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Water is Not as Hydrating as You Think

You ready for this?

I’m about to blow your mind. By discrediting everything your high school health teacher, PE teacher and soccer coach (all of whom were probably the same person) told you about water.

Because here’s the thing

*looks both ways and whispers*

Water isn’t the most hydrating drink you can find.

As a personal trainer and avid gymrat, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people dragging literally full gallons of water around the gym and other various places, on an unstoppable mission to finish the entire thing before the day’s end.

However, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (and my own applied sports nutrition brainy brains), which compared the body’s hydration response to different fluids, there are better alternatives to this.

Don’t get me wrong, the science shows that water is an efficient way to quench thirst, but isn’t always the best option for HYDRATING.

Thirst is the mechanism that tells you to drink water. Hydration is the mechanism for the water getting to cells like those our brain, blood and muscles for our bodies to run smoothly. Quenching thirst is nice, but hydration is really what the endgame is.

The study showed that drinks with a little bit of sugar, fat or protein are an even better option to keep the body hydrated for longer. Why is this? It’s actually a simple concept. When you drink water, which has nothing to break down because... water is just water, the stomach empties rather quickly.

However, when the stomach has other nutrients in it to break down at the same time (such as macronutrients like fat, carbs or protein), the stomach empties into the rest of the digestive system much slower. This slow emptying provides the rest of the body with fluid over a more extended period of time since it sits in your system for longer. Thus, longer hydration.

This also means you probably don’t have to drink as often to stay hydrated as you would with water.

One beverage used that is of particular interest is milk. This is because milk contains all three macronutrients in significant amounts. It has carbs from the sugar lactose, milk fat and high-quality protein. Milk also has sodium which helps the body to hold onto water for longer which equals fewer trips to the bathroom which also equals longer hydration.

This brings me to a better-known hydration tool: sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. Also a better hydration fluid than water.


One of the factors that makes us as humans dehydrated isn’t just the loss of water from the body, but also a loss of electrolytes, mainly sodium and potassium.

This is why it drives me nuts when people tell me they avoid Gatorade as a rehydration drink because it has “so much sodium.” That’s there for a reason! Sodium is the main electrolyte loss in our sweat and, to be hydrated properly, we have to replace it.

This is why elite athletes drink sports drinks during games and practices: to keep them hydrated throughout competition when they simply aren’t able to stop and drink every 15 minutes.

Keep in mind, though, that electrolyte replenishment is only necessary if you’ve been exercising for longer than an hour. Your 12-year-old kid doesn’t need a Powerade every time he finishes his 30-minute soccer match and you don’t need a Gatorade after that 45-minute ride on the matter how hard you felt it was.

So there you go. Just be careful. If a beverage has too much added sugar, like sodas and energy drinks, it can be harmful for hydration. How? Well, the intestines don’t respond well to sugar in high amounts and when too much sugar is present in the gut, the intestines pull water from the body into the gut to dilute the sugar and help settle down what’s going in the gut’s environment.

In doing so, when water is pulled from the body’s cells, that is the definition of dehydration. Therefore, consume high sugar drinks with caution if hydration is your goal.

Let’s back up for a sec though. Some of you may be thinking...but what about Gatorade? That stuff’s got tons of sugar!

That brings me back to my recommendation of not needing the stuff for exercise lasting less than an hour. The reason Gatorade and other commercial sports drinks contain sugar is to replace the stored energy (or glycogen) athletes have lost in exercise so they have fuel for their next bout of exercise, or just fuel to get through the rest of the day.

If you’re working out less than an hour, you likely haven’t burned enough of those glycogen stores to justify downing a sports drink.

The bottom line? There’s obviously nothing wrong with drinking water and it can definitely be helpful in hydrating the body. However, there are other options (some even better) to replace the body with what it’s lost through exercise or even just from going through the day. Drinks with macronutrients like milk can definitely contribute to your fluid goal and keep you hydrated for longer. A sports drink is also major key if you’ve exercised for longer than an hour.


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