Sports Drinks Versus Water: Which One Should You Pick While You Exercise?

Vaani Khanna  |  Updated: April 30, 2018 14:20 IST

Sports Drinks Versus Water: Which One Should You Pick While You Exercise?
  • A runner needs to be hydrated before the run
  • Water has the highest rate of absorption and provides instant energy
  • Sports drinks are high on carbohydrates and electrolytes
There is a lot more to endurance running than one might imagine. One of the main concerns being that of dehydration, and maintaining a certain level of energy while running. If you're a runner, you will be able to imagine the utter disappointment of getting tired and having to give up on your run. It is of utmost importance to have a good amount of fluids before, during and after the run for optimal performance, and that is a fact that all the runners are well acquainted with. The question is what to drink out of the two most available options: Sports drinks or water?

The debate as to whether sports drinks are better for sportsperson or water has been going on ever since sports drinks gained popularity, and we started seeing our favourite athletes going for sports drinks instead of water.

An athlete, and more specifically, a runner needs to be hydrated before the run and should be able to retain a certain level of hydration till the end of the run. For this, the absorption of the necessary elements has to be instant so that the runner doesn't get dehydrated.


Let us first look at the composition of both and correspond it with the requirements of our body when there is a scope of dehydration. Our bodies get dehydrated when we sweat, because most of the electrolytes are lost through sweating, and as we continue, we need a fuel which is carbohydrate, and insulin to keep us going. It is also important for the body to retain the water, but also not have the urge to urinate. Keeping all these aspects in mind, one must make the correct choice.

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What to Drink During the Run

Sports drinks are high on carbohydrates, electrolytes, and also have a flavour. The flavour can be considered an essential part of sports drinks, as the better something tastes, the more you'd want to have it.

The carbohydrate content in a sports drink is between 6-8%. The higher carbohydrate content makes the absorption rate relatively slower, and therefore, sports drinks are not suitable for instant hydration, but this high carbohydrate content also makes it possible for the body to be refueled and have more energy to get through the run.

Sports drinks also have sodium and potassium which help in the retention of water in the body and send it to the right places like the muscles, and hence, prevent the athletes from cramping easily. Therefore, in a run which would last for more than an hour or two, sports drinks are essential.

The salts in a sports drink help you replenish your energy by providing your body with the necessary electrolytes that you lose through sweat.

Water, on the other hand, has the highest rate of absorption, and hence it provides instant energy to the runners. But, voluntary intake of water is not as much as it is when it comes to sports drinks, because water is not that tasty to some. Also, water does not have the sodium and potassium content like sports drinks do, and hence, after drinking a lot of water, the runner might feel the urge to urinate.


In short runs for close to an hour, just water would provide you with the necessary hydration and energy and in such cases, there is no need for sports drinks to be consumed.

What the choice depends on is whether you're drinking for rehydration or to replenish the energy. If the fluid is being used to rehydrate, there is no better option than water as the absorption is a lot faster as compared to that of sports drinks. But, water is not going to provide the body with the necessary carbohydrate to increase the energy, which sports drinks will help do.

The best option while running long distance is to drink a combination of both water and sports drinks. This way you will have keep getting rehydrated through water and the body will keep getting fueled with the help of the sports drink.

Before and After the Run

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Our body needs to be properly fueled and hydrated before a long distance run so that it can sustain itself for the longest time. Experts advise that you drink eight to 16 ounces one to two hours before a run - sports drinks are okay, too, as long as they're paired with water.

According to coach Ravinder Singh, "Primary source of hydration should always be water. It is not only imperative for an athlete to hydrate himself properly on the day of the run but the athlete should start days before it, as the summer heat makes you loose a lot of electrolytes that need to be replenished with fresh juices and water. On the day of the run, an athlete can sip a little water before the run to moisten the throat as a wet throat helps one to breathe easily."

drinking water

After finishing the run, the body is tired and out of energy and electrolytes and needs to get back to the normal level of energy. Diluted sports drinks and water do not have the necessary amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes to help the body gain back the power that it has lost. Also, these diluted sports drinks and water have a high absorption rate, this rapid absorption could lead to a rise in plasma volume, which means that the body is over saturated with water. This leads to an increase in fluid loss, and also lowers the desire to drink. Therefore, the correct choice after the run is to drink a sports drink rather than anything else, since it will provide the body with the necessary electrolytes and ignite the recovery process.


Nutritionists also do not completely disregard the importance of sports drinks. "Both sports drinks and water are necessary for a long work out. The sports drinks provide the runners with the necessary carbohydrates and electrolytes, and water is essential for the instant metabolising of these necessary minerals. Hence, both taken in sufficient quantities will lead to maximum output", said Dr. Anju Sood from Bangalore.

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