Sports Drinks….Do they really help?


If your workout lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes, should you choose plain old water or a sports drink i.e. Gatorade? If you are training for a marathon or half-marathon and your runs are lasting 1-2 hours, what should you drink?

Most sports drinks contain mainly water with a small amount of carbohydrate, sodium, potassium and flavorings. They are helpful in preventing dehydration, providing energy and replacing electrolytes. But when are they really beneficial?
Water is great for workouts lasting 30-60 minutes, just keep in mind that you should try to drink about 2-8 oz every 15-20 minutes. If you wait until you are thirsty, you’ve already become dehydrated which can make you feel tired, nauseous and light-headed.
If your workout lasts over 60 minutes, you would most likely benefit from a sports drink containing 6-8% carbohydrate to help replenish energy stores. If you perform a short intense workout such as doing sprints for less than 60 minutes, a sports drink would also be beneficial. As a general rule, figure on ½ gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight each hour. For a 170# person, that would be right around 85 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.

The amount and rate at which to drink is variable according to your fitness level, air temperature, sweat rate, etc. To determine if you are drinking enough fluid during your workout, weigh yourself before and after your workout. If you’ve lost more than 2 pounds, you need to drink more. Another way to help gauge your hydration level is the color of your urine. It should be pale yellow, if it is dark yellow or cloudy, you may need to drink more.

As an added bonus, besides increasing your energy, consuming a sports drink during exercise also helps to increase your immune system by preventing drops in your blood sugar. Most sports drinks contain sodium AKA salt. Sodium helps to speed the rate at which your body absorbs the fluid. Sodium also makes you feel thirsty, prompting you to drink more. As a side note, cold fluids also empty from the stomach faster than lukewarm fluids, which may prevent nausea and a “full feeling”. Save your energy and spare change with these Sports Drinks.

During exercise, drinking fruit juices and soft drinks can cause nausea, cramps and diarrhea due to the high carbohydrate content. You can dilute them with water, but you will still be lacking the electrolytes that sports drinks contain. Many people run into flavor fatigue of sports drinks. Why not make your own? It’s cheaper and the flavor variety is great!
The following recipe is nearly identical to Original Gatorade which per 8 oz contains 50 calories, 14 grams carbs (5.8%), 30mg potassium, 110mg sodium. 

Citrus Sports Drink Makes 8 ¼ cups (66 oz)
1/3 cup plus 3 Tbsp sugar
3/8 tsp salt
½ cup boiling water
½ cup pulp-free orange juice
¼ cup lemon juice
7 cups cold water
In a glass pitcher, combine sugar and salt. Pour in boiling water, stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Add orange juice, lemon juice and cold water, stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 week. Stir before serving.

Nutrition Info:  8 oz= 57 calories, 14.2 gms carbs (5.9%), 37.3 gm potassium, 111 mg sodium.
*For a lime version, omit orange juice, increase lemon juice by Tbsp and add 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice.

Another variety using diluted fruit juices from Vegetarian Sports Nutrition book by D. Enette Larson-Meyer:

Apple/Cherry/Grape Drink
¾ cup apple juice (filtered)
1 ½ cups grape or black cherry juice
Approx. 2 cups cold water to make 1 liter drink
1/8 tsp non-iodized table salt
Mix together.

Nutrition info:  8 oz= 6-7% carbs, 600-700 mg potassium, 291 mg sodium

This is yet another variety from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook:

Homemade Sports Drink
4 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup boiling water
¼ cup orange juice or 2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 ¾ cups cold water
In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water. Add the juice and remaining water and chill.


Nutrition info: 8 oz= 50 calories, 12 grams carbs (5-6%), 30 mg potassium, 110 mg sodium