Sports Drinks & Fueling Your Exercise

Sports Drinks & Fueling Your Exercise

Publish Date December 13, 2023 4 Minute Read
Author Kroger Health Team

What Are Sports Drinks?

Sports drinks are beverages used to replenish glucose, fluids and electrolytes lost during physical activity. Glucose, a simple sugar, is your body’s preferred carbohydrate-based energy source. The amount of glucose added to sports drinks can vary, with some varieties containing no sugar at all, and other varieties flavored with a low-calorie sweetener.

Electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium, are minerals that are often added to sports drinks. Electrolytes can be lost in sweat during strenuous exercise. These minerals are vital to key functions in the body, and replenishing them is important for your overall health and recovery. The glucose and electrolytes in sports drinks are specifically formulated for physical activity to help individuals stay fueled and hydrated. It’s no wonder why they’re the beverage of choice for many active individuals.

Types of Sports Drinks

There are many options available when it comes to sports drinks: ready-to-drink, powders and even tablets you add to water. Adding a powder pack to your water is an easy way to turn it into a flavorful hydrating drink. Like powders, tablets are added to water and dissolved to provide added glucose and electrolytes. Sports drinks can be broken down into isotonic, hypertonic and hypotonic solutions.

Isotonic Solutions

  • Concentrations of fluid, sugar (6-8%) and salt that mimic the concentrations found in your blood.
  • Provide more energy and electrolytes than a hypotonic drink, but take longer to enter the bloodstream.

Hypertonic Solutions

  • Higher concentrations of fluid, sugar (greater than 8%) and salt than the concentrations in your blood.
  • Best for replenishing carbohydrates.
  • Slower absorption rate and may cause dehydration.
  • Used to help top off glycogen stores before exercise and as a recovery drink following exercise.

Hypotonic Solutions

  • Lower concentrations of fluid, sugar (less than 5%) and salt than the concentrations in your blood.
  • Best for rapid hydration due to quicker absorption.
  • Less risk of bloating, cramps and GI distress.
  • Can be used before and during exercise.

Choosing the right sports drink is important since they differ in electrolyte concentration, rate of absorption and, therefore, reason for use. Most sports drinks are isotonic, but ingredients can vary between brands, so always be sure to check the nutrition label.

Ingredients Found In Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are mainly water, carbohydrates and electrolytes. However, some brands have added ingredients such as B vitamins. The type of carbohydrate can vary and can be the difference between optimal performance and GI discomfort. Some drinks use artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols to provide flavor, but these ingredients may cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. While sports drinks typically don’t contain as much sugar as soda, the sugar content of sports drinks can vary widely. Drinking too many sports drinks when not performing vigorous exercise may increase the risk of obesity and other health problems due to added sugar content. Excess sodium may also be found in sports drinks and should only be consumed in moderation.

Who Can Benefit From Drinking Sports Drinks?

While water’s typically the best choice for staying hydrated, there are certain instances when sports drinks may be beneficial, like when you’re exercising vigorously for more than 60 minutes. If sweating excessively or exercising in hot and humid weather, a sports drink could assist with hydration.

Timing and rate of consumption are also factors to consider. Those who haven’t eaten for a few hours prior to practice or a game could benefit from a few sips 15-30 minutes before physical exercise. Athletes playing in a tournament with multiple rounds or games with a few hours in between could also benefit from sipping on a sports drink. Sipping is best when it comes to sports drinks, since drinking too much at a time can cause GI distress.

It’s important to remember that foods can also contain glucose and the minerals that are present in sports drinks. If not exercising vigorously for more than 60 minutes, simply eating a well-balanced meal after exercising may be all that’s needed. Along with hydration, sports nutrition is also an important component to your exercise routine.

Thirsty for More?

Finding the right sports drink and knowing when and how much to drink might seem overwhelming, but our registered dietitians are here to help. They can help you learn about the different types of sports drinks and strategize with you on incorporating them into your exercise routine or your aspiring athlete’s sports schedule. Schedule a Telenutrition appointment today to get started!

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.