What’s your go-to hydration beverage? For workouts moderate in length, under 90 minutes, water is a suitable beverage to sip. If you exercise longer, you can benefit from a drink that contains electrolytes since you lose electrolytes when you sweat. The more you sweat, the more critical it is to replace the sodium, potassium, and chloride you lose through sweat. But all liquid refreshment isn’t created equal when it comes to keeping your body hydrated and functioning at peak capacity. Some are better than others and some you should avoid entirely. Let’s look more closely at the best and worst beverages for staying hydrated and why.
Worst Hydration Beverages
You know they aren’t good for you anytime, but you should definitely skip soft drinks before and during a workout. A recent study points out why these fizzy, too sweet beverages don’t make the cut. For the study, healthy adults exercised in a hot environment for 45 minutes. Afterward, they drank either 16 ounces of water of 16 ounces of a soft drink. They repeated the trial so that the same participants consumed the opposite beverage in a separate training session. The results? Those who drank the soft drinks showed changes in markers of kidney function. These changes were suggestive of a temporary reduction in healthy kidney function. Plus, they had higher levels of a hormone called vasopressin that elevates blood pressure. In addition, the soft drink didn’t hydrate the participants as well as water.
They may be popular, especially among young people, but don’t sip an energy drink before a workout. Some people gravitate toward them because of the caffeine. Studies show that caffeine can enhance sub-maximal exercise performance and, possibly, high-intensity exercise performance as well. But studies have linked these beverages with changes to the electrical activity of the heart. It’s electrical activity that sets the rhythm of the heart and determines whether the heart beats regularly. Energy drinks contain caffeine and other stimulants, including taurine. The combination of the caffeine plus other stimulants may cause the arteries to constrict too much, increasing demand on the heart. Energy drinks also cause a rise in heart rate. Combine the effects of the energy drink with vigorous exercise, particularly in the heat, and you compound the stress on your heart.
Believe it or not, there are marathon runners who drink beer to stay hydrated. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider alcohol is a diuretic and you’re trying to stay hydrated. If you consume alcohol, don’t do it before a workout!
Best Hydration Beverages
We already mentioned water, but for longer workouts when you need to replenish electrolytes, coconut water is a good option. Coconut water is naturally high in potassium but a bit lower in sodium relative to a commercial sports drink. You can solve that problem by adding a pinch of salt to coconut water. If you buy pure coconut water, you can also avoid the additives and sweeteners in most sports drinks.
Other good hydration beverages are milk and orange juice. How do we know this? In one study, researchers calculated a hydration score for a variety of beverages. The beverages included skim and regular milk, tea, diet cola, regular cola, a sports drink, an oral rehydration solution, orange juice, lager, and sparkling water. As you might expect, the oral rehydration solution outperformed water for hydration. Makes sense since it’s used in hospitals for rehydration. However, orange juice and milk also performed better than water in terms of hydration in the study.
Why would orange juice and milk be better than water for hydration? Orange juice contains sugar and the extra sugar helps the body better absorb and retain the fluid. Beverages with sugar or salt are both effective at hydrating since they boost absorption of the fluid into the bloodstream. Adding sugar to a beverage also increases the effectiveness of electrolyte absorption. Orange juice also supplies glucose to help preserve glycogen stores during periods of sustained exercise.
What about milk? Milk is a good source of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium. Plus, it has an ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Carbohydrates are important for replenishing glycogen stores and protein helps muscles repair after a workout. Plus, research shows the protein in milk helps restore fluid balance. Chocolate milk is a good choice too, as it contains anti-inflammatory compounds due to the chocolate. In fact, a study found that athletes could exercise longer before becoming fatigued and their workout felt easier when they hydrated with chocolate milk. Plus, their heart rate at a given level of exertion was lower.
The Bottom Line
Choose your hydration beverage wisely, but make sure you’re staying hydrated! Even mild dehydration can limit your endurance and the total volume of training you can do. In fact, as little as 1% dehydration can reduce exercise performance by 15%. It can even negatively impact your strength and hypertrophy gains by reducing total training volume. Exercise feels more taxing and strenuous when you’re in a dehydrated state.
As a general guideline, drink 15 to 20 ounces of water within a few hours of a workout. Consuming lots of liquid right before a workout doesn’t work well as your body needs time to absorb the water. Plus, you don’t want a large volume of fluid in your tummy when you’re doing high-impact exercise. Drink another 6 to 10 ounces 30 minutes before your workout begins. Then, drink about 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during a workout.
If you’re unsure whether you’re drinking enough, check the color of your urine. If it’s darker than pale yellow, you’re not optimally hydrated. You can also weigh yourself before and after a workout. For each pound that you’re down, drink 24 ounces of fluid. Keep tabs on your hydration! It matters in terms of health and exercise performance too.
- Medical News Today. “Drinking soda after exercise could damage kidneys”
- com. “Study: 1 Energy Drink Might Harm Blood Vessels”
- Nutraingredients-USA.com. “Coconut Water Matches Carb-Electrolyte Sports Beverage for Rehydration: Study”
- com. “Milk better than water to rehydrate kids, study finds”
- “Best Workout Drink Is Milk, Study Finds”
- Cleveland Heart Lab. “Can Energy Drinks Harm Your Heart?”
- Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:120-6. doi: 10.1159/000341958. Epub 2012 Oct 15.
- com. “Chocolate milk may be better than sports drinks for exercise recovery”