Is Drinking Water Better Than Powerade?

Man covered with water
An athlete drinking bottled water. (Image: StockWithMe/iStock/Getty Images)

Powerade is one of dozens of sports drinks on the market promising to rehydrate you better than water. Children and adults guzzle down sports drinks at the gym and on the field but also drink them when no exercise is involved. While water costs nothing and comes with no calories, Powerade carries a price tag and 125 calories per 20-ounce bottle. For heavy exercisers, Powerade may offer some benefit, but for the vast majority of people, water is sufficient.

Significance

When you exercise at an intense level, you lose fluids and minerals known as electrolytes through sweat. Electrolytes support muscle function and water balance -- when you are deficient in electrolytes, you might become weak or experience muscle cramps. Powerade features a combination of four electrolytes along with a 6 percent carbohydrate solution that the company says will improve your athletic performance by providing energy. When you exercise, you want to be able to recover quickly and get the most out of your session -- especially if you are training for an event. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can impede your performance.

When Water Is Best

If you are exercising at a moderate level for less than 60 minutes, water is a sufficient hydrator. You do not need the extra calories and additives in Powerade to support this activity. Children, in particular, may clamor for sports drinks, but these can contribute to weight gain if they are drunk without enough activity. Water is a better choice if you are not participating in physical activity.

When to Drink Powerade

If you are exercising at a very intense level and losing a lot of sweat for more than an hour or 90 minutes, you might benefit from drinking Powerade. Along with electrolytes and hydration, the drink provides sugar as a quick energy source. The sweet taste may also encourage you to drink more, so you hydrate at a faster pace. Powerade also has vitamins B-3, B-6 and B-12 added to purportedly support energy metabolism -- the addition of these vitamins helps you utilize the sugar in Powerade and convert it to fuel.

Serving Tips and Suggestions

If you need more than water, but don't want the calorie investment of Powerade, try diluting it in water. A 1:1 ratio of Powerade and water halves your calorie intake, but still provides some sugar, vitamins and electrolytes for recovery. If you really just need water, but crave something a bit more flavorful, try adding slices fruits -- such as strawberries, limes, grapefruit or oranges -- to your water. For a more savory water blend, steep your water with cucumber slices, mint and basil leaves.

Hyponatremia

If you are an endurance athlete, a sports drink such as Powerade can help you prevent a rare condition known as hyponatremia. When you consume too much water, your sodium levels become too low -- causing headaches, swelling of the hands and feet, vomiting and, in extreme cases, death. Because Powerade and other sports drinks contain sodium as one of the electrolytes, consuming these during an endurance activity can ensure that your sodium levels stay in balance.

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