Do Sports Drinks Actually Help You Exercise?

During vigorous exercise, your body is rapidly using up your stores of muscle glycogen at the same time that it's shedding water and electrolytes as you sweat. That means you may need to add an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink if you're planning to train hard. But more important than drinking while you exercise is starting your workout at an optimal hydration level (via Livestrong). That's why you may want to sip an electrolyte-enhanced drink on the way to the gym or before you head out for your run

When you're breathing hard and sweating (imagine a tough boot camp class) or when you've been training for a long time (think a run that lasts longer than an hour), your body will need some help staying hydrated and an electrolyte-enhanced drink can be an easy way to stay optimally hydrated. While a sports drink won't magically make you faster or stronger, it will prevent you from slowing down by keeping you hydrated and keeping your body's sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels in balance.

When should you have a sports drink?

Drink an eight-ounce glass of water before starting a workout. If you've been fueling your body enough with regular meals and snacks throughout the day, a sugary sports drink isn't necessary — plain water will suffice, per Mayo Clinic. For most fitness classes, simply starting well-hydrated should be enough to get you through an hour-long session, though sipping from an electrolyte-enhanced water bottle throughout the session is fine.

As a general rule, if you're doing an endurance sport like riding a bike, you will want to hydrate throughout, especially for efforts longer than an hour. Aim to sip from an electrolyte-enhanced bottle or hydration pack regularly throughout your session: Optimal hydration status can be gauged by simply checking the color of your urine. You're looking for light yellow — if it's getting darker, you're getting dehydrated (via Runner's World).

Remember, there are options for electrolyte drinks that don't contain a lot of added sugars. You may want the sugar in a sports drink if your workout is lasting a while, but if you're eating your calories in the form of gels or bars, you can skip the sugar in your water bottle. Look for electrolyte tabs, powders, or pre-made drinks with only a few calories unless you know you need the fast-burning carbohydrates to boost your workout. If you're on a budget, simply adding a pinch of sea salt to your water will give you the sodium that you need to replace what you've lost in sweat (via U.S.News). Add a splash of lime or lemon juice for flavor and a small amount of potassium and magnesium, (via Livestrong).