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Lorenzo Patrick/MEDILL

The dizzying array of options for quenching an athlete's thirst can cause some of the benefits of each drink to be lost.

For those new summer workouts, hydration options cause more problems than they solve

by Lorenzo Patrick
Jun 11, 2013

The time for sculpting that perfect summer body may have come and gone, but it's never too late to start laying a foundation.

Though calorie counting is itself an arduous process, it's made even more difficult when proper hydration has to be accounted for. “Within 24 hours before exercise individuals and athletes should have fluid available and be well hydrated,” said Erin McCarthy, a sports dietitian at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation in Chicago. “The goal is to drink approximately 14 to 22 ounces two hours before as well as seven to 10 ounces 10 to 20 minutes prior to a race or activity.”

With so many options on the market now, it can be difficult for the new workout warrior to make a proper decision. Here are the five best options to hydrate yourself before a workout, according to nutritionists:

5.) Vitamin Water

This tends to be the trendy choice for those who want the benefits of a sports drink, without all the calories. However, those who depend on it don't get either. “It has limited electrolytes but still provides adequate hydration,” McCarthy said.

Depending on what flavor you get, that limited electrolyte count may fluctuate, as well. Additionally, those looking not to liquify their calories may want to look for another option. “Vitamin water tends to be filled with as much sugar and calories as soda,” said Justin Heaton, the campus dietitian at Northwestern University.


When it comes to Vitamin Water, it's a great last resort, but better choices exist.


4.) Orange Juice

A 2010 study in the European menopause journal, Maturitas, showed that overweight and middle-aged women benefited from drinking roughly 16 ounces of orange juice a day, when coupled with aerobic training. Those benefits also apply to the general population, as well, thanks to the high concentration of vitamin C and folate, which are known to decrease muscle fatigue and promote muscle recovery, respectively. “Fresh squeezed OJ can be a good source for helping to hydrate,” said Heaton.“A typical portion size is only about four ounces, so drinking too much OJ can add too many calories than the body needs.”

Yet, with the small amounts recommended, orange juice may not be the best way to go. “It is better to snack on an orange than drinking orange juice for satiety purposes, so it is appropriate to limit juices to 8oz a day because of the added sugars,” said Kim Kramer, a wellness dietician at Ingalls Hospital in south suburban Chicago. She suggests diluting the orange juice with water if the taste is an issue, or adding things to it, such as cucumbers, strawberries, watermelons or pieces of oranges. This gives water a crispy flavor without needing to add artificial sweeteners.

2.) and 3.) (Tie) Powerade/Gatorade

Every time the college football season rolls back around, the legend of the creation of Gatorade is bandied about for the few uninitiated among us, and with good reason. Though Powerade and Gatorade are competitors, they provide close to the same benefits for an athlete. “[They] provide additional energy as well as hydration,” said McCarthy. “Athletes find that taking in salty food or drink prior can decrease muscle cramps.” Despite this, she also notes there is no current recommendation for electrolyte intake before exercise.

Yet, for the beginners, there are still multiple issues with these kinds of sports drinks. Calorie concerns similar to those of orange juice and Vitamin Water also exist. Though the drinks may provide both hydration and extra energy, the high amounts of both available are most beneficial for higher level athletes. “Sports drinks have their place in maintaining proper hydration, especially during intense physical activity, long workouts, and on hot or humid days,” said Heaton.“The electrolytes and carbohydrates help to maintain hydration and energy, with lower calorie levels than soda or juice.”

1.) Water

The common denominator for the previous four beverages, and by far the simplest, turns out to be the best option for pre-workout hydration. “Water is best for workouts. It provides all the fluid you need. You lose water in your sweat and therefore should replenish with water,” said McCarthy. Those counting calories can leave the calculators at home, as well.

“People should not be hydrating with sports drinks unless they are running, doing a similar vigorous activity for one hour or longer, or if they are in the high heat for extended periods of time,” said Kramer. “Otherwise they should just be using water to quench their thirst.”

The dietitians surveyed also strongly encourage each person to assess their workout situation on an individual basis, while using these guidelines. Sports drinks and orange juice have their place in the world of exercise, though have not advanced enough to be better than a simple bottle of water for beginners.

“Staying properly hydrated throughout the day is the key to maintain proper hydration,”said Heaton. “Trying to 'catch up' by drinking anything else is not a good way to focus on hydration.”