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Sports Drinks vs. Water

Do these concoctions really hydrate better than H2O?

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While Gatorade was invented in 1965 by the medical team for the University of Florida Gators, it wasn't until 1991 when the company instructed America to "Be Like Mike" that sports drinks really launched in popularity.

Today, Gatorade has plenty of competition, but do you really need any of them to enhance your workout? Yes, if you're exercising longer than 60 minutes — or less than that but very intensely. So if you're doing an easy jog while watching an episode of The Office, or playing a relaxed lunch hour game of pick-up basketball, you might not need one. But if you're working out hard, water might not cut it.

"Water provides no sodium, which helps the body hold onto water and helps fluid get to the right places in the body, like muscles and blood," says nutritionist Heidi Skolnik, M.S., CDN, FACSM, who advises both the New York Giants and the New York Knicks on healthy eating as well as drinking.

Also, water is, well . . . not that tasty.

"For harder or longer duration workouts, it's important to get enough fluid during the session, and flavor helps you keep on drinking," says Skolnik, who founded Nutrition Conditioning, Inc.

She suggests frequently sipping small amounts of whatever you hydrate with to avoid a rare condition called hyponatremia, typically occurring in long distance athletes who drink too much water without the necessary sodium.

Another reason to avoid chugging water? You can actually lose fluid. "Drinking a lot of water sends the signal to the kidney that there's some excess fluid in the blood and blocks the anti-diuretic hormone (vasopressin) which would help you hold on to water resulting in signaling you to urinate."

Finally, Skolnik advises staying away from added caffeine, because if you're using water for hydration, the strength of your jolt may add up quickly.

To find out which sports drinks are the best on the market, we consulted with New York City registered dietitian Andrea Chernus who teamed up with Skolnik to co-author Nutrient Timing: the right food, the right time, the right results, which is out in June. Here are her five picks to pack in your workout bag.

"For training over an hour at medium to high intensity, look for a drink that provides between 13-19 grams of carbohydrate per 8 oz serving, and at least 80-110 mg sodium —and even more for longer duration training or those losing a lot of salt in their sweat," says Chernus.

Gatorade original [now called Gatorade G]
Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories, 14 g carb; 110 mg sodium

"The original is still a good bet. The formula is designed so that you'll absorb the fluid and energy quickly, and continue to want to drink," says Chernus.

Powerade Ion 4
Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories, 14 g carb; 100 mg sodium

"This is another well designed hydration beverage with adequate sodium," says Chernus.

Powerbar Endurance
Per 8 ounce serving: 70 calories, 17 g carb; 190 mg sodium

"This powder is best for longer workouts or athletes who lose a lot of sodium in their sweat," says Chernus.

Gatorade Endurance
Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories; 13 g carb; 170 mg sodium

"This is another good one for longer workouts or those needing more sodium," says Chernus.

Accelerade Hydro
Per 8 ounce serving: 80 calories, 15 g carb, 120 mg sodium

"In addition to regular sugar, this drink contains trehalose, a slow digesting sugar, which may help athletes who experience low-blood sugar (hypoglycemia) during or after training," says Chernus.

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Protein Shake Essentials

The Lowdown on Energy Drinks

Sports Drinks: The Facts

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