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What to Drink When You Exercise

The options include sports drinks, energy drinks, and just regular water.

What About the Average Exerciser?

So what if you're just a "weekend warrior" when it comes to tough workouts? Or an avid exerciser who's not quite of athlete standing? Do you really need a sports drink when you exercise?

The answer, it seems, lies in how much you're sweating.

The American College of Sports Medicine says that during exercise lasting less than one hour there's little evidence of any difference in performance between exercisers who drink beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes, and those who drink plain water.

And, according to Clark, someone exercising 1.5 hours in a cool environment (who is probably not sweating much) is more in need of fluids or water than electrolytes.

The ABCs of Vitamin Water

I totally get adding electrolytes to drinks to help your body recover from vigorous exercise, but vitamins? It's still best to get vitamins and minerals naturally from foods and beverages -- like vitamin C from citrus and dark leafy green vegetables, and calcium from dairy products.

"Athletes will not need vitamin and mineral supplements if adequate energy to maintain body weight is consumed from a variety of foods," the American Dietetic Association and American College of Sports Medicine say in a position paper on nutrition and athletic performance.

But if you really like the idea of vitamin water, here are some things to think about:

  • Whether alternative sweeteners are added. Many experts believe that even alternative sweeteners should be consumed in moderation, especially in children.
  • Whether you'll be taking in too many vitamins. Most of the vitamins added to vitamin water are water soluble (like vitamin C, B vitamins, etc.). This makes it seem like any excess consumed can just pass out through the kidneys. This is true -- but that doesn't mean large amounts of water-soluble vitamins are entirely harmless. High amounts can affect the absorption or utilization of other nutrients. It's also possible that passing large amounts through the kidneys could cause problems.
  • Whether you might be just as happy with dressed-up regular water. You can flavor it with lemon, lime, orange, or a strawberry or two. Green tea comes flavored naturally these days, too. This can be a different but healthful way to drink water once a day, too.

Energy Drinks for Exercisers

What about energy drinks for exercisers? Is there anything to them, besides plenty of caffeine?

The truth is that it depends on the energy drink. Red Bull, among the biggest names in energy drinks, pumps in 106 calories of carbohydrates (27 grams), and 193 milligrams of sodium along with its jolt of caffeine. Sugar-free energy drinks, meanwhile, give you the jolt without the carbs and calories.

Clark believes energy drinks do have their place. She says there is clear evidence caffeine is a nonharmful stimulant that provides performance-enhancing benefits, which can include improved endurance, stamina, and reaction time.

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