about using nutrition to optimize performance? I’d love to work with you to provide personalized nutrition advice to help you reach your goals. To learn more or to book an appointment click here.