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Alison Tidy

Posted on June 09 2018

I often get asked whether someone should drink water vs. a sports drink when exercising. Here is a simple rundown of the two fluid types. 


This is a daily necessity with 60% of our bodies made up of H2O itself. Hydration is a really important part of everyday health so we need ingrain drinking water as a solid habit. Depending on body size your daily requirement will be upwards of 1.5-2 L per day (and sadly flat whites don’t count). If you live in hot or humid conditions, naturally sweat lost or exercise daily your intake will higher than average. Spread your intake out over the day to ensure your nicely hydrated. It's handy to note that once your thirsty dehydration has already kicked in so it's likely you’re not drinking enough. Be sure to start exercise sessions hydrated to help prevent fatigue and to get more out of your training. The same rule applies to recovery, especially as your sweat rate can remain high once your session is over. Generally, good old water is adequate for sessions of low to average intensity lasting up to one hour where any energy or electrolytes replacement can be made through normal food and fluid patterns. 


Sports Drink.

Sports drinks should have a defined time and purpose for use, however are often a topic of confusion. Generally, the main components are fluid (water), carbohydrates (sugars) and electrolytes (mineral salts). In simple terms the aim of a good sports drink is to get the water, sugars and electrolytes absorbed into your body through the fastest possible mechanisms, with the least amount of discomfort to replace substances the body requires to perform at its best. Easy right? Actually, there is quite a bit of science behind getting the ingredient types, quantities and ratios spot on to get the job done. Not to mention taste, a major component to encouraging frequent drinking. Again many factors determine individual requirements (age, gender, size, fitness level and environment) but generally between 400-900mls per hour should be sufficient in normal situations.


Quick tips.

  • Weigh yourself before and after and aim to limit weight loss to less than 2% body weight
  • Chill your fluid to help keep your core temperature down (and some say it's refreshing on the palate, therefore promotes drinking)
  • Light urine colour can represent good hydration, however, don’t solely rely on this as particularly post race your body may not be retaining fluid giving your urine a false sense of security. Note: remember supplements can also alter the colour.
  • Start drinking early on in the session (10-15 minutes)
  • Teach yourself to drink at frequent intervals (from 5-10 mins) so your stomach is getting a content fluid supply.

    About Marewa

    Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition. Marewa is available for personalised Nutrition consultations in person or via Skype.