As the temperatures continue to swelter during the summer, it has never been more important to understand the importance of staying well-hydrated, so M&F is diving deeper into the components of good hydration, and consulting with experts to learn more about the effectiveness of some of the ingredients that are designed to keep you cool and well lubricated. When it comes to the world of hydration drinks, water is only part of the equation.


Fit runner drinking orange sports drink and energy drink with electrolytes while running on the beach for hydration

They key to maintaining healthy levels of hydration is the absorption of electrolytes. These are electrically charged minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium and calcium.

“Gnarly Hydrate is formulated to optimally replace the fluid and electrolytes you lose when you sweat”, says Shannon O’Grady Ph. D, who is the chief operating officer at Gnarly Nutrition and has a doctorate in Biology from the University of Utah.

“Start your day with an electrolyte drink,” says James Mayo, the co-founder of SOS Hydration who has been conducting scientific research on hydration for many years. “Solutions, such as that offered by SOS Hydration, have a small amount of sugar (3g) to speed-up the process of getting hydration into the cells. The best thing to do is pre-hydrate, so that you are ahead of your hydration game, and then you can enjoy your caffeine if needed, get through the heat, and top up if required.” Electrolytes are essential for regulating fluid within blood plasma and they also help with other functions such as muscle contraction and tissue building.

To caffeine or not to caffeine?

A glass of water and coffee on a burlap table cloth

The status of caffeine as a diuretic (causing urination) may be somewhat overhyped. “There is a widespread myth that caffeine is a strong diuretic,” says O’Grady, Ph. D, “But there is no evidence that caffeine increases the risk of dehydration. Research has shown no difference in hydration status between athletes drinking caffeinated vs. non-caffeinated beverages during exercise, and that intakes of up to 400mg/day did not cause dehydration, even in those individuals that were exercising.”

That said, there’s nothing to stop you accompanying your morning cuppa Joe with an electrolyte rich drink, adds Mayo.

Should we add sugar?

mikeledray / Shutterstock

In making a quick browse of the supermarket shelves you will observe a range of energy drink and hydration options, many of which include an abundance of sugar. But what role does sugar play in hydration? “Sugar is a fuel, and for performance sport, this fuel is beneficial after an hour of intense exercise,” says Mayo. “The problem is that too much sugar and/or inactivity can lead to negative health circumstances, like pre-diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and also dehydration.

“Sugar dehydrates us because salt always follows sugar and water follows salt. Hydration is a different focus for the body. We only need a small amount of sugar, to activate the sodium glucose co-transport system, which speeds water and electrolytes into the cells.”

Simple carbohydrates are absorbed quickly and do a good job of providing much-needed energy, but beware of drinks that are too surgery as they will negatively impact hydration and cause gut distress. So, what should you look for in a sports drink? “Products that include multiple sources of simple carbohydrates (sucrose, fructose and/or dextrose) and are under 8% carbohydrate or 8g sugar/L of fluid,” suggests O’Grady.

But what about BCAAs?

Man Drinking Protein Powder
GoodLifeStudio / Getty

Branched-chain amino acids have gained traction in recent years as an ingredient in many performance drinks. “BCAA’s do have a purpose for physical wellness, although they don’t serve any direct purpose to keep our bodies hydrated,” says Mayo.

“BCAA use before exercise can have a beneficial impact on recovery if protein intake is not optimal,” says O’Grady.  “I tend to recommend BCAA intake before exercise in the following cases:

  • Fasted training
  • Vegetarian/vegan athletes
  • Aging athletes
  • Athletes that may have difficulty ingesting enough high-quality protein every three to four hours due to schedule or eating habits.
  • Athletes participating in events where muscle protein breakdown is high, due to low protein intake and high energy output over extended periods of time.

Avoid alcohol?

LightField Studios / Shutterstock


We are not going to tell you to avoid alcohol. Everything in moderation, right? But it is important to recognize the effects that alcohol has on hydration. “For every drink you consume containing 10mg of pure alcohol, you lose around 100ml of fluids,” says Mayo. “Multiply that by a good night out, and you have enough fluid loss to give you that headache the next morning, and other signs of dehydration too.”

There’s more to hydration that water alone

ESB Professional / Shutterstock

So, there you have it. While added ingredients such as BCAAs and caffeine may not add to your hydration levels on their own, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are worthless add-ons. In fact, a cup of coffee could help with our mental focus, so there’s no need to ditch your regular routine, but you could bolster your drinking game with an electrolyte drink on the side for good measure. If you are training hard, chugging down some BCAA’s may prove to be a good addition to your overall drinking plan to aid muscle recovery.

When it comes to hydration, water won’t cut it alone. In high quantities, water could even dilute the presence of important minerals that are needed for everyday life. Now that you understand what’s in your hydration drink, and have the know-how to stay well-lubricated, use these powers to improve each working shift, each gym session, and each and every day. Stay hydrated, and stay cool out there!

Man Drinking Water

7 Facts You Need to Know About Hydration

Why sustaining a constant state of hydration is critical.

Read article