Thirsty for a sport drink? Think again...

How many of you have a drink bottle close at hand when you exercise? What is contained in your drink bottle, a sport drink or water? What should it be? Well, it depends…

When we exercise, we sweat. This is an automatic response to regulate the increase in body temperature when we exercise, and is an effective way to cool us down. Sweat is mainly made up of water, 99% in fact, as well as smaller amounts of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. The amount you sweat depends on a myriad of factors, for example sex, age, fitness level, exercise intensity, and the environmental conditions you exercise in (i.e. airflow, temperature, and humidity).

In today’s social media and marketing realm, we see many commercials and adverts showcasing the need to hydrate (or rehydrate) with branded sports drinks. Also, when our sporting heroes and stars are using them, there is a tendency to follow their habits. Welcome to the marketing world!

There is time and place when sports drinks are beneficial. Sport drinks contain water, sugar, and electrolytes, and are designed to first provide energy in the form carbohydrate (sugar). Sodium (salt) and potassium are the most critical electrolytes for fluid absorption therefore, may also be included in sports drinks. These sports drinks are not needed unless you need carbohydrate or food during exercise.  The type of fluid you should consume, if you are exercising for 60-90min, is water with a bit of salt e.g. 1/16th teaspoon of table salt per 500-750ml of water.  Plain water won’t help with hydration; it is the addition of salt that will.

If you need to use a sports drink, choose one that contains a low amount of carbohydrate (< 4g of carbohydrate per 100ml). A drink that has a high sugar content will cause more dehydration than rehydration. The new generation of sports drinks are beneficial for fluid absorption; they are critical for longer, higher intensity workouts, and for exercising in hot and humid environments.

Majority of the time, water will suffice for someone who is exercising for less than 60min at a moderate intensity. It is important to note that a sports drink could be counterproductive if you are exercising to lose weight; you could be consuming more calories than you burn when working out. There are low sugar sports drinks and tablets which contain sufficient sodium and potassium to encourage fluid absorption.

So before you grab the best two-for-one deal on a sport drink for when you exercise, ask yourself how long you are exercising for and at what intensity, as well as what environment you are exercising in.



  • Water with a pinch of salt is best for majority of workouts
  • If you are in a hot and humid environment, choose a low carbohydrate sports drink that contains sodium and potassium
  • Stay away from sports drinks that have a high sugar content



Article by Katie Schofield  School Sport Liaison Coordinator | University of Waikato


The University of Waikato is the tertiary education partner of the Avantidrome with a dedicated sport science laboratory, He Puna Oranga Tinana, located in Cambridge.