Sports drinks under the microscope

Sports drinks under the microscope


Endurance sports are on the rise! Proper hydration and a balanced diet will help optimize performance. This week, we are focusing on rehydration drinks. Are some more interesting than others? 

Who are they aimed at? 

You are probably wondering if these drinks are for you. The answer is no, for most cases. An adequate diet (which naturally provides carbohydrates and electrolytes) and water are generally sufficient to meet your needs in the case of sports activities of less than 60-90 minutes. On the other hand, when you play sports that require sustained effort over a long period of time (usually more than 90 minutes), train in high heat and humidity, and/or have a high sweat rate , the consumption of this type of drink can become an interesting option. Rehydration drinks provide carbohydrates that will be used by your muscles during exercise as well as electrolytes that will replace those lost through sweat. Several studies report their benefits on endurance and performance. These drinks help keep blood sugar levels stable, sparing the use of glycogen stores.

Some clues that justify their use 

  • You often have muscle cramps during or after training; 
  • < li dir="auto">Your training requires you to wear heavy equipment, such as hockey or football;

  • You train in hot and humid environments causing an increase in amount of sweat produced;
  • You sweat… a lot;
  • You notice white marks or streaks on your skin and clothes during a workout, indicating a significant loss of sodium through sweat;
  • You are training at altitude, which can increase dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. 

Some cases where these drinks are not suggested 

  • If you exercise for an hour or less and it is low to medium intensity.
  • If you are sedentary, these drinks are not a solution for you hydrate. 
  • For children. Most research on energy drinks is conducted in adults. Children should not get used to drinking them during their recreational sports. 

The ideal formula

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the ideal composition of a sports drink:

  • Will provide 6-8 g carbohydrates/100 ml ( between 4-6 g/100 ml is also acceptable)
    It is in this proportion that the use of carbohydrates is most effective. Beyond that, there may be a delay in gastric emptying and intestinal problems (such as diarrhea). Formulas that contain different sugars seem optimal (glucose, sucrose, maltodextrin, amylopectin, fructose, galactose, amylose). A carbohydrate intake of 30-60 g/hour helps maintain blood sugar levels while optimizing performance. This goal is achieved with the consumption of 500 ml to 1 l of sports drink every hour. 
  • Will provide 50-70 mg of sodium/100 ml
    Sodium accounts for the majority of electrolytes lost in sweat. It stimulates the thirst mechanism and increases water absorption and retention.
  • Will contain 7.5-20mg potassium/100ml
    Potassium is important in maintaining electrolyte balance and in the muscle contraction mechanism.  


The choices of sports rehydration drinks are numerous. About fifteen drinks were analyzed (excluding those with caffeine and those providing protein). 

Each bottle provides:

  • From 0 to 190 calories per bottle (size from 355 ml to 828 ml)
  • From 0 to 6.16 g of carbohydrates/100 ml 
  • From 0 to 53.5 mg of sodium/100 ml 
  • From 0 to 200 mg of potassium/100 ml 

Typical example of ingredient list:

Water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, ester glyceric resin, blue 1.

The drinks analyzed contain flavorings (to encourage more drinking) and colorings. We understand how far we are from the naturalness of a homemade drink!

Several drinks meet the criteria of sports drinks for prolonged efforts. This is particularly the case with Gatorade Thirst Quencher, Powerade System ION4 or Powerade Ultra

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Several others provide too few carbohydrates for the type of effort. Although they provide electrolytes, their carbohydrate content (0.1 g-2.17 g/100 ml) is too low for the needs of athletes. With the presence of sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame-potassium and stevia depending on the brand), these choices are also less attractive overall. Examples include Gatorade G2, Gatorade Zero and Powerade Zero.

 This type of drink may be recommended in rare situations, for example when training is of short duration, but the weather conditions lead to a significant loss of sodium (a 5 or 10 km run during a heat wave for example). 

Other types of drinks do not meet the above criteria in terms of electrolytes. This is particularly the case with coconut water which contains few carbohydrates and too little sodium while it exceeds the potassium requirements (200 mg/100 ml). Thus, coconut water does not generally meet the recommendations in terms of sports nutrition for endurance sports.  

Homemade drink

< p>For a more economical and ecological version with a list of ingredients devoid of colorings, we opt for homemade drinks. Here is the recipe from Mélanie Olivier, nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition.  


850 ml (3 1⁄2 cups) cold water

65 ml (1⁄4 cup) orange juice

65 ml (1⁄4 cup) pure maple syrup

< p>30 ml (2 tablespoons) lime juice

1 ml (1/5 teaspoon) salt

Combine all ingredients and serve very cold

1.5 L (6 cups) or 4 servings of 375 ml (1 1⁄ 2 cup) 

Thanks to Nutrition Intern Gillian Murray for her invaluable collaboration.

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