Water vs Sports Drinks

June 23, 2020

Ever wondered if you actually need a Gatorade after a tough workout? The answer depends on how long and how hard you have been exercising.  For those people who do normal, daily physical activity, plain water is typically just as effective at fluid replacement as a sports drink. Water helps to lower and then normalize your core temperature, especially after a hot summer workout.  It moves easily through the digestive tract and out to the body’s tissues. Coupled with normal meals containing a little sodium, plain water may be all you need to recover.

That said, if you’re an athlete training daily for longer than 60 minutes or an endurance athlete competing in events that last more than an hour, sports drinks may prove beneficial for you. Most sports drinks are simply a mixture of water with added carbohydrates and electrolytes. As you exercise and deplete your muscles and liver of glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate), you need to replenish that energy source, especially if you are in the middle of an event and will need more fuel for your muscles to continue.  Mixing your own sports drink at home is a great option – it saves money and you can make it without unwanted ingredients like added sugars, dyes, and preservatives. See the bottom of this post for a simple DIY recipe. Certainly, making your own drink is not always an option, so if you’re in a pinch and are looking for a good store-bought sports drink, the following are some guidelines that will help you help select the best option.

  • Carbohydrate – Look for 13-18 g of carbs per 8 oz of fluid (or 6-8% carbohydrate). That means that approximately 50-70 calories come from carbs. A beverage with more than 8% carbohydrate solution is not advisable, as it may actually decrease the rate of fluid absorption and take longer to move from the stomach to the tissues.  Since fruit juices and soda contain 10-15% carbohydrate, their high sugar content means they are not great options for refueling.
  • Sodium – Aim for 100-110 mg of sodium per 8 oz of fluid. Sodium is important for fluid balance as it stimulates thirst while also enhancing fluid retention. Since sodium is lost through sweat, if you perspire profusely during workouts or competition, a sports drink with sodium will help replace some of the lost salt.
  • Other Ingredients – Many sports drinks tout myriad other ingredients as essential to recovery, but the science behind these is still questionable.
    • Vitamins – You do not lose vitamins when you sweat, so added vitamins in sports drinks are not necessary
    • Caffeine – The effects of caffeine on athletes have been widely discussed and the result is that individual responses are so varied that there is no recommendation on this. For some athletes, caffeine may provide a boost to performance, but for others, it could have the exact opposite effect, causing anxiety and irritability.
    • Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium – These minerals are lost through sweat, but typically in small enough amounts that they don’t cause any noticeable difference to performance. Replenishing through fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods during meals and snacks should suffice.
    • Protein – According to research, added protein in a sports drink is unlikely to offer any performance benefit during exercise. In fact, if anything, it will likely delay gastric emptying. That said, a bit of protein from a snack before exercise may help to reduce muscle soreness post-workout.

RECIPE: DIY Sports Drink

Yield: 1 quart (~ 1 L)


¼ cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup boiling water

¼ cup 100% fruit juice (try orange, cranberry, pomegranate or any others you like!)

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 ½ cups cold water


  1. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the boiling water.
  2. Pour into a pitcher and add fruit juices and cold water.
  3. Shake vigorously and chill in refrigerator.

Looking for more info on refueling or more recipes for easy homemade sports drinks? Contact Anne and set up an appointment today!

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