Sport Drinks vs Water:
What Should You Drink?

With sport drinks vs water, which is better? Why? What do you want to drink before your game, during your game, and after your game to recover?

Well, here are the answers. Just keep one idea in mind: make sure that you like drinking whatever you choose.

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Sport Drinks vs Water Before, During, and After Your Game

Sport Drinks vs Water: Which is better for your workout?

Before you exercise, you want to get really hydrated. You're stocking up on water because during your exercise you'll be sweating and losing a ton of water.

During exercise, you need to replenish your liquids (so you don't get dehydrated) and also tokeep your energy level up. This means getting some simple carbs into your system, either with sport drinks or energy bars.

And after your exercise you just need to replenish the water that you lost while exercising. This also promotes recovery.

As far as sport drinks vs water, it doesn't matter which one you choose pre- or post-exercise. You can drink water and, if you're hungry and need energy, eat food to either prepare for exercise or recover from it.

But during exercise it's hard to keep your body adequately fueled. That's why sport drinks, which are essentially water and some mix of sugars and electrolytes, are great to drink while you're exercising.

And sport drinks are what you want to drink while exercising. Why? It's all because of their carbohydrate concentration.

Why Carbohydrate Concentration Is Important

When you're exercising, you're burning energy. And your body would like to be replenishing that energy to perform at its best.

Studies recommend drinking fluids with 6 - 8% carbohydrate concentration by volume at a rate of 0.6 - 1.2 liters per hour.[1] This will have you consuming carbs at a rate of about 1 gram of carbs per minute of exercise, which is right where you want to be to keep giving your body energy.[2]

Concentrations above 8% cannot be absorbed fast enough to be of use, and amounts below 6% don't provide as much benefit as those in the 6 - 8% range.[3] So, get a sports drink whose carb concentration falls within that window.

Also, drinking liquids with a 6 - 8% carb concentration actually makes your body absorb the liquid faster![4] This is great news for enabling your body to take advantage of that liquid as quickly as possible.

There was one study that really showed this. It compered two groups, those drinking a small volume of liquid with no carbs and those drinking a large volume of liquid with carbs. The group with lots of liquid and carbs gained a 12.4% increase in performance![5]

That is amazing! So, make sure you're drinking something with carbs while you're exercising. Check the table below for the best drinks.

How To Calculate Carbohydrate Concentration

Calculating a drink's carb concentration is easy. Lets use Gatorade Thirst Quencher as an example.

Ok, look at the number of grams of carbohydrates for 1 serving, and how much liquid is in one serving. For Gatorade, it has 14g of carbs for every 8 oz. (240 ml) serving of Gatorade.

To find out the carbohydrate concentration, simply divide the amount of carbs by the volume of the drink. In this case it would be…

( 14g / 240ml ) x 100 = 5.833333...

So, a carbohydrate concentration of 5.8%.

  • Note: Don't trust the percentage of carbohydrates in a drink from the nutrition facts. That percentage is the percentage of your '2,000 calorie daily recommended intake,' and is not related to the carb concentration of the solution.

What Sports Drink Should You Drink?

Try any of the sports drinks below that have a carb concentration between 6 and 8 percent. They will help you the most.

Water and orange juice are given first so that you have some familiar drinks to compare the others with. Next come the drinks with an optimal carbohydrate concentration to be used during exercise, and finally there are a few drinks that you'll probably want to steer clear of.

So, choose one of the sports drinks from the middle group and try it.

Ranking of Sport Drinks vs Water[6]    

% of Carb.
Orange Juice
PowerBar Endurance
Gatorade Energy Drink
All Sport
Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Make sure that you like whichever one you decide on. And drinking something without the optimal carb concentration won't kill you - it just won't be perfect according to studies.

Find one that works, and go with it.

Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!

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Sport Drinks vs Water: What Should You Drink?

1. Benardot, Dan, and Dan Benardot. 2006. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Pp. 98.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid. Pp. 97.
7. This number taken from the Official Gatorade Website at

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