We all know hydration is key. Yet it seems like the whole country is on an H2O hiatus. After all, who needs regular old water from the tap when you can chug coconut water? Courtesy of the energy and sports drink retail market, which recently topped $25 billion, there are more hydration options than ever before.
It’s a big business that wants us to imagine big things (like a single drink might make us perform like a star athlete). Yet the truth is, if you’re averaging an hour at the gym a few times per week, eating healthy snacks and drinking water before and after your workouts provides adequate fuel and rehydration. According to a recent UC Berkeley study, most people who drink sports drinks at least once a day aren’t as physically active as they should be.
Instead of overdoing the designer drinks, think before you sip and make sure you’re not taking in more calories or sodium than you should.
While this all-natural, refreshing drink is hyped as a super-hydrating powerhouse, the majority of studies don’t prove that it rehydrates the body much better than water. On the plus side, it contains less sugar than sports drinks and far less than juice. It’s also naturally rich in potassium, a key electrolyte that supports blood pressure and heart health, as well as bone and muscle strength. Yet one cup still packs 45 calories, which can add up quickly if you’re drinking it frequently. Bottom line: An occasional coconut water is fine, but don’t go overboard and read the label: Coconut water with added juice or extra flavorings can contain as much sugar as regular juice.
Portable tablets like those made by Nuun are designed to be dissolved in 16 ounces of water to provide key electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. There’s no hidden high-calorie pitfall: Every tab has one gram or less of sugar and around 12 calories. Not everyone can get on board with the fairly weak taste, which is similar to lightly flavored water. However, if you’re active outdoors especially in the sun, where excessive sweating makes electrolyte replacement important, the delivery system is awesome: the tabs come in cylindrical tubes that are lightweight, making them easy to stash in your backpack for any on-demand needs if temps soar during an afternoon bike ride or if that Sunday hike takes hours longer than expected.
A simple, effective sports drink is one that refuels the body with some carbs (aka sugar) and electrolytes (aka sodium and potassium). The formula has launched a dizzying number of “performance” beverages, with some brands like Gatorade going so far as to promote distinct products for before, during and after exercise.
Yet these drinks contain tons of sugar, ranging from 35–52 grams per bottle. In truth, the idea that sports drinks are “good for you” entirely depends on whether your body needs them to recover from extra-challenging exercise. So: Was your last workout a grueling endeavor that lasted two hours or longer? A super sweaty run on an extra hot day? Congratulations, you earned a sports drink! If not, skip the unneeded sugar and drink water instead.
Zero-calorie drinks in this category include Propel, water designed for “performance” with an electrolyte content similar to Gatorade (which owns the brand). Then there’s what some call “designer” waters, such as Smartwater from Coca-Cola or the the recently introduced Lifewtr from Pepsi. These contain very small amounts of electrolytes, mainly for flavor and are more similar to regular bottled water than sports drinks. Yet another entry here is VitaminWater Zero, lightly flavored zero-calorie version of regular VitaminWater. (The latter, although promoted as “healthy,” actually contains tons of sugar, and tends to have vitamins such as B and C, which are the ones most people get enough of already.) Not sure which one is best? Keep it simple and drink a glass of regular water — nature’s perfect hydration system.