Thirsty? Turns Out The Most Hydrating Beverage Isn’t H2O

26 September 2019
Culture, Health, Coffee, Beverage, Water
When it comes to hydration, perhaps our top athletes should be chugging milk on the sideline – not water

In one of Adam Sandler’s better roles, the chant that tormented waterboy Bobby Boucher was that of “Water sucks, Gatorade is better.” It was probably the best marketing campaign Gatorade ever produced, subliminally tempting movie-goers everywhere to reach for a Gatorade bottle and not that frozen Coke. But ultimately, Boucher prevailed with his finely crafted, high-quality H2O. So hydrating was this water, Boucher not only got through the game with his thirst quenched, he even threw a touchdown and was named the MVP of the game. Ah, the power of water.

It was a great message, and one couched in the comedic genius of Adam Sandler (prior to his numerous Netflix blunders). But according to new research from the team at St. Andrews’ School of Medicine, there is truth to the taunts. As it turns out, Gatorade is better than water – at least when it comes to hydration.

The importance of hydration can’t be overstated. You only need to view the finish of Gabriela Andersen-Schiess at the 1984 Olympics to see the devastating effects of dehydration on the body: with her stiff-legged gait resembling something of a death dance, Andersen-Schiess had viewers agonising over her condition, wondering whether she would survive to make it to the finish.

Staying hydrated is fundamental to human function. It keeps our joints lubricated, helps prevent infections, and is the cheapest moisturiser you can find, carrying nutrients to our cells with a number of skin benefits. But not all beverages are created equal when it comes to staying hydrated and as the research conducted by Ronald Maughan suggests, water actually isn’t the most hydrating beverage around.

What is the most hydrating beverage? Skim milk.

As the research indicates, while water does a good job of hydrating the body, beverages with a little bit of sugar, fat, or protein do a better job of keeping us hydrated for longer. It’s why anyone that’s ever run competitively or trained for a marathon will know that sipping water pre-race isn’t particularly beneficial, as it will just pass right through you. Instead, even mixing water with salt or sugar will do more for your body and performance.

As Maughan explains, the more you drink, the faster the drink empties from your stomach and gets absorbed into the bloodstream, where it then dilutes the body’s fluids and hydrates you. Nutrient composition also influences how well a beverage hydrates. Which is why milk is more hydrating than plain water, given it has sugar lactose, some protein and some fat. This all works to slow the emptying of fluid from the stomach and keeps hydration happening over a longer period of time.

Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietician, personal trainer and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in an interview with CNN, “This study tells us much of what we already knew: Electrolytes – like sodium and potassium – contribute to better hydration, while calories in beverages result in slower gastric emptying and therefore slower release of urination.”

In the study, the research team tested 13 common beverages to see how they impact hydration. Here’s the ranking from most hydrating over a four-hour period to least hydrating.

  1. Skim milk
  2. Oral rehydration solutions (like Pedialyte or Liquid I.V.)
  3. Full fat milk
  4. Orange Juice
  5. Cola
  6. Diet Cola
  7. Cold tea
  8. Tea
  9. Sports drink (like Gatorade or Powerade)
  10. Still water
  11. Sparkling water
  12. Lager
  13. Coffee

While milk might be the most hydrating beverage, it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing sports stars chugging that on the sideline any time soon. It might hydrate better than water, but here’s what you need to know about the more superior beverages of hydration.

Be mindful of your sugar consumption

Compared to plain water, beverages with sugar spend more time in the stomach as they empty more slowly. But before you start chugging the soft drink with the same enthusiasm you would a glass of water, researchers are quick to note that beverages with more concentrated sugars have implications that go beyond that of mere hydration.

Once these beverages have entered the small intestine, the high concentration of sugars gets diluted during a physiological process called osmosis. This process effectively “pulls” water from the body into the small intestine in an effort to dilute the sugars.

So yes, they are more hydrating but as Majumdar explains, if the choice is between soft drink and water for hydration – go with water every time. Kidneys and liver depend on water to rid the body of toxins, while it also maintains the skin’s elasticity and suppleness.

Where does coffee place?

As for coffee, for many of us the drink can only be defined as our ‘life blood’. Without it, we can barely function and daily tasks prove incredibly challenging. The prospect of ruling out coffee simply because it doesn’t hydrate is startling, but there is some hope after all. How well your coffee serves to hydrate you depends largely on the amount of caffeine consumed. Consuming more than 300mg of caffeine – which equates to roughly 2-4 cups of coffee – could see you lose excess fluid as the caffeine causes a mild, short-term diuretic effect. But as the study suggests, this can be offset by adding a tablespoon or two of milk to your regular cup of joe.

Alternatively, you can always just chase your coffee with a glass of water.


Via GQ Australia