Which is Better — Sports Drink or Water?

Boy under shower of water

No matter what you’re doing outside this summer, when the day is gloriously hot and sunny, it’s important to stay hydrated. The best beverage for the job is water — before, during and after physical activity.

Water may be the optimum choice, but it’s not always people’s first choice. Kids in particular often prefer brightly colored, flavored sports drinks over water.  So … are sports drinks ever the better choice? Sometimes. “Athletes exercising more than 45 minutes might benefit from sports drinks, but the majority of us, active or inactive, should choose water on most days,” says Dr. Bill Dexter, director of the sports medicine program at Maine Medical Center.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, PowerAde, Propel and Vitamin Water usually contain sugar, minerals, vitamins and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Unfortunately, in most cases they offer little to no advantage and deliver excess sugar and calories. Sports drinks are promoted as replenishing lost vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. The truth is that daily requirements are sufficiently met through a balanced diet, even with daily physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that sports drinks be reserved for adolescent athletes who are partaking in one hour or more of intense physical activity.

The key word is intense. During prolonged intense physical activity the body sweats and loses enough electrolytes that sports drinks can be beneficial. If you’re trying to determine whether or not your child should reach for a sports drinks keep this in mind: the body will only benefit from a sports drink if it has been in constant motion for over an hour and is sweating from the vigorous nature of the activity. Examples include: an all-day soccer tournament, football practice on a hot or humid day and after a long distance run.

Dr. Victoria Rogers, pediatrician and director of the nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program Let’s Go! says, “We know it’s challenging to determine if and when to reach for a sports drink, but more often than not, all the body really needs is water. Exceptions to this rule should be made on hot, humid days and during 60 minutes of non-stop activity.”

Which is better — sports drink or water? Most of the time, water.

Little girl drinking water

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.