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Comparing the health benefits of water versus sports drinks

Posted at 5:48 AM, Jul 10, 2024

(WXYZ) — Whether you're an athlete, someone who works outdoors, a parent, or just trying to stay healthy, understanding when to choose plain water and when to reach for an electrolyte drink can make all the difference.

Sports drink or not to sports drink: for so many Americans dealing with Summer heat, that is the question.

I asked Metro Detroiters when they drink water, and when they turn to sports drinks.

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"Normally I'll have a water for, like, the start of my shift," said Seth Manter. "and I'll drink a Gatorade later on to kind of keep me going."

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"It gets tough," said Jake Beauvais who works in construction. "I know, I, but drinking water and every now and then, a Gatorade helps."

But when is it best to turn to water and when might a sports drink fit the bill? Is there an easy here?

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"So for general hydration, water is enough," said Grace Derocha, RD.

Troy resident Grace A. Derocha is a registered dietician and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She says water is the Ultimate Hydrator and should be the “go-to” for daily hydration especially kids and adults engaged in regular, low to moderate activity levels. It’s not until you engage in an intense workout that sports drinks come into play.

"Over an hour, intense, a lot of sweat and why someone might want to go sports drink because of that is because they would want the electrolytes," Derocha said.

And that intense physical active can also include work. Elements like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, help maintain fluid balance and essential bodily functions. But sports drinks often come with electrolytes and a lot more.

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"To me, it's just a lot of additives," said Pat.

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"I'll do Gatorade zero sometimes, or Powerade zero," said Chelsea Thomas "(For) fewer calories."

That can replace many of the calories you burned in your workout.

Derocha says the confusion about when to turn to sports drinks comes from the marketing.

"I like to call it the health halo of certain foods," Derocha said.

The health halo is a phenomenon that causes us to perceive certain foods, drinks, or ingredients as healthy, even when there is little evidence to back up the claim.

"And sports drinks give you that connotation of potentially like 'I'm active so I'm going to drink this,'" Derocha said.

If you’re looking for hydration and electrolytes and looking for options other than water, Derocha suggests considering natural sources like coconut water, watermelon juice and pomegranate juice. Some waters come with electrolytes added Or you can add electrolyte packets.

Sports drinks might also be appropriate for people who work in physically demanding jobs in summer heat.

And don’t forget when you’re thinking about hydration about 20 percent of your hydration comes from the food you eat. So when you’re feeling a little thirsty and a little snacky, fruits and vegetables can be the perfect one two punch.