How does a sports drink actually increase hydration more than water?

It's not so much that it can increase hydration as opposed to water; it's the fact that sports drinks contain other things important to maintaining performance during longer events. When we lose fluids, especially during exercise, we also lose electrolytes (including sodium that helps retain water) that are involved in muscle and nerve function and glycogen (glucose/sugars), the body’s fuel. Therefore, proper intake of all three is the general formula for maintaining proper hydration for extended periods. Additionally, sports drinks can help with over-hydration of water. Inexperienced runners, including charity participants, often function under the outdated notion that you can’t get too much water. Yet they move slowly enough during events to become overloaded with fluid, which can cause hyponatremia. Hyponatremia occurs when blood sodium concentration falls to an abnormally low level prompting a rapid swelling of the brain that can result in seizures, coma and death. The key risk factor is excessive drinking—especially non-electrolyte fluids such as many types of water. The risk of hyponatremia can be reduced by making certain that fluid intake does not exceed sweat loss and by ingesting sodium-containing beverages or foods to help replace the sodium lost in sweat.

General Fluid Requirements

• Fluids should be cold, palatable, selected based on the type and duration of the activity.

• Sports drinks should contain 4-8% carbohydrate. Drinks greater than 10% carbohydrate may slow stomach emptying, cause abdominal cramping and impair performance

Pre-exercise Guidelines

• Drink ~16 to 24oz of fluid 2-hours before activity

• Warm or humid days, drink an additional 8-16oz 30-60min before activity

• Water is adequate for activities less than 1hr

• For endurance events, training sessions longer than 60min, or multiple practices a day, choose a sport drink containing 4-8% percent carbohydrate

During Exercise

• Depending on your sport, consume 3-6oz of water or sports drink every 15min

• For prolonged exercise greater than 60min, choose a sports drink with small amounts of electrolytes

Post-exercise Guidelines

• Immediately following activity, drink at least 16-20oz of fluid for every pound of weight lost to ensure proper rehydration

• Drink an additional 16oz with your post workout meal. This meal should be consumed within two hours after activity

• Weigh yourself each morning.  A fairly stable weight generally indicates proper fluid balance

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