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Should I Have a Sports Drink with My Workout?

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Americans drink an average of 145 calories from sugary beverages daily. We all know to cut down on soda, energy drinks, sweetened teas and sweetened fruit juice (fruit drinks that are less than 100 percent juice) if we’re trying to lose weight. But, should we worry about enjoying a refreshing sports drink after a hard workout?

Sports Drinks: How Do They Compare?

Sugar is a big source of empty calories. All sugary beverages contain added sugar and sports drinks are no different, but here’s a saving grace for sports-drink fanatics: Ounce-for-ounce, a typical sports drink contains roughly 50 percent fewer calories and sugar compared to soda, juice, energy drinks or sweetened tea.

Calories Carbs (g) Sugar (g)
Regular soda (8 oz) 103 25 24
Fruit flavored juice (8 oz) 109 27 25
Energy drinks (8.4 oz) 111 26 26
Sweet tea (8 oz) 122 29 26
Sports drinks (8 oz) 63 16 13

NUTRITION TIP: We’re not encouraging anyone to pick up a sports drinks habit. Just know this beverage could be a good option if you want to kick your soda habit but can’t stand the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners in diet sodas.

Sugar aside, it’s hard to compare sports drinks to the other sugary beverages because they play a different role. Sports drinks aren’t designed with weight loss in mind. They are made for athletes who need to refuel and rehydrate quickly during a workout.

How Sports Drinks Work

A sports drink doesn’t contain many ingredients. It’s usually water, carbohydrates (read: sugar or dextrose), sodium and potassium plus other flavor or color additives. This simple combination makes it quick and easy for your body to absorb the carbohydrates, and use them to fuel working muscles. Sodium and potassium are often lost in sweat during a tough workout, and need to be replenished because they’re important for muscle contraction. Water helps rehydrate muscle cells; this is key because negative effects on performance are observed at less than 2 percent dehydration. Every detail counts for athletes, especially in sports, where a fraction of a second divides winners from losers.

When to Choose a Sports Drink Versus Water

The best decision depends on how long and how intensely you’ve worked out. Water should provide adequate hydration for low-intensity, short workouts that last less than an hour. For high-intensity workouts lasting over an hour (think: running, jogging, biking), you may benefit from a sports drink.

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