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What to Drink When You Exercise

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

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.

"In most cases caffeine stimulates alertness, motor skill, and concentration," says Clark.

She warns, however, that caffeine is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at levels equivalent to five Starbucks coffees. But drinking one Red Bull, for example, provides about 70 milligrams of caffeine, which is less than what you'll find in one Starbucks coffee (260 milligrams per 12-ounce serving).

Overuse of caffeine can cause the jitters, so exercisers just need to know how much to consume for their personal comfort, warns Clark.

Assorted other ingredients are added to some of these energy drinks, such as:

  • Taurine, which is similar to an amino acid but not considered a component of proteins. Glucuronolactone, a compound produced by the metabolism of glucose in the human liver. It's purported -- but not proven -- to fight fatigue.
  • Ginkgo biloba, which is thought to help prevent mental decline but again, this theory is up for debate.
  • Ginseng, which is promoted for energy and mental alertness, but the specifics of its effects aren't clear.
  • Guarana, which is nicknamed "herbal caffeine." This is a stimulant similar to caffeine, and so should be used only in moderation.

What's in Your Exercise Drink?

Below is some nutritional information, as available on labels, about some of the common sports and energy drinks available. And here's one more tip for staying hydrated when you work out: Whatever you choose to drink when you exercise, drink it well-chilled for faster absorption by the body.

Sports drinks (8 ounces):

  • Gatorade: 50 calories, 14 grams sugar (from sucrose syrup and high-fructose corn syrup), 110 mg sodium, caffeine-free. Other ingredients: potassium (30 mg). Vitamins (percentage of recommended Daily Value): None
  • Propel Fitness Water: 10 calories, 2 grams sugar (from sucrose syrup; also sweetened with sucralose or Splenda), 35 mg sodium, caffeine-free. Other ingredients: None. Vitamins (% Daily Value): 10% vitamin C; 10% vitamin E; 25% B3 and B6; 4% B12, 25% pantothenic acid.

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