Lend Me Your Thirsty Ear(s) – Part II

Last week, I dove deep into the world of enhanced waters to find out whether these drinks are actually good for your health. In order to provide more context for this drink dilemma, it’s important to think about enhanced waters in, well, the context of other drinks.

An easy way to do this is to look at GoodGuide’s drinks page, which shows scores across drink subcategories. From this spread, you can see that health-wise, sodas and sports drinks score the lowest, followed by juices, enhanced water, and regular water. If your sole purpose is hydration, stick to tap water (filtered if you’re worried about the water supply); everything else should be consumed in moderation. If you spend a half hour at the gym every so often, you can still stick to water. Only if your exercise regimen has you working out at high intensity for over an hour are you likely to benefit from drinking a sports drink or enhanced water.

According to the American Dietetic Association:

Consumption of beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can help sustain fluid and electrolyte balance and endurance exercise performance. The type, intensity, and duration of exercise and environmental conditions will alter the need for fluids and electrolytes. Fluids containing sodium and potassium help replace sweat electrolyte losses, whereas sodium stimulates thirst and fluid retention, and carbohydrates provide energy. Beverages containing 6% to 8% carbohydrate are recommended for exercise events lasting longer than 1 hour.

The American College of Sports Medicine puts it a little more succinctly:

During exercise, consuming beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can provide benefits over water along under certain circumstances. After exercise, the goal is to replace fluid and electrolyte deficits. (emphasis mine).

After about an hour of intense exercise, the body has used up most of its readily available energy and developed fluid-electrolyte deficits (mostly from perspiration). Sports drinks consumed during and after exercise can help replenish glucose (aka energy) and restore the fluid-electrolyte balance. However, as mentioned in last week’s post, outside of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride, the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) added to enhanced water will offer negligible benefits to individuals who are already consuming a well-balanced diet. In the end, vitamins and minerals should come from whole foods that are naturally packaged with other phytonutrients that facilitate the absorption of micronutrients. Put a different way, relying on drinks for nutrients shouldn’t be the prevailing modus operandi. But, for those moments when you’d prefer not to drink water, there is opportunity to choose products that are better than others.

Note: This post was originally featured on My WaterBloggle, a blog that highlights issues related to sustainable water consumption.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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