sports drinksCyclists know the importance of staying hydrated as well as anyone, because those legs won’t keep churning unless they are properly fueled. When you are training or racing for extended periods of time, it is vital to replenish all of the things your body is losing and at that point water just won’t cut it. Choosing the right hydration options for you can be confusing.┬áIn the last decade, there has been an explosion of options with drinks, gels and chews. However, with variety comes a better chance of finding the right fit. These are four tips for using sports drinks to your advantage.

#1 Drink Proactively

If you wait to become thirsty before drinking, you’re already behind. Whatever you are drinking is fuel your body will be using for the next 15-60 minutes. So drinking reactively isn’t going to allow you to train at your highest. Drink plenty before you start exercising, and then be sure to take sips throughout and replenish after you’re done.

#2 Don’t Dilute

Over half of all athletes reportedly dilute their sports drink because they find the flavor too strong or sweet. While this sounds harmless, you have to remember that with the flavor, you are also diluting the extras that sports drinks provide. In extended training or competition, carbs and electrolytes help you to absorb the water better and help you to last longer. Look at other kinds of drinks, there are many less sweet options that you may stomach easier. Check the label of whatever drink you are using, you should be getting 400 mg’s of sodium per hour of work. Also don’t assume that your undiluted drink is good enough. Checking the label here also will let you know if your drink just isn’t cutting it in general. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it has everything you need.

#3 Find one you like

Once again, popularity or recommendations should not be enough to make you force down a drink you don’t enjoy. If you hate the drink, you’ll only drink it when absolutely necessary and as we’ve already talked about, that means you will become dehydrated and risk poor performance or worse. You need to be drinking about 20 ounces of an adequate sports drink an hour. If you can’t find one that fits your needs and tastes, try making your own and customizing it until you find the perfect balance.

#4 Don’t sit and sip

Sports drinks have a purpose. Refueling you when training or competing. If you are guzzling Gatorades when you are relaxing on your couch, you might as well be drinking a soda, because there is nothing in them your body needs while doing nothing. Save the sports drinks for when your body needs them, and drink some water when you’re watching TV.

Image courtesy of zzellers.