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Do You Really Need a Sports Drink to Reach Peak Performance?

Sometimes sports drinks are helpful, but often they're best left on the shelf. Here's how to know when to reach for one.

athlete drinking energy drink outdoor
DavideAngeliniShutterstock

Your gym shoes or your favorite workout shorts are essential to a good workout. Likewise, it's downright difficult to hit the gym without a beverage. All those sweat-inducing sets and strenuous reps can have you working up a thirst, and quick. And what's the perfect performance-rich drink for a performance-ready environment? Sports drinks, of course, right?

What if we told you that those sugary, neon concoctions carried more myth than sport-centric motivation? What if, despite the abundance of available sports drinks, that there were other thirst-quenching options better suited to your fitness journey?

To help you quench your need for a hydration solution, here are three major myths surrounding the sports drink category. From who can benefit from them, to their overall effectiveness and other tasty realizations, here's everything you need to fuel up for your next set.

Myth 1: I Work Out, Therefore I Need a Sports Drink

Sports drinks are marketed under the guise of performance, whether it's to help you "Be Like Mike" or just keep your engine running smoothly at the gym. Consisting mostly of carbohydrates and electrolytes, these drinks are manufactured to help you refuel during intense activity. But "intense activity" is not an umbrella term, and you should consider just how hard you're pushing yourself in training to see if you should grab a sports drink or another option.

When you train, your body burns off fuel, mostly glycogen stored in your muscles and liver. And as your training intensifies or continues over long durations, those fuel tanks can get depleted. So, it's safe to say that those partaking in intense activity, like an organized sport or lengthy runs, could benefit from refueling mixtures like a sports drink. Studies have shown the positive effects of sports drinks in athletes training in regimens lasting over an hour.

But for the average gym-goer, an hour-long training session with heightened intensities can more often be a rarity. Shorter duration routines, or those regimens that aren't as intense, don't call on our profiles to use a ton of energy. In these situations, quenching your thirst with a sugary sports drink is nowhere near as necessary.

Solution: Trust in Tap Water

When your training isn't as intense, the main goal of staying hydrated can be easily accomplished with common tap water. Save your money and fill up your trusty reusable water bottle, like this insulated tank from Hydro Flask. You don't need to get fancy, though. Any container will suffice.

Hydro Flask
Hydro Flask 32 oz Wide Mouth
hydroflask.com
$44.95

Myth 2: Sport Drinks Can Keep Me Motivated to Lose Weight

Weight loss is a popular goal for anyone embarking on a fitness journey, and to shed those pounds, you need to find the right balance of training, diet and discipline. If you think of weight loss as a math equation, you need to burn more calories than you intake daily to achieve that beach-ready bod.

When you ingest sports drinks, you might think you're replenishing your tank with electrolytes and carbs for more workout potential, but at the end of the day, you're really ingesting more calories. And tying back to your training intensity, if you're not burning off your calories properly, your sports drinks could be working against your planned goals.

For example, a 150-pound person could potentially burn roughly 240 calories during a mild 30-minute jog. In that same time frame, a 30-minute strength training session may only burn around 120 calories, and when you take into consideration that a typical sports drink contains roughly 80 calories, you may be doing more harm than good for the sake of perceived hydration.

Solution: Get Your Fickle Thirst Under Control with Fruit

Hydration doesn't always deal with what you drink. You can keep your levels at peak performance with healthy portions of fruits and vegetables. Serving as great sources of water and containing vital vitamins, minerals and carbs, fruits and vegetables can be more filling than sports drinks while providing more benefit in the end. Fuel up with a few apple slices or a healthy smoothie prior to training and sip on some water as you grind out your next session.

Myth 3: Sports Drinks are Premium Solutions to Combat Dehydration

Feeling dehydrated can leave a nasty impact on your training. Depleted energy and mental fog are not the ideal workout partners, so it's pivotal to combat these symptoms as you sweat through your reps. Because of the added electrolytes, sports drinks can help curb dehydration, especially during longer sessions in the gym or on the road. They are not the lone solution to proper fitness hydration, however, and they certainly aren't the most electrolyte-rich solutions out there.

Products like water additives and other alternatives like coconut water and even coffee have been shown to have as many hydrating properties as sports drinks. Of course, we wouldn't recommend downing a cup of joe during your HIIT class, but this information goes to show that staying hydrated is not a one-size-fits-all flavor.

Solution: Treat Your Water with Electrolyte Packs

There are plenty of powdered solutions that can be easily added to any bottle of water for a flavorful mix of hydrating electrolytes. Brands like Liquid IV offer a plethora of mixes that contain more electrolytes than the typical sports drink in a convenient, on-the-go pack. Additionally, some of these packs can combine the electrolyte properties with profiles designed for boosted energy, improved immune systems and even better gut health.

Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier
liquid-iv.com
$24.47

Do you need a sports drink? Probably not!

With all of these revelations, you'd think we'd be hesitant to recommend reaching for your favorite neon-colored sports fuel for your next workout. Well, despite all of these busted myths, at the end of the day, your main focus in choosing a drink for your next workout is hydration. If you prefer the taste of sports drinks over water, cheers! If you want to opt instead for tap water or other hydrating options, the power is in your thirst. Whatever keeps your levels healthy, and your muscles fueled, is the best option for you. Just don't think that sports drinks are the end-all, be-all solution those commercials perceive them to be.

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