Are Sports Drinks Better Than Water for Workouts?

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

It’s plain and simple: active bodies need hydration. But figuring out what to drink, how much to sip (or chug!) and when to gulp it down can be a little…confusing. If water is your go-to beverage during workouts, should you switch to sports drinks? If you’re already throwing back electrolyte quenchers, are you drinking them at the right time? Are you drinking enough?

Sports Drinks vs. Water

Before refiling your sports bottle at the fountain or cracking open another bottle of neon-colored thirst-aid, here are some basic hydrating guidelines to consider:

Is your workout light or moderate?

If you’re exercising continuously for 60 minutes or less, water should be your first choice for hydration—before, during and after your workout. How much do you need? Exercise aside, you should aim for half your weight in fluid ounces of water daily (for example: if you weigh 120 pounds, 60 ounces of water is your target amount). Before exercise, drink two or three additional cups, and during exercise, drink a cup every 15 minutes until your workout is complete.

Pros: Water is cheap (often free) and readily available.

Cons: The taste is bland, and you may get sick of drinking it before your body gets the hydration it needs. Try adding a few drops of a natural flavor enhancer such as Wisdom Natural SweetLeaf Sweet Drops in Valencia Orange or Lemon Drop to liven up the flavor.

Is your workout intense?

If you’re training hard you’re sweating more—and your body needs not just hydration but electrolytes and carbohydrates too. Sports drinks are formulated to hydrate and supply nutrients, and they’re ideal when you’re running a race, biking across town, CrossFit training or pushing yourself exceptionally hard in a class or at the gym.

For sports drinks to best help with hydration, start drinking before you begin and continue sipping at regular intervals throughout your workout. The carbohydrates will provide energy and ward off fatigue, and the electrolytes will replace stores of these nutrients (including minerals such as potassium and sodium) lost through sweat.

Pros: Sports drinks are available in ready-to-drink bottles or convenient powders or dissolvable tabs that can be added to plain water, and you’ll find an endless variety of flavors.

Cons: Watch out for artificial ingredients and added sugar. All-natural sports drinks and mixes may be hard to come by, but they’re worth the search. A natural products retailer, such as, is a good place to start.

It’s true that electrolytes and carbohydrates can be replaced by eating some foods, but this method of replenishment is ideal only if your workout is rather light. If you’re enjoying a walk after dinner or a bike ride with the kids, eat a healthy snack such as a banana, apple, almonds or coconut water (which provides plenty of electrolytes and carbohydrates but not much sodium).