The Healthiest Sports Drink in The Game According to A Performance Dietitian

  • 6 min read

Abby Grimm, MS, RDN, LD
Registered Dietitian,  FWDfuel Sports Nutrition

Are you in the market for a sports drink that exceeds the Gatorade or Powerade experience? Maybe you’re a high-performing athlete or take your fitness seriously like many of my clients and are disappointed by the sugar-laden sports drink conventionally available on the market. You're not alone if you’re frustrated. I share that same dissatisfaction since most of my athletes have been slamming conventional sports drinks for years. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you, like many of my athletes, have been indoctrinated to think these products are supporting hydration and improving performance, the reality is that many aren’t really doing the best job, if not potentially sabotaging performance potential! Most of the sports drinks available to athletes are filled with junk ingredients, loads of sugar, and do not contain the actual ingredients needed to provide REAL hydration for your body!

So what exactly is hydration, and why is it so important?

Hydration essentially means replacing the water and minerals lost through sweating and is essential for thermoregulation, basically your body’s ability to keep you from overheating during exercise. Without proper hydration with fluids, your body can overheat, muscles shut down, and heart rate jacks up.

So being properly hydrated helps prevent you from cramping in the middle of your workout or suffering from a heat stroke during your long run!

Sooo, if you care about maximizing performance, hydration should be one of your top priorities. Think about this… almost 60 percent of your body is water, and every time you train, you lose water and other minerals from sweat. This water needs to be replaced, or your body will start to shut down!

Often, I have an athlete absolutely crushing their food game, but hydration was placed on the back burner.If this fluid is not replaced at regular intervals during practice or competition, it can lead to dehydration. Dehydration happens when water and minerals are lost at a higher rate than fluid coming in. [1]

Watch Out for These Key Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

We’ve covered all the benefits of staying hydrated, but how do you know you’re doing it right?Oh, you will know…A dehydrated body will not keep quiet because you will feel your muscles weaken, and overall your body will reach fatigue much sooner than if you were adequately hydrated.

Obvious signs of dehydration include:

- Dry mouth
- Nausea
- Vomiting
- Diarrhea
- Dizziness
- Muscle cramping
- Shaky legs
- Decreased body temperature [2]

Dehydration will impact your physical and mental game, so you could notice:

- Decrease in focus
- Slowed reaction time
- Increase in fatigue

As we have covered, a lack of hydration will deplete you, but over-hydrating and not fueling properly can also cause issues.

An example of this was seen when recently, one of my athletes had to stop their incline run mid-workout due to blurred vision and severe calf cramping. Later, I came to find out they had consumed over a gallon of water that day coming into the workoutwithout any additional electrolyte supplementation!Spending all day in the bathroom peeing every hour on the hour is a super effective way to dehydrate yourself, which is NOT what we want!

So all you “gallon of water per day” folks out there, it’s time to reconsider your hydration with something like the NOOMA Sport Drink which is research-backed and offers more than simply water. We will dive into that more later in this article. But first…

The Biggest Pitfall I See in Sports Drinks

Funky ingredients:If you can barely pronounce the food dyes and additives in your sports drinks, imagine how your body feels! It’s pretty taxing on the immune and digestive system to process these foreign chemicals.

Too much sugar: Some carbohydrates or sugar from your sports drink is not the end of the world for an active person. Ironically, it can be beneficial in the right amounts and at the right time, but it should not be the focus of a sports drink for this reason. Too many sports drinks overdo the sugar while falling short on crucial electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Some research has even linked increased rates of obesity in young adolescents with frequent sports drink intake. [3]

Gut disturbances:I know, this surprises most people. However,I’ve experienced firsthand athletes becoming MOREdehydrated with the conventional sports drinks they are slamming because these products are packed with loads of fructose (a type of sugar). What fructose does is pull water into your gut. More water in your gut during exercise is, well, a nightmare!This leads your gut to feel bloated and bubbly, AND ironically makes you more dehydrated in the areas of the body that matter most in your workout, AKA your muscles! We need to think about balancing carbohydrates AND minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium in our sports drink if we want to get the most bang for our buck.

The moral of the story, filling your bottle with products thatA) are packed with fructose-containing sugar or B) Don’t actually contain sufficient electrolytes for hydration is not getting you very far and could actually be sabotaging your performance potential.In the NOOMA Sports Drink, we get 7 grams of carbohydrates coming naturally from coconut as opposed to added sugars that most other sports drinks use, and along with that we get 35 mg of calcium, 120 mg of sodium, 340 mg of potassium, and 20 mg of magnesium to support electrolyte and mineral balance.

Hydrating Ingredients That Fuel Your Performance Instead of
Fight It

NOOMA Ingredients: Coconut Water & Himalayan Pink Salt

But first, why do electrolytes matter?In any performance drink, we need to think about sufficient electrolytes to optimize hydration.

It’s not all about water!Electrolytes generate electrical signals between cells that help muscles continue contracting. During exercise, deficiencies in electrolytes can cause dehydration symptoms, including fatigue, irregular heartbeats, and even muscle weakness.

Most active individuals don’t realize hydration and electrolytes are essential for performance.Proper electrolyte balance is critical to performance. When our star players are where they should be - sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium - we experience better muscle contraction, energy, cognitive function, better regulation of blood pressure, and faster recovery. This ultimately leads to improved performance.

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve had athletes achieve personal records after we found the right electrolyte formula for their training demands.

The NOOMA Sport Energy Drink does a great job of covering these bases. Coconut water andHimalayan pink salt are some of the richest sources of potassium and sodium, which are crucial minerals required for optimal performance and recovery.

Maximizing mineral status also supports natural elevations in energy instead of relying on artificial energy generated by super-high levels of synthetic caffeine in most conventional pre-workout supplements or sports drinks.

Misconceptions You’ve Probably Heard About Electrolytes

I once heard, "Water is healthiest because it doesn’t contain salt or other ingredients so that’s what I drink all day.”

False!Active individuals should hydrate with high-quality sources of electrolytes. In fact, I chuckle sometimes when I hear athletes say they were told salt should be avoided because that is generally the most important electrolyte of all.Especially when an athlete is consuming a whole food diet and not living off of processed, salt-laden foods. Deficiencies in sodium can happen if you aren’t intentional about your salt or electrolyte intake.Not sure if water is working for you? Two signs that you need to up your electrolyte and salt game include:

1) Frequently experiencing headaches later in the day post-workout
2) Cramping or feeling like you are close to cramping when training

Another one I sometimes hear:“I think water is probably enough even on hot days when I am active.”

False! Remember that we lose electrolytes not only when sweating but also during respiration and excretion. It is not enough to drink water alone on hot days because our electrolyte balance will be thrown entirely out of whack.

This one makes me cringe…“All electrolyte drinks are safe to consume…

False! Be careful. Many hydration beverages on the market like to throw colorful buzz words all over their cans and bottles— and for a good reason. Most consumers have no idea what they should be looking for, and a few fancy words can rope in a quick sale.First, be sure to purchase from a reputable brand like NOOMA who uses organic ingredients. Second, watch out for added ingredients that can be harmful to your hydration status such as caffeine and other stimulants in abundance.

Lastly, get to know your sweat rate and concentration. In other words, you may benefit greatly from a formulation that is high in sodium but your teammate or co-worker may feel poorly.  Not sure where to start? Consider working witha sports dietitian to map out your hydration strategy.

And there we have it folks, a comprehensive hydration summary!

Happy hydrating!

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