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When to Choose Sports Drinks over Water

Loyola dietitian weighs in on hydration options

MAYWOOD, Ill. – With all the different sports drinks on the market, it can be hard to decide whether to reach for a sports drink or water to quench your thirst. In most cases, water will meet your hydration needs, according to Brooke Schantz, a Loyola University Health System registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics.

“Sports drinks shouldn’t take the place of regular water intake,” Schantz said. “Yes, they will help hydrate you, but the average healthy child, adolescent and adult doesn’t need the extra carbohydrates and calories that come with consuming these sugary beverages."

Schantz said there are certain cases when sports drinks are beneficial. Carbohydrates, our main energy source, can be found in sports drinks. Those who exercise for one hour or longer should consume between 30-60 grams of carbohydrates to help maintain blood sugar levels. Most sports drinks contain about 4-8 percent of carbohydrates to help meet those needs.

“Consuming these beverages during exercise that lasts more than one hour can aid in hydration and help provide needed energy to hard-working muscles,” Schantz said.

The following tips will help to alleviate confusion about what to drink and when to drink it.

When to choose water:

  • While sitting on the couch
  • During a 3-mile run or bike ride
  • While sitting at your desk studying or working

When to choose a sports drink:

  • While participating in a sporting event or endurance race that lasts longer than one hour
  • While exercising in extreme environments, such as in severe heat or humidity, the cold or at a high altitude
  • If you are an athlete who has missed or not consumed a high quality, preworkout meal to sustain your physical activity
  • If you are a wrestler or if you participate in another sport where you limit your energy intake prior to a weigh-in

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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Nora Plunkett
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