The Hydration Continuum: Beverage Choices for Active People

How can we determine which beverage will best suit our hydration needs?
Everybody pretty much understands that staying hydrated is essential to helping you feel and perform at your best. According to the Journal of Sports Science, exercisers who drink fluids and maintain hydration can last up to 33 percent longer compared to those who don't drink any fluids during a workout. And, even as little as two percent dehydration can cause a drop in endurance. (1,2)


Yet with all the different hydration beverages on the market, how can you determine which beverage would be best for your active occasion, and more specifically, what types and how much of what ingredients should you look for in each beverage to help meet your hydration needs?

To help figure this out, let's take a closer look at the different options as if they were lined up on a hydration continuum, starting with the basic beverage choice: water.


Water is a great thirst quencher and is essential for all bodily functions. During sedentary or light-active occasions, water can meet your hydration needs. However, during any activity that causes you to work up a sweat, water's great thirst-quenching properties and its lack of flavor can make it challenging for active people to drink enough to stay properly hydrated.

Since many exercisers arrive at the gym inadequately hydrated before they even begin their workout, it can become an even greater challenge to increase fluid intake and stay properly hydrated with just plain water alone.(3)

In fact, research shows that active people tend to replenish only about half of the fluids they lose during a workout when they only drink plain water. For those who may have a challenging time drinking enough, a step up the hydration continuum may be warranted because a fitness water may be a better option.(4)

Fitness Water

Fitness water is a lightly flavored hydration alternative to plain water that tends to be low in calories. It's a great option for people who typically drink plain water during a workout or throughout the day. Research shows that physically active people often drink more of a lightly flavored beverage than they will of plain water, helping them to improve their fluid intake and maintain proper hydration.(5)

However, not all fitness or enhanced waters are the same, so it's important to look at the label to see what's included. Some enhanced waters or vitamin waters can contain 50 calories or more per eight ounces, the same as a regular sports drink. Recognize that they tend not to contain the other benefits found in a sports drink, such as the appropriate types and amounts of carbohydrates and electrolytes. For those who want a beverage that closely resembles water in calorie content, look for a flavored, enhanced water that contains no more than 10 calories per eight ounces, such as Propel.

Moving up another step on the hydration continuum, for active people who want to get the most out of their bodies during exercise, a functional sports drink is the optimal choice.

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