Water or Gatorade?

| 7/29/2003

So you’ve just finished a hard day of work, driving, loading, unloading, truck maintenance and the whole nine yards. And in 100-degree plus summer heat.

You need to get some of those fluids you’ve lost through the sweat glands back. So what’s the best way to quench your thirst – water or Gatorade?

The answer varies depending on whom you ask. But there is more and more information out there that says Gatorade and other sports drinks are the way to go.

“Sports drinks are among the most widely used forms of nutrition supplementation for athletes and exercise enthusiasts alike, and with good reason—they work,” Robert M. Hackman Ph.D., wrote recently in an article for HealthWell. Hackman is the executive director of the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research at the University of California, Davis.

Most sports drinks trace their history – and Gatorade traces its name – back to the University of Florida football team, the Gators. The players consumed a liquid that contained sugar and salt – or, to put in highfalutin’ scientific terms, carbohydrates and electrolytes. The mixture helped them perform better in the heavy, humid Florida heat.

Most sources seem to regard sports drinks as better for people exerting themselves during hot weather than plain water, and far better than drinks such as sodas.

According to About.com, the drinks don’t put more water into your system, but because they taste better than plain water, you’re likely to drink more. 

“The typical sweet-tart taste combination doesn't quench thirst, so you will keep drinking a sports drink long after water has lost its appeal,” the site’s researchers wrote. The drinks also restore some electrolytes lost when you sweat.

But Hackman says the drinks really are better than water for your body.

“Properly formulated sports drinks can speed water into the body – more quickly than by drinking water alone,” Hackman said. “The key element is the carbohydrate solution that ranges from 6 to 8 percent. This concentration appears to ‘turn on’ a glucose pump in the intestines that pumps both water and carbohydrates into the bloodstream at a faster rate than plain water is absorbed.”

But that doesn’t mean that you should drink as much as possible. In some cases, drinking too much, whether sports drinks or water, can actually be dangerous.

Timothy David Noakes, of the University of South Africa in Cape Town, told Reuters news service recently that drinking too much water while engaging in heavy physical activity can lead to a condition called hypoatremic encephalopathy, in which the brain swells because of a lack of salt in the blood. Some athletes have actually died of the condition.

The best course to follow, according to medical authorities, is to drink if you’re thirsty. Usually, 12 to 24 fluid ounces per hour during exercise is enough.

Most scientists seemed to agree that both sports drinks and water are better than fruit juices, sodas, tea, coffee and alcohol. Many of those actually dehydrate the body more, created a potential danger and the possibility of heat-related illnesses.