Water vs. sports drinks: What’s better for hydrating in the heat?
When temperatures get higher, many people reach for sports drinks to cool them off. But is that the best choice? Emergency physician Steve Shelton, MD, explained why you might want to reach for water vs. sports drinks during the summer sunshine.
“There are several ways to hydrate, but not all of them are very healthy. Those that contain alcohol or have a lot of caffeine or sugar in them, like coffee drinks, soda cocktails don’t provide as strong a benefit,” Dr. Shelton said. “And sports drinks are often heavily sweetened with sugar.”
If you choose a sports drink, Dr. Shelton said you can make it healthier by diluting or alternating your sports drink with water. Or choose sports drinks that are lower in sugar or sugar free.
“There are several products out there that have low sugar, specifically some of the Gatorade or Powerade options, but the best choice is water,” Dr. Shelton said.
But what about the electrolytes?
Sports drinks do include electrolytes, which are important if you’re exercising or active. But if you eat a proper diet, you’re getting the electrolytes you need. If you’re not exercising or active, the sugar can further dehydrate you.
It’s also important to remember that energy drinks are not sports drinks. “There is a huge difference between the two,” Dr. Shelton said. “Sports drinks are more water based. They have some sugar, which is not the best option, but they do have electrolytes. Energy drinks, however, are very heavily concentrated with caffeine or similar products, which further dehydrate you. In high heat, it’s better to grab a water and drink plenty.”
How much water do you need to drink to stay hydrated?
Staying hydrated is important in high heat because the body’s major method of cooling itself is sweating and it’s very easy to dehydrate. To maintain a good hydration status, it’s recommended that you drink about 64 ounces of water a day.
“If you’re exercising or working in the heat, you have to supplement that,” Dr. Shelton said. “I recommend at least 20 to 30 extra ounces per hour to hydrate during high heat conditions.”
What else can you do to keep cool?
Make sure you’re wearing lightweight and light-colored materials. A hat is helpful for protecting the head, not only for protection from the sun, but also to control your heat.
You can also use a cooling towel, or a wet towel that you place on your head or neck. The water cools you naturally through evaporation.
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