2. Do Consider Sports Drinks During Intense Workouts
When you exercise heavily, you lose water and salts in your sweat. Gatorade was an advance over water because it added a number of electrolytes that were lost in sweat, says Steven Zeisel, MD, PHD, chairman of nutrition at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Today's true sports drinks are still the classic Gatorade -- packed with the electrolytes potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium to provide energy during intense workouts -- as well as competitors such as Cytomax, Allsport, and Accelerade.
Take a swig of an electrolyte drink, and you make sure your body doesn't overheat. You also give yourself an energy source -- one that only serious athletes need, Zeisel tells WebMD. "The amount of sugar in the sports drinks is relatively small compared to the amount of sugar someone burns in exercise. But clearly, it's better than nothing as a calorie source."
"Certainly for people engaging in exercise in a hot environment, an electrolyte replacer can be a lifesaver," he says.
Electrolyte drinks provide the body with fuel in the right quantities, so you don't get an upset stomach, says Bonci. "And the carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium help move fluid more quickly out of the body and into the muscles, where it needs to be during exercise."
3. Don't Bother With Electrolyte-Plus Drinks
Any add-ons to the basic electrolyte drink -- whether it's choline, creatine, or something else -- "makes no difference to anyone except the professional who cares whether they finish 1/10th or 1/000th of a second faster than the other person," says Zeisel. "Most everyday athletes are not going to notice or care about it. But for the person who won the Boston Marathon, it might be what they need."
As far as the protein drinks, unless you're biking the Tour de France or something similarly grueling, your body isn't going to require that protein surge, Zeisel says. "If you're eating protein in your meals, that's much more protein than you'll get in the drink. [The drinks are] supposed to spare your muscle protein, but in reality it's a marginal gain. Just eating protein will do that much."