How to Choose a Sports Drink

Sports drinks can help improve performance for athletes who participate in endurance sports lasting > 1 hour.  The primary functions of sports drinks are that they help to hydrate athletes, they provide carbohydrate energy and they replace electrolytes lost in sweat.   But with all of the beverages out there, how do you know which one to choose?  The following are some guidelines to help you pick a drink that will meet the demands of your sport:

  • To replenish Carbohydrates without getting an upset stomach, look for sports drinks that are:
    • 6-8% carbohydrate (14-19 gm carbohydrate per 8 oz)
    • A blend of sucrose, glucose and Fructose
    • NOT carbonated
  • Drinks that contain sodium and potassium help to replace electrolytes
  • Choosing a cold beverage of your favorite flavor helps increase fluid consumption.  Beverages that contain sodium also promote greater fluid intakes.  All of which can help you to stay well hydrated.
  • Examples of sports drinks that meet all of these guidelines are Gatorade, Powerade and Accelerade. 

So, now that you know how to choose the proper beverage, you might be wondering how much you should consume during exercise.  Endurance athletes should aim to get 30-60 grams of carbohydrate for each hour of exercise.  A 24oz sports drink that is 6-8% carbohydrate supplies 42-57 grams of carbohydrate.  Therefore, you would want to consume about 20-25 ounces of sports drinks per hour of exercise, and don’t dilute them because they are specifically formulated to meet the demands of sports.

For more information about fluid needs and athletes please see “Hydration for Athletes“.