You know that when your mouth is dry and your urine is the color of whiskey it’s time to hydrate. You likely also know that the human body is more than 50 percent water, and that you can’t live more than a few days without it. But that’s where most people’s understanding of hydration ends. Indeed, a recent survey of 300 physicians by The Natural Hydration Council found that nearly a quarter of patients didn’t know how much water they should drink per day (answer: at least 8 cups). The giveaway: One of the most common reasons reported for doctor visits was chronic fatigue caused by (you guessed it) chronic dehydration.
What goes for everyday life goes double for fitness. “Even mild dehydration — losing 1 to 3 percent of your body weight in water — can significantly decrease strength and power,” says Maria Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D., a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks. “Plus, dehydration makes the heart work harder and can lead to cramping and heat illness.”
That’s where sports drinks come in. By replacing fluids and providing energy-sustaining nutrients, sports drinks can boost performance and prolong stamina. But the key word here is “can.” If the fluid/nutrient balance is even a little off, the sports drink can become little more than glorified water, or worse, it can actually promote the very thing it’s trying to prevent, dehydration. But first things first…
Do You Really Need a Sports Drink?
Ideally, you’d begin every workout well hydrated. And if you’re working out for less than 60 minutes, and your pee is clear and your body is well fueled (i.e., by drinking enough fluids and eating a healthy, balanced diet), you can likely skip the sports drink. Unfortunately, the majority of people are never well hydrated or properly fueled, especially at the start of a workout. Indeed, 88 percent of Americans drink less than the recommended eight cups of water a day, and more than 43 percent of people drink four cups or less, according to a recent survey by the CDC.
In short, most Americans have a drinking problem, which affects the body on nearly every level. Water facilitates biological and chemical reactions within cells. It transports materials throughout the body. It lubricates organs and joints. It helps regulate body temperature. And it’s critical for not only the creation of glycogen (the stored form of your body’s primary energy source, glucose), but also the conversion of glycogen back into glucose.
How all of that might hamper athletic performance is obvious. But the effects of dehydration aren’t just physical—even a 1 to 2 percent drop in body water can reduce concentration, alertness, and short-term memory, according to a report in the journal Nutrition Reviews, making it difficult to keep your head in the game. And if you’ve ever suffered from dry mouth during a workout or athletic event, you know how unpleasant, distracting, and uncomfortable it can be.
As such, it’s smart to drink fluids during exercise regardless of whether you think you’re hydrated or not, or how long you plan to work out. “But it becomes increasingly important during longer training periods [i.e., those lasting more than an hour] or multiple shorter training periods spread out over the course of a day,” says Spano. Either way, water is a good choice, but water fortified with electrolytes and carbohydrates (i.e., a sports drink) can be an even better one.
What to Look for in a Sports Drink
Let’s start with electrolytes, which are minerals that carry an electrical charge. They play a pivotal role in many bodily processes, including nerve function, neuron communication, blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction, and the transfer of nutrients into and out of cells.
“During exercise, salt [AKA sodium chloride] is the key electrolyte, as it’s necessary for proper muscle functioning,” says Spano. And since we lose it quickly during prolonged high intensity activity—especially when exercising in high heat and humidity—replacing it can be hugely beneficial.
If you’ve ever noticed salt stains on your workout shirt, you know what she’s talking about. And if you’ve ever experienced muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, or an inability to concentrate during a tough, sweat-inspiring workout, you likely know what it feels like to lose too much of it. But it’s not the only electrolyte that can help sustain athletic performance. Which is why Beachbody Performance Hydrate also contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
“We combined specific carbohydrates and electrolytes in a concentration that can increase fluid absorption and retention, and thus lead to improved endurance exercise performance,” says Dr. Nima Alamdari, Beachbody’s executive director of scientific affairs.
The other key ingredient to look at is the carbohydrate, usually in the form of a sugar, which the body breaks down into glucose to fuel muscular work. A little sugar can help enhance hydration and boost exercise endurance and performance, but it’s easy to get too much of a good thing.
What To Look Out For In A Sports Drink
Excessive sugar. “A frequent complaint among athletes is an intolerance to high sugar sports drinks, which have been linked anecdotally to bloating and gastrointestinal distress,” says Alamdari. Such drinks also tend to be hypertonic (i.e., have a higher concentration of dissolved substances than blood), and thus have a slow rate of absorption.
That’s why the carbs in Hydrate are limited to 10 grams, comprising just 3.8 percent of the formula, instead of 6 to 8 percent, as is the case with many other popular brands. “We wanted to create a clean hypotonic solution (i.e. one with a lower concentration of dissolved substances than blood) to optimize hydration status during exercise, and we achieved that through a balance of two sugars [glucose and sucrose] and four electrolytes [sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium] to compensate for sweat loss rates,” says Alamdari. “The result is a drink that can maintain optimal hydration and reduce the impairment of performance—or ‘bonking’—during long bouts of exercise.”
Why Hydrate is Better Than Water
At this point in the article, you likely know the answer—while water replaces fluid, Hydrate does it more efficiently and provides performance-sustaining electrolytes and carbs. But there’s one more ingredient that sets Hydrate apart: Quercetin, a compound found in nuts, grapes, apples, berries, and onions that has quickly become one of the most studied phytonutrients for improving sports performance.
In a recent study at the University of South Carolina, researchers found that daily quercetin supplementation resulted in a significant increase in both VO2 max (i.e., aerobic capacity) and time to exhaustion in healthy, untrained subjects. A second study at Appalachian State University found that quercetin treatment resulted in an increase in the distance covered by subjects during a time trial on a treadmill. Still more studies have shown that quercetin supplementation can mitigate excessive exercise-induced inflammation, thus helping to speed recovery.
“Another interesting property of quercetin is that, like coffee, it may reduce central nervous system fatigue during prolonged exercise by blocking adenosine receptors,” says Alamdari. Translation: Quercetin can be positively stimulating, helping to enhance focus, delay exhaustion, and make you feel pretty damn good.