Sports Drinks and the Dangers of Overhydration

By Sara Butler

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen advertisements for sports drinks everywhere. They’re heralded as better than water, restoring electrolytes and balance to your system after a workout. But do they really live up to all that hype? Are they worth the money or will you get just as many benefits from drinking water? Read on to find out!

What’s In a Sports Drink?

Sports drinks are drinks generally with fruit flavors added that are filled with the minerals potassium and sodium (also known as electrolytes) as well as carbohydrates such as sugar. They are generally thought of as better tasting than water, but they’re also full of calories – one thing water doesn’t have.


Before sports drinks were invented in the 1960s, elite athletes and everyone else just had water. When people exercised and got sweaty, they reached for a cool glass of water to quench their thirst.

The companies that produce sports drinks have led people to believe that thirst shouldn’t be a signal for hydration, with even more time and money spent on making water an inferior beverage that can’t possibly fill all your body’s needs and keep you hydrated.

The simple truth is dehydration isn’t good for you, but it’s never killed an elite athlete. But anybody who exercises has been led to believe they must drink all the time in order to stay hydrated and healthy. That can lead to overhydration, and overhydration has been responsible for the death of athletes.

A woman running in the 2002 Boston Marathon collapsed just before the finish line, later dying in the hospital. Her death was caused by something called hyponatremia, a fancy word for not having enough sodium in her blood. This was caused by overhydrating and downing too many fluids at the marathon as well as before. She is one of 16 marathoners who have died of this condition, and 1,600 more athletes have become very ill as a result.

The Bottom Line

Hydration is important, and what you choose to drink is really a personal choice. Sports drinks aren’t magic, and they’re not going to fulfill any needs your body has that water can’t fulfill as well. If you prefer the taste of sports drinks and you can afford the calories, go for it. Just remember in your battle to stay hydrated that thirst can be your guide. If you are thirsty, go get ‘em!

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