What Sports Drink is the Best?

What Sports Drink is the Best?

From Gatorade to Powerade, every sports drink looks the same, but what do you really need in a sports drink, and when do you need it?

All sports drinks, be it Gatorade, Powerade, or Propel, are not created equal, and for good reason. While many of them differ greatly from the original Gatorade (which was intended to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes), this new generation of beverages still has a place and purpose. Knowing what you’re looking to accomplish will help you choose the right drink for you, but I’ve created the list below to provide you with some “best in class” options.

Pure & Simple Rehydration

Regardless of the activity, intensity, or duration, rehydration is the main reason for consuming fluids before, during, and after a workout. If you’re exercising at a low to moderate intensity in an environment that’s not too hot, and you’re exercising for less than an hour, all you really need to do is maintain your hydration level. In these circumstances keep it simple, avoid the traps of calorie-laden juices, and reach for water or a calorie-free sports drink equivalent.

Best in Class:
Powerade Zero:
0 Cals, 0g Fat, 0g Carbs, 100mg Sodium, 0g Protein

Why?
Zero calories and still provides moderate levels of minerals and nutrients.

Sustained Energy

High intensity workouts like HIIT, activities lasting more than an hour, or workouts taking place in hot environments require more than simple fluid replacement, especially 15-30 min beforehand. These types of conditions require energy replacement via specifically formulated carbohydrate solutions. Before athletic events, the optimal carb concentration for a sports drink is between 6-8%. So when checking the label you’ll want to look for 15-20 grams of carbohydrates per 8 oz serving. Unfortunately, most brands add carbs in the form of glucose, sucrose, or fructose, and fructose tends to cause stomach discomfort in some people. So, you might want to steer clear of those.

Best in Class:
Cytomax:
95 Cals, 0g Fat, 20g Carbs, 100mg Sodium, 0g Protein

Why?
Specially formulated to prevent cramping and help sustain energy throughout high intensity workouts.

Electrolyte Replenishment

Again, high intensity training, sessions lasting more than an hour, or any workout in a hot environment, requires some electrolyte replacement after the workout. This is especially true for people who have salty sweat or tend to sweat excessively. Most sports drinks will contain a carbohydrate & electrolyte solution to replace the sodium and other minerals lost during training, but keep in mind that the recommended optimal concentration of sodium per 8oz serving is between 110-220mg.

Best in Class:
Gatorade:
50 Cals, 0g Fat, 14g Carbs, 110mg Sodium, 0g Protein

Why?
Good choice to meet both your energy and electrolyte replacement needs after high intensity training sessions.

Muscle Recovery

If your workout was at a high intensity, explosive, or of a long duration (>60 min) then you may want to consider a sports drink containing protein to help your muscles recover. Training involving a lot of impact, pounding, or resistance training, will break down muscle fibers, and sports drinks with protein will aid in muscle recovery, maintenance, and rebuilding. Post high intensity training, the suggested ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1, so keep that in mind when choosing your post workout beverage.

Best in Class:
Accelerade:
120 Cals, 1g Fat, 21g Carbs, 190mg Sodium, 5g Protein

Why?
Provides the optimal carb-to-protein ratio after high intensity workouts that are heavy on the cardio.

Everyday Use

For a variety of reasons there are many athletes (and non-athletes for that matter) who continue casually consuming sports drinks long after they’ve stopped playing. What you consume pre, during, and post workout, is still important. But a sports drink is unnecessary away from the gym, field, or court. Many of these drinks contain just as many calories as soda, and other nutrients that are not needed when not actively training, so they’ll do nothing but add to your waistline. Besides plain old water, some smart alternatives for every day, casual beverage consumption, include low sugar/no sugar added natural fruit juices, zero/low calorie flavored waters, or even low fat milks.

Best in Class:
Propel Zero:
0 Cals, 0g Fat, 0g Carbs, 80mg Sodium, 0g Protein

Why?
It's a better tasting, water equivalent that will help you hydrate without the calories or food coloring that other sports drinks deliver.

Bottom line, no matter your taste preference, stomach tolerance, or physiological need, chances are there’s a sport drink out there for you. Knowing what to look for on the label will help you correctly choose the right liquid refreshment and truly quench your thirst. Read up, drink the right drink, and maximize both your performance and body composition.

Should this have left you thinking about your sports drink nutrition options, we at 1R would recommend the following supplements:

  1. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
  2. Optimum Nutrition Glyco-Maize - The cleanest carbs around, the Waxy Maize Starch replenished glycogen stores after workouts
  3. Power Bar Ironman Restore - Improves energy and hydration while reducing soreness associated with strenuous exercise
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About the Author

Veronica Dyer, CSCS is the Director of Strength & Conditioning for Olympic Sports at Syracuse University and is responsible for working with volleyball, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and softball teams. Before that, Dyer served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Northwest Missouri State University and was a graduate assistant in the Syracuse strength and conditioning department for three years as well. As an undergrad, Dyer was a member of the Syracuse track and field team from 1995-2000 and was honored with the Lucille Verhulst Sportswoman of the Year award in 2000. After school she placed third in the 100-meter hurdles at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 2000 and was also a member of the Canadian National Team at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China.