What You Drink Doesn’t Matter, Just Stay Hydrated

Wondering what the best thing to drink is in order to stay hydrated? Science says it doesn’t matter, just drink something. New research looked at both the physical and mental impact of hydration.

In a recent article here on Breaking Muscle I looked at a study that reviewed the effects of a sports drink on performance during 90 minutes of cardio. There was no real difference performance-wise by drinking the sports drink, but rather the difference came afterward.

Well, first of all, there’s more to staying hydrated than drinking a commercial sports drink. And secondly, there’s more to performance than one 90 minute test right? While it’s great we know that staying hydrated improves your recovery, what about other types of drinks and other training factors? A recent study looked more in depth into the issue to see what more we can learn about what you should be drinking while you work out.

The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, compared a sports drink to a carb-free electrolyte drink and to just good old-fashioned water. They didn’t look just directly at performance over a group of people this time; they looked at many of the facets of training that might impact your personal results.

For example researchers took a look at two key psychological factors, mood and perceived exertion. These are the aspects of training that cause you to stop working out earlier than you planned, especially when you’re training on your own. One thing we need to consider when studying the effects of beverages on performance is that in a study people are there recording your performance. Any competitor knows that when people are around we perform much better, and I wrote an article on just that not long ago. So a study that looks at our psychological factors is helpful, because if our perceived exertion is high, we might quit if no one is looking. What they found is that none of the sports drinks had a major effect on psychology.

Another big difference in this study was that they looked at the performance of an anaerobic burst at the end of the workout. This is key for endurance athletes who have that final sprint at the end of a race. Since hydration helps us more later on, this was great to see. Here they learned that power at the end of a long workout session was not impacted by what type of drink you consume, even though the sport drink group had more sugar in their blood.

One weakness of this study for me was that there was not any group who drank nothing. For the future I’d like to see these groups compared to a no beverage group, especially for the final anaerobic phase, as this replicates many people’s workouts a little more closely.

In the meantime it appears even for a long workout session that it doesn’t matter what you drink or how much of it when it comes to performance in the short term – as long as you don’t start working out already dehydrated. And staying hydrated with pretty much anything works equally well, so if you’re trying to get leaner, avoiding the carb heavy drinks won’t hurt you any.


1. Eric O’Neal, et. al., “Post-prandial carbohydrate ingestion during 1-h of moderate-intensity, intermittent cycling does not improve mood, perceived exertion, or subsequent power output in recreationally-active exercisers,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:4

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