Decoding Sports Drinks

By Katie Mazzia MS, RD, CDE
Clinical Dietician, Vail Valley Medical Center

The perfect sports drink includes:  

1) FLUID to keep your blood and muscle cells hydrated

2) CARBOHYDRATE for energy and

3) ELECTROLYTES (sodium + potassium)-all three maximize fluid absorption and may enhance performance.

Why choose a sports drink?

If you exercise longer than an hour, your body needs additional carbohydrate and electrolytes.The American College of Sports Medicine recommends athletes start drinking sooner than later, 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes.

Ditch the food coloring and read the ingredient list!

Avoid anything that says artificial coloring (red #40, yellow#5, etc.). Even “natural red” color may be from carmine or cochineal, which are from crushed beetles (yes, the bug). Look for food coloring from vegetables sources: beet, carrot juice etc. Want more information on food coloring and artificial dyes? Click Here. 

What Sports Drink is Best?

Avoid dyes or artificial food coloring. 150-400mg sodium per 20 ounces of fluid; potassium, calcium and magnesium may also be added although specific amounts vary.  Your sodium needs vary based on sweat rate, heat, humidity and time (3+ hours).

20-40 grams carbohydrate per 20 ounces.

Determine your sweat rate

If you use gels, block, chews or real food such as a carbohydrate source, try electrolyte tablets that dissolve in water.

DIY: All-Natural Sports Drink! 

20 oz. 100% juice-your choice (ex.  grape, cherry, natural lemonade or natural fruit punch)

If you’re sensitive to fructose, reduce the juice to 10 oz., add 10 oz. water + 1TB of honey, sugar, agave to give you the same amount of carbohydrate per serving*.

1/8 tsp.-1/4 tsp. salt

12 ounces hot or boiling water (to dissolve salt)

¼ cup lemon juice

If you like it a little sweeter, try adding a packet of stevia or 1 dropper of liquid stevia.

Chill–makes about 4, 8-ounce servings (1 liter). Each serving (8oz)=60 calories, 75mg-150mg sodium, potassium varies based on juice, 15 grams carbohydrate.

Fill one small water bottle (20oz.) for = ~120 calories, 30 grams carbohydrate, 150 mg-300mg sodium 

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