How Healthy Are Sports Drinks, Anyway?

If you ever watch sports, you’re bound to see players sipping on neon-colored drinks during a game. You may even see coaches get an ice bucket shower after a big win.

Sports drinks are a huge part of athletics. Marketing and advertising showcase athletes drinking during, before and after practices and competition.

Some people may find these drinks the key to improve athletic performance, whether that’s endurance, stamina or power. Others might tell you this is just flashy marketing and you should drink water instead.

So, which is it? Are sports drinks healthy? Let’s find out. (Short answer: Sports drinks are a smart choice for athletic performance and recovery.)

Ingredients in Sports Drinks

The No.1 ingredient in sports drinks is water. However, they also include carbs and electrolytes, two substances that are supposed to improve athletic performance.

Carbs in sports drinks are found in the form of sugar: glucose, sucrose, fructose, among others. Most sports drinks range from 6-8% carbohydrates. But, some offer low- or zero-carb options for those who want water and electrolytes without extra calories.

Electrolytes are minerals that have an electrical charge. You can find electrolytes in sodium and potassium, both of which are included in sports drinks. Electrolytes are essential for your body’s normal function.

Sports Drinks Benefit Athletes

The main substances of sports drinks (water, carbs and electrolytes) are all important for athletic performance.

Athletes lose water and electrolytes in sweat, and it’s important to replace them, especially during exercise lasting 60 minutes or longer. Your body stores carbs in your muscles and liver, and these carbs are used for fuel during exercise. Eating or drinking carbs before or during exercise can help slow down how quickly your body runs out of carbohydrates.

Sports drinks can give you a needed energy boost during exercise. They are designed to quickly replace fluids and to increase the sugar circulating in your blood. A report by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) shows that athletes can delay fatigue 37% longer if they drink sports drinks. They can also run faster, improve motor skills, and feel mentally sharper.

Sports Drinks Fight Dehydration

Sports drinks are an ideal solution to remedy dehydration. Signs of dehydration include feeling dizzy, fatigued, headaches or rapid heartbeat. If you’re dehydrated, you’re probably lacking fluid and electrolytes.

Reach for that sports drink to stave off dehydration if you’re:

  • Working outdoors in the heat
  • Exercising outdoors in the heat
  • Exercising intensely
  • A heavy sweater during exercise
  • Working out for 60 minutes or more

Important to Remember

If you’re a casual gym-goer, remember that the sugar and calorie content in sports drinks can affect weight loss. If you’re worried about calories, dilute your sports drink with water or by pouring it into a bottle full of ice.


The bottom line: If you’re an intense athlete, a sports drink may be your best choice.


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
NBC News

Lisa Hope is a product marketing manager with TeamSnap and a marketing professor at the University of Florida.

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