Sports drinks

Sports drinks are functional drinks specifically designed to help athletes and other active people hydrate before, during and after exercise. Rehydration is the major requirement during exercise as performance deteriorates rapidly with even low levels of dehydration. Minerals such as sodium and potassium are also frequently added to replace those lost through sweat. Replacing the electrolytes lost during exercise promotes proper rehydration, which is important in delaying the onset of fatigue.

For optimal performance, athletes should be hydrated and adequately fueled during exercise. Although there are a wide range of beverages marketed with reference to sport or performance;  sports drinks are specifically designed to provide the right balance of carbohydrate, electrolytes and fluid to adequately fuel exercise and provide fluid for hydration. When used appropriately they can result in performance benefits. Sports drinks will help our performance in some circumstances. However, they need to be the correct ones for the correct circumstance but they are not for everybody.




  • Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate can have performance benefits in a range of sporting events by providing a fuel source for muscles and the brain. Carbohydrate also contributes to the palatability (taste) of sports drinks. Most of them contain 6 – 8% carbohydrate (6-8g/L). Carbohydrate concentrations above this can impair gastric emptying and lead to gut upset during exercise and impair performance.

  • Electrolytes

Sports drinks include the electrolytes sodium and potassium. The sodium content in them encourages fluid intake by driving the thirst mechanism, while also increasing absorption and fluid retention. Sports drinks may also help with salt replacement for athletes who are heavy or salty sweaters. Low sodium drinks may not be suitable when speedy rehydration is necessary (i.e. when there is a need replace a fluid deficit in a short period of time). The addition of potassium to sports drinks helps maintain electrolyte balance and can assist with muscle contraction during exercise.

  • Flavour

Flavour is an important feature of sports drinks that helps to increase voluntary fluid intake (compared to water) during or after exercise.

  • Other Ingredients

Some beverages marketed as sports drinks have other added ingredients like vitamins, minerals, protein and herbal ingredients. These extra ingredients are likely to offer very little (if any) additional benefit over standard sports drink and may affect the palatability, and subsequently consumption of the fluid. Some sports drinks also contain caffeine which can have performance benefits.




Sports drinks are divided into 3 categories:

  • Hypotonic drink

A hypotonic drink contains less than 4g of carbohydrates per 100ml and has low osmotic pressure. This is intended as a thirst quencher. Hypotonic drinks give the athlete little energy in the form of sugars. A hypotonic sports drink is taken up by the body more quickly than just water. They are ideal for shorter or less strenuous exertion, mainly recreational sports. They are also very good for use if the body is in a dehydrated state or even after a hangover.

  • Isotonic drink

An isotonic drink contains between 4g and 8g of carbohydrates per 100ml and has about the same osmotic pressure as bodily fluids. An isotonic drink is taken up by the body about as quickly as water. They are intended to quench thirst and provide energy to the body. Ideal for endurance sports such as marathons and ultra-marathons.

  • Hypertonic drink

A hypertonic drink generally has more than 8g of carbohydrates per 100ml and greater osmotic pressure than bodily fluids. It is primarily intended to supply energy. The thirst quenching effect is secondary. Hypertonic drinks are taken up more slowly than water. They are ideal for use 30 to 60 minutes before sports/training/exertion and immediately after sports/training/exertion. Hypertonic drinks are also useful for athletes who find that they need a bit more energy during their training.

If you are not sure what kind of drink you are having be sure to check the label and based on the carbohydrates per 100ml you will be able to determine which one is more suited for you.



It is actually much cheaper and easier to make your own. Here are some guidelines on how to cook up your own sports drink in the comfort of your home.


  • Before exercise

Sports drinks may be useful before an event to fine tune fluid and fuel (carbohydrate) intake. The carbohydrate in sports drinks can increase carbohydrate availability, while the added sodium may reduce urine losses before exercise begins.

  • During exercise

They are primarily designed for use during exercise lasting more than 90 minutes by providing optimal fluid and fuel delivery. Sports drinks may allow athletes to perform for longer and more effectively in training and competition by providing energy to working muscles and the brain.

  • Recovery

Sports drinks can help meet nutrition recovery goals by replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat and helping to replenish glycogen stores. If there is limited time between training sessions or competition, drinks with higher sodium content may promote more effective rehydration. To meet all recovery goals, the ingestion of sports drinks should be complimented with foods and fluids that provide adequate carbohydrate, protein, and other nutrients essential for recovery.



  • Gastrointestinal problems

Excessive consumption of sports drink can cause gastrointestinal upset. It is recommended that athletes drink small amounts frequently (rather than a lot at once) and trial options during training.

  • Dental health

Acidic foods and fluids are one of the factors linked to tooth enamel erosion. Sports drinks, together with fruit juice, soft drink, wine, beer, tea and coffee are all examples of acidic fluids. The use of these beverages alone is unlikely to cause dental erosion. However, athletes who use large quantities of sports drinks for prolonged periods should pay extra attention to dental hygiene.


Below is a summary of different beverages that people use for rehydration according to their advantages and disadvantages.

The ideal sports drink depends on personal taste preferences and individual tolerance. While the exact nutrition composition of sports drinks varies, they generally contain similar amounts of carbohydrate and electrolytes. Sports drinks should be trialed during training rather than in competition. Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you develop an individual fluid plan including sports drinks that is appropriate for you.



  1. A look at the components and effectiveness of sports drinks. Journal of athletic training.
  2. Fluid replacement during exercise. Exerc Sport Sci Rev.
  3. Effects of sport drinks on the maintenance of physical performance during 3 tennis matches: a randomized controlled study.




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