Water vs. Sports Drinks: What You Need To Know

By Peter Liu
[Health & Your Life]
Having trouble deciding what is best to drink during and after a workout? Peter Liu helps make your decision easier.

Do you prefer drinking water or a sports drink of significantly more repute when you exercise? The debate of the effectiveness of sports drinks over water has raged for many decades. Both water and sports drinks each have many supporters, and in terms of mutual effectiveness, both drinks are supported with equal fervor.

However, the question still remains: Which drink reigns supreme? Does water win out over the sports drink franchise? Or do the sports drinks rule over the kingdom of hydrating liquids?

Why We Sweat

To fully understand the squabble of water versus sports drinks, it is necessary to understand why we sweat. Sweating is the body’s method of cooling down, which is triggered by heavy activity and heat. There are two types of sweat glands embedded in the skin: eccrine glands, and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are more numerous around the body, while apocrine glands are limited to the armpits and the external genital areas.

Working muscles produce sweat because chemical energy that is used in muscle contraction is not effectively converted into mechanical energy; the excess energy becomes excess heat. The water present in muscles begins flowing to the surface, triggered by a signal from the hypothalamus to get rid of the excess heat. Blood vessels in the skin begin to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The skin’s large surface area allows for quicker evaporation, causing fluid levels to decrease.

Higher sweat production occurs during exercise; as sweat rises to the skin, large amounts of water, sodium, chloride, and potassium are brought to the surface. The loss of these electrolytes decreases athletic effectiveness, since the loss of sodium, chloride, and water dehydrates the body.

The most important thing to know is that the amount of sweat produced is equally proportional to the amount of energy used up. It is when the body loses fluids that the debate between water and sports drinks comes to the fore.

Sport-"ades"

The sports drink leaders consist of Gatorade and Powerade; and both drinks essentially have the same ingredients.

Gatorade contains:

  • calories
  • sodium
  • potassium
  • carbohydrates
  • sugars

Powerade contains:

  • carbohydrates
  • water
  • b-vitamins
  • electrolytes (sodium and potassium)
  • flavouring (sugars)
  • calories

The original formulas of both Gatorade and Powerade are the same drink, though with different flavours. Other Gatorade and Powerade variations either contain fewer carbohydrates, more vitamins, more electrolytes, or caffeine. Both drinks boast that their drink helps the body to work harder and more effectively as you exercise, replacing electrolytes as you lose them and enabling your body to drink more liquid. Drinking more liquid quickens rehydration. Gatorade openly claims itself to be better than water.

The truth is that these sports drinks are at their most effective if you’re planning to take part in an extreme exercise event for long periods of time, like a triathlon.

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