Skip to Content

Sports Science

Water vs. Sports Drinks

Water vs Sports Drink

Hydration can come either in the form of water or sports drink. Both options play important roles and many athletes drink a combination of both throughout the duration of their exercise. Water makes up a large percentage of muscle tissue, keeps you cool, and aids digestion among many other important functions. Sports drinks often consist of a combination of water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes providing an efficient form of fluid and fuel.

Dehydration is detrimental to the performance and health of athletes. Signs of dehydration are cramping, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. Even after a loss of 2% body weight due to fluid loss, a significant decline in performance has been noted. Sweat loss can be monitored in training by measuring weight prior to and immediately following exercise (make sure you are dry when weighing). If greater than 2% body weight is lost, hydration practices need to be improved. Additionally, riders should not gain weight after exercise, as this is likely a sign of overhydrating which is also detrimental.

Sodium is a major component of fluid status which aids in the absorption of fluids but is also lost through sweat. For endurance exercise or in individuals who sweat significantly, sodium intake during exercise is of great importance. Sodium can either be consumed through salty snacks, salt sticks, gels, or sports drinks. Because many athletes prefer not to eat or take salt capsules while exercising, sports drinks are typically the preferred source for sodium replacement when exercising. As much as 500-1,000 mg may be needed for individuals who sweat profusely or are a particularly salty sweater.

How much should you drink?

Riders should aim to consume 20-40 oz of fluid each hour. This volume can be achieved either through water, sports drink, or a rotation of both. If riders prefer water only, sodium and carbohydrate requirements will need to be met through other forms such as gels or salty easily digestible snacks. It is recommended that riders consider trying to consume some form of sports drink in order to meet their electrolyte and carbohydrate needs. Whatever decision riders make, it is important to practice potential fluid and nutrition routines when training to assure the regimen is right for them. As always, if struggling with hydration or nutrition needs for the ride, consult a sports dietitian!