Sports Drink Comparision: What’s In Your Bottle?


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Ever wonder how sports drinks got started?  Well today we’re gonna talk about their history, compare popular brands, and provide guidelines for fluid replacement. Then to finish things off,  we’ll discuss when to use them in training.


The History of Sports Drinks


Sports drinks have a unique history that dates back to the summer of 1965. A University of Florida Gator’s assistant football coach asked a team of university physicians (led by Dr. Robert Cade) to determine why the heat was affecting so many of their athletes (read more history here). From their research it was discovered that the carbohydrates, water and electrolytes players lost during practice and competition were not being adequately replenished.

The scientists used these findings to formulate a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage called “Gatorade.” The following year, the Gators went 9-2 and won the Orange Bowl. Other colleges, hoping for similar results, soon began ordering batches of Gatorade and the sports drink industry was born.


Goals of Sports Drink Use

Since its beginning over fifty years ago, the three main goals of sports drinks remain unchanged: (1) prevent dehydration, (2) replace electrolytes lost in sweat, and (3) provide carbohydrate for use during exercise.


Comparison of Popular Sports Drinks
Here is a short list of selected sports nutrition drinks with key nutritional facts of each.

Drink Comparisions
Most commercial sports drinks provide 40-80 calories and contain 14-17 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces. This corresponds to a 6-8% carbohydrate solution which has been shown to maximize gastric emptying, enhance fluid absorption from the intestine, and supply energy to the working muscle.

Electrolyte concentrations found in sports drinks differ based on the manufacturer. Sodium and potassium are added in small amounts to replace their loss due to sweating.  They also help conserve fluid in the muscle cell and improve palatability of the beverage.

Flavor, temperature (cooled), and sodium content of a beverage make these drinks very appealing, thus enhancing the total amount of fluid consumed. Some sports drink varieties also include protein, vitamins and minerals.


Sports Drink Guidelines

5 key guidelines for fluid replacement.

  1. To ensure you are properly pre-hydrated for exercise, drink 1-2 cups of fluid or sports drink 2-4 hours prior to exercise.
  2. If needed, eat a lightly salted snack or small meal containing sodium a couple of hours before exercise to correct any electrolyte imbalances.
  3. When exercising longer than an hour, a sports drink may be used to meet hydration, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs. In general, athletes should consume 12-32 oz (1.5-4 cups) per hour based on body size, sweat rate, and exercise intensity.
  4. Athletes exercising in a hot, humid environment or those who are heavy sweaters may benefit in consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution during shorter bouts of exercise.
  5. Consume some carbohydrate energy (food or sports drink) to help fuel ongoing endurance exercise.

The amount of carbohydrate needed to maintain blood glucose levels varies based on the length of your exercise session. A typical range should be 30-110 grams per hour.

Realize that most athletes will NOT achieve this amount of carbohydrate by using fluids alone. Carb and electrolyte needs could also be partially or totally met by energy bars or gels. The key is to develop a fluid replacement strategy during exercise that meets YOUR needs.

CT updated


Are There Alternatives to Traditional Sports Drinks??

Remember that sports drinks are basically “sugar water” with a little sodium thrown in, so you can certainly DIY. I like to use simple alternatives like Country Time Lemonade or diluted fruit juice. For me, one scoop in a 20 ounce bottle does the trick!


To Summarize

There are a lot of popular brands of sports nutrition drinks on the market. All of these drinks have the same goal but may be formulated a little differently. Experiment with various products to find what works best for you.

What DO YOU put in your bottle during endurance events? What is your LEAST favorite sports drink?  Mine is IRONMAN PERFORM!   Post in the comments below and share this with others!

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