Hydration before, during, and after exercise is paramount – most of us, even if we’re not athletes, realize this – but what is the best practice for accomplishing this? Is water enough, or should you work in a sports drink into your workout? It all depends on your exercise program, and how much you sweat it out while you work it out. And remember – electrolyte replacement therapy isn’t “one size fits all.”
Electrolytes are substances in our bodies that are absolutely vital to our cells and organs functioning normally. They not only maintain the correct amount of fluid in our bodies, they also help keep our nerves and muscles functioning. The most common electrolytes are potassium, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate. These electrolytes are lost when we sweat. It is imperative that we maintain a healthy balance of these electrolytes within our bodies – many experts suggest replenishing electrolytes both while exercising, and afterwards.
The American College of Sports Medicine states that athletes should drink about 17 ounces of fluid about two hours after exercise. This encourages our body’s natural hydration process by allowing it to excrete any excess water. Fluids should be consumed at regular intervals while exercise, before you are even thirsty to prevent later dehydration and to replace fluids that we lose while we sweat.
Most people use water to rehydrate themselves – this is just fine, if you are exercising at a moderate level. Your fluid replacement needs will vary, depending on many different factors: how long you exercise; how intense your exercising is; how much you weigh; your exercise environment; and how much you sweat.
People who exercise at a “higher level,” are generally heavier and/or work out in warmer climates, and may need more fluids than the average Joe. Pro athletes will work out for longer periods of time, and at a more intense level. So, a pro’s electrolyte replenishment needs will differ greatly from the regular gym-goer.
The professional athlete’s body is vastly different from that of someone who spends an average of 2 – 3 days/week at the gym. Pros know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to rehydration and fluid retention – it’s a part of their jobs.
Electrolyte drinks sound like a great idea – after all, if we lose all these electrolytes on a daily basis (and especially when we work out), then we must need a fancy drink to replace all those lost ions, right? And electrolyte drinks contain sodium, potassium, and other necessary electrolytes that are lost when we sweat.
The important thing to keep in mind when choosing an electrolyte replacement drink, is that if you choose a typical sports drink, you’re not only drinking electrolytes, but also loads of sugar. So, guzzling these sports drinks can actually do more harm than good. Make sure you choose a drink with a low amount of sugar and a high amount of sodium, like Leolyte, which also contains zinc, a vital nutrient in the rehydration process. Other sports drinks can contain unhealthy additives and food coloring, too.
A benefit of sports drinks, however, is that they do encourage people to stay hydrated. Many people who work out will not drink plain water, oddly enough, so sports drinks do encourage hydration, at the very least. These drinks can also contain carbohydrates, which are our body’s fuel and stave off fatigue.
It’s imperative that you choose an electrolyte replacement drink that isn’t just sugar water – and many drinks can be classified as such – make sure you double-check the ingredient label, so that you know that you are putting electrolytes (and not purely sugar) into your body.
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