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Sports Drinks vs. Energy Drinks

Now some of you may be asking,

“Besides water, what else can I consume to stay hydrated?”  Let’s talk about the difference between Sports drinks and Energy drinks.  As previously discussed, people are at higher risk of dehydration if they exercise at a high intensity, have certain medical conditions, are sick, or are not able to get enough fluids during the day. Older adults are also at higher risk. As you get older, your brain may not be able to sense dehydration and send the signals for thirst.

Water is the best option for staying hydrated, but other drinks and foods can help you stay hydrated. Sports drinks are not the same as Energy drinks.

Energy drinks usually contain large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants (for example, guarana, ginseng, or taurine) that your body does not need.  Energy drinks are a more unstructured category. They are a hybrid of lifestyle beverages and functional beverages. Like other soft drinks, they provide refreshment, but they also contain functional ingredients—mainly caffeine—to provide perceptions of wakefulness and energy for whenever they are needed.  Most of these drinks are also high in added sugar.  The typical energy drink contains significantly more carbohydrates and calories than the typical sports drink and gets most or all of those carbs and calories from one or two sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup (a blend of fructose and glucose). For example, Red Bull contains 26 grams of carbs, all sugar, per 8.3-oz serving, while Gatorade contains 16 g of carbs per 8-oz. serving, of which 13 g are sugar.  Many energy drinks are also carbonated, further increasing the potential of associated risk of GI (stomach) distress.
Many experts recommend that children and teens should <em>not</em> have energy drinks.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens not use energy drinks.  The best way for children and teens to improve energy is through a balanced diet and getting enough sleep.

Sports drinks are easy to define. They are beverages formulated specifically for use during exercise and for the sake of enhancing exercise performance. If you are planning on exercising at a high intensity for longer than an hour, they may be helpful. The calories, potassium, and other nutrients in sports drinks can provide energy and electrolytes to help you perform for a longer period of time.  Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes that can increase your energy and help your body absorb water.

But if you are going to drink a sports drink, drink wisely. They too are often high in calories from added sugar and may contain high levels of sodium. Also, check the serving size. One bottle may contain several servings. If you drink the entire bottle, you may need to double or triple the amounts given on the Nutrition Facts Label. Be aware that even some sports drinks contain caffeine, so if you use a sports drink that contains caffeine, be careful not to get too much caffeine in your diet elsewhere.

So what do you need to remember about using drinks to hydrate?

  • Water is usually the BEST CHOICE before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Don’t use sports drinks to replace water or low-fat milk during meals or snacks.
  • Don’t use energy drinks in place of sports drinks.
  • Don’t allow children or teens to use energy drinks.

We’ll wrap up our hydration series next week, unless you leave us comments or questions on hydration at we can answer in continuation of this series. Otherwise, we look forward to weighing in on salad solutions soon!

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