What do sports drinks have to do with Health and Fitness?

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A can of Powerking.

Have you ever asked yourself why you would drink a salty, sugary drink while you were working out? We talked to an Exercise Physiologist to get the dirt.

When should I drink a sports drink?

When you’re sweating heavily or you’re going to be losing more than a liter (hard enough to lose 2 lbs of water weight in an hour) of body weight, then drink a sports drink instead of water alone.


It’s all about sugar and sodium, or electrolytes. When you sweat for an hour, you might lose about 500mg to 1g of sodium. One serving of a typical sports drink (8oz) is only going to replace about a quarter of that salt. Salt is key because it controls almost every physiological mechanism in the body. When you get low on sodium, you can become hyponatremic. I.e. you will feel terrible and slow down; your cognitive abilities will decrease; and you can get sick and experience everything from seizures to incontinence.

Which sports drink is right for me?

A few of the big players are Gatorade, Powerade, Cytomax and Allsport. These drinks typically have some form of sugar, some form of electrolyte (the most important being sodium), a flavoring agent, coloring, and preservatives.  One drawback is that because consumers aren’t always using them for re-hydration during and after exercise, they tend to be high in sugar and relatively low in electrolytes.

One drink we liked that is much lower in sugar and higher in electrolytes is called Secret Drink Mix. Added bonuses are that it’s made from crushed fruit instead of fruit flavoring, and it doesn’t have artificial coloring agents. It hasn’t been mass marketed and is a little harder to find, but is worth checking out.

What about all the calories in that sugar?

The sugar is actually really important for health and fitness, but you only want about 4g of sugar per/100ml (about 80 calories 16oz). Sugar helps with transport of water across the small intestine and helps to keep your blood sugar stable during exercise. A little sugar can help but too much sugar can impede transport and provide an excess of calories if you’re not working out very hard. Also, not all sugars are the same. The amount and type of sugar is critical. You want sugars that empty from the stomach very quickly (fructose & glucose). Sucrose (table sugar) is a combination of the two.

Bottom Line?

The right sports drink can help you stay fit, lose weight and stay healthy in the long run.

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