Water - The Natural Choice
Proper hydration is extremely important during exercise. Adequate fluid intake for athletes, even the recreational kind, is essential to comfort, performance and safety. The longer and more intensely you exercise, the more important it is to drink plenty of fluids. Inadequate water consumption can be physically harmful.
Consider that a loss of as little as 2% of one's body weight due to sweating, can lead to a drop in blood volume. When this occurs, the heart works harder in order to move blood through the bloodstream. Prehydration and rehydration are vital to maintaining cardiovascular health, proper body temperature and muscle function.
The natural choice for hydration is water. It hydrates better than any other liquid, both before and during exercise. Water tends to be less expensive and more available than any other drink. You need to drink 4-6 ounces of water for every 15-20 minutes of exercise. That can add up to a lot of water!
While some people prefer the taste of water over other drinks, most people find it relatively bland and will stop drinking water before becoming fully hydrated. Water is the best, but it only helps you if you drink it. One of the reasons that sports drinks are so popular is the fact that they taste good. Many manufacturers only add sugar, flavor and color to attract the consumer, even though the drink contains no electrolytes and is simply flavored water.
The key to good hydration is drinking a lot of water before, during and after any workout or activity. Water is essential for proper bodily function. Sports drinks aren't the only way to consume electrolytes. Eating a normal diet will provide the body with more than enough electrolytes needed for exercising and physical activity.
Energy drinks can be helpful to athletes who are exercising at a high intensity for 90 minutes or more. Fluids supplying 60 to 100 calories per 8 ounces helps to supply the needed calories required for continuous performance. It's really not necessary to replace losses of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes during exercise since you're unlikely to deplete your body's stores of these minerals during normal training. If, however, you find yourself exercising in extreme conditions over 5 or 6 hours (an Ironman or ultramarathon, for example) you will need to add a complex energy drink with electrolytes.
Does the average consumer derive any real benefit from the sports drinks? It's a marketing gimmick, pure and simple. Most health experts agree that sports drinks have electrolytes and sodium that are beneficial to professional athletes and marathoners, but have little value to the average user. There's a certain appeal in drinking what Olympic athletes drink, but it should be just water if you're doing 10 minutes on a treadmill. And because many enhanced waters contain only small amounts of essential nutrients, consumers should look elsewhere for nutrition. That's what we have food for!
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