What Makes a Good Sports Drink?

Staying hydrated is critical for athletic performance. For athletes to stay well hydrated it is recommended that they drink 1/2 to 3/4 cups of fluids every 15-20 minutes during exercise. But plain water isn't always enough. That's when athletes often turn to a quality sports drink.

If you are doing long, endurance training or competing in events for more than an hour, it is helpful to use a sports drink to replenish lost fluid as well sodium. Simply replacing water can lead to hyponatremia, or low sodium levels, which can be dangerous. Sports drinks are designed to replace those electrolytes, or salts. Many also replace carbohydrates in the form of sugars so you can have your energy replenished.

When Should Athletes Replace Fluids?

Athletes who exercise for less than an hour can generally replace lost fluids with plain water, but sports drinks can be helpful for athletes who exercise at a fairly high intensity for 60 minutes or more. Fluids are easier to digest than solid food, and drinks containing 50 to 100 calories per 8 ounces help provide the right amount of energy for exercise. This can also be provided through energy gels, bars, and other foods, but for many athletes fluids are the most convenient way to get those nutrients.

The ACSM Position Stand for replacing fluid during exercise include the following recommendations: 1) drink 8-10 fl oz every 10-15 min during exercise and 2) If exercising longer than 90 minutes, drink 8-10 fl oz of a sports drink (with no more than 8 percent carbohydrate) every 15 - 30 minutes.

It's not recommended to drink fluids with more than 8 percent carbohydrate because it's more difficult to digest and it may lead to stomach upset. So stay away from highly sugary drinks such as sodas and pure fruit juices.

Here are some of the best-selling sports drink options on the market:

1
Gatorade

Gatorade
Gatorade.

Calories in Gatorade: 50 (8 fl. oz)
Carbohydrate: 14gr
Sodium: 110mg
Potassium: 30mg

Gatorade was one of the first sports drinks, created for the University of Florida Gators in 1965, and it continues to be one of the best-selling ones. You will find it for sale worldwide. It was designed to replenish salt and carbohydrate  You can buy it already in liquid forms in bottles at most grocery or convenience stores, or in powdered form to mix with your own water. In addition to the original formula which replenishes sugar and sodium, they have the Gatorade Endurance Formula which has more electrolytes. They also have G2 Low-Calorie Thirst Quencher for those who want to have less sugar in their sports drink.

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2
Cytomax

man drinking sports drink
Tetra Images/Getty Images

Calories in Cytomax: 100
Carbohydrate: 20g
Sodium: 80mg
Potassium: 150mg

Cytomax contains complex carbohydrate and electrolytes. Cytomax comes in powdered form, you add it to your water to mix up rather than buying it premixed. I prefer the orange because it isn't quite as bitter as the other flavors. The complex carbohydrates are included to take longer to metabolize so you don't have a big sugar high followed by a crash. Bottom line: it does the trick and keeps you moving.

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3
Accelerade

Accelerade
Accelerade.

Accelerade contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein to speed the movement of carbohydrate energy into the muscle, and the ideal combination of simple and complex carbohydrates for rapid and sustained energy. It is gluten-free. It is another sports drink available in powdered form to add to your own water bottle. Sports drinks with protein have been touted and may be provided at races, but they have doubters as well, who think they are best as recovery drinks rather than being used during endurance activities.

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4
Endurox

Endurox
Endurox.

Endurox is designed as a performance/recovery drink. The 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein in Endurox® is recommended for use after your workouts. In addition to the carbs and protein, Endurox provides all the vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids your body needs to recover. It contains glutamine, one of the favorite supplements for maintaining muscle mass and replenishing glycogen stores. This drink is available in powdered form, you will mix it with water or juice.

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5
Powerade

Powerade
Powerade.

Powerade is another heavily-marketed brand of sports drink that can be found pre-mixed in grocery and convenience stores, and is also available in powdered form. It provides electrolytes as well as B vitamins and sugars. They also have Powerade Zero with zero calories for those who want only the electrolytes and not the sugar. Powerade Zero Drops are another option to add flavor and electrolytes to water without adding sugar.

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