By , YMCA Registered Dietitian

When it comes to sports drinks, opinions abound. Some exercisers stick to only water, while others swear by Gatorade. While we, as RDs, do have recommendations on which beverages are healthier, today I’m only going to focus on the benefits that various options offer. It’s up to you to choose your hydration helper.

First, a quick trip through the facts: Our bodies cool down by perspiring when we are engaged in physical activity. Depending on the nature of the activity, your body may require more than water to re-hydrate. After all, it’s expelling more than water when it perspires. Keep these things in mind when your thirst feels unquenchable.

With spring weather upon us, the temperatures are heating up, and our bodies will start to sweat more. So, take a look at how these popular beverages can help us stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise.

Sports Drinks


Gatorade, Powerade, and other sports drinks come in a variety of flavors and are made up of simple sugars. Simple sugars are carbohydrates that can be quickly absorbed in the body to produce energy. They also replenish electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) that are lost during perspiration.


A beverage that provides simple sugars and electrolytes may be ideal when engaged in intense physical activity lasting longer than 60 minutes. It can also be a good choice for a recovery beverage to restore energy to the muscles. This is why some athletes won’t compete without it.

Ideally, 2-3 large gulps every 15- 20 minutes during exercise is sufficient. On average, these drinks provide 14 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving and 35 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving. To reduce the amount of sugar per serving, you can dilute the beverage with water or pour it over ice in a water bottle.

Fitness Water


Propel and other fitness waters contain a sugar substitute, which means that it will not provide calories from carbohydrates. It does provide some electrolytes (both sodium and potassium). This may be a good option if you are limiting your sugar intake and engaging in aerobic physical activity. Just make sure you are informed of the ingredients. This beverage would be safe to consume before, during, or after exercise.


Protein Shakes


Protein shakes, such as Muscle Milk, are best to consume post-exercise (especially after weight-training activity) as a recovery drink. On average, they contain 20-30 grams of protein, which can help build lean muscle. Typically, protein shakes contain 0-5 grams of sugar. This would be another good option if you are limiting your total caloric intake.


Chocolate Milk


You might be surprised to learn that chocolate milk is a popular recovery drink. It works well for athletes involved in intense physical activity lasting longer than 60 minutes. It’s also a good option for children. Chocolate milk provides adequate protein and double the amount of carbohydrates from plain milk or sports drinks. This can help to replenish tired muscles.




You didn’t think I could write about hydration without mentioning water, did you? Our bodies require water to function. Sometimes when we feel depleted and can’t pinpoint why, it’s because we aren’t properly hydrated. Other drinks should not be used as a substitute, but rather, an addition to pure H2O.


Hydrate early and often throughout the day with water. It does not contain sugar, electrolytes, or protein. It is also free of calories. This makes it an ideal beverage for light exercise or exercise lasting less than 60 minutes. Keep a reusable water bottle with you to ensure you are drinking enough fluids throughout the day!

Check out more nutrition tips and recipes from our expert staff, and learn about the nutrition counseling offered at our centers. Our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are here to partner with you to grow stronger and healthier!