Water or Sports Drinks: What Hydrates Better?



drinksWelcome back to our camping blog series on hydration!  When it comes to hydration, it’s common knowledge that nothing beats a tall glass of water, yet the retail market it flooded with all sorts of sports drinks and flavored water that all promise equal or even better hydration that good old H2O.  With so much hype surrounding these new-age drinks, do they truly hydrate better?  Well campers, we went to the experts to find out!

Hydration history
Sports drinks as we know them today owe their legacy to the United States, where in 1965 the University of Florida’s medical staff realized that they could potentially improve the performance of their sports teams by creating a beverage that was formulated for physical activity, a.k.a Gatorade.  By adding vitamins, minerals and artificial flavoring, players seemed to perform better at physical activities in clinical studies and it was soon adopted as the official drink of the NFL in a few short years.  Modern sports drinks all stem from this basic formula, but better performance doesn’t necessarily mean better hydration.  More science is needed!

Sports Drink Science
The key behind hydrating with sports drinks isn’t the liquid itself (which yes, has a base mixture of water), but rather the sodium and other elements present within it.  Sodium is by far the most important hydrating element, as it helps the body hold on to the water already in the body and keeping the circulatory system in balance.  Drinking large amounts of water during a heavy workout causes an imbalance of sodium levels, replacing salt with water in blood cells.  This causes cells to swell, restricting blood flow and leading to poor oxygenation, headaches, vomiting and even muscle death!  Drinking sports drinks helps hydrate while keeping sodium levels in balance during hour-long workouts, and that means the machine that is the human body just works better!
So it looks like science is right: sports drinks hydrate better that water…during heavy exercise.  Otherwise the added sugar, salt and other elements in sports drinks aren’t necessary, and pure ordinary water will work just as well.

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