What Makes A Sport Drink?

Have you ever walked into a store to buy a pre-workout beverage and been overwhelmed with all the choices? There are “smart” waters, “vitamin” waters, flavored waters, coconut waters, watermelon juices, old fashioned H2O and sports drinks. Even as someone in the Nutrition field, I often have trouble keeping up with the many “sport drinks” on the market. Are any of these drinks suitable for sport or are they just wasted calories? I recently wrote an article on this very topic for a group of Dietitians, and I thought I would share my findings with the public.

First, it’s important to state that any moderate to intense exercise exceeding an hour should include a sports drink to replace lost fluids, provide fuel for muscles, and replace sodium and potassium lost in sweat. But which of these products meet this criteria? Here are the facts on these different types of beverages and if/when their use is warranted.15113565826_ddf0d5cbf2_z

Smart water is water with added electrolytes. According to the nutrition facts label, the “electrolytes [are] added for taste”, but the amount of added electrolytes is unclear and most likely negligible. Save your money and drink straight from the tap.

Vitaminwater is flavored water available in multiple varieties. It contains 120 calories in 20 VitaminWater Zero Drive and Glowfluid ounces and 32-34g (11%) carbohydrates. The current sport drink recommendation suggests consuming 6-12 ounces of a 4-8% carbohydrate containing sport drink every 15-20 minutes during athletic activity lasting longer than an hour. This concentration of sport drink (with 4-8% carbohydrates) is optimal to quickly enter the bloodstream and provide sustained fuel. The excessive amount of carbohydrate in vitaminwater is not needed for athletic activity and could cause an upset stomach during exercise. Lastly, vitaminwater does not contain any potassium or sodium to replace lost electrolytes. With its high sugar content, vitaminwater is comparable to fruit juice and should not be used as a sport drink.

Coconut water naturally contains electrolytes lost in sweat and has, consequentlyIMG_3591, been marketed as a sports beverage. An 8-ounce serving of coconut water contains 11g (4%) of carbohydrates and 45 calories. While it’s not the ideal carbohydrate concentration, coconut water does provide sufficient carbohydrates to help sustain energy levels in activity lasting longer than an hour. As an added bonus, an 8-ounce serving also contains 100% the daily value of Vitamin C. Some research has shown that coconut water may be as hydrating as a sports drink, and can therefore serve as an adequate sport drink substitute.

Watermelon Juice: Watermelon juice is relatively new to the sports drink market. An 8-ounce serving of watermelon juice contains 15g of carbohydrates (5%), 740 mg of Potassium (6x the average sports drink) and no sodium. The concentration of potassium in sweat is far less than sodium, and potassium is present in many foods, making a deficiency unlikely. Therefore, such a high amount (740 mg) of potassium is unnecessary in a 7553631828_ab8a946b4f_zsports drink. Watermelon juice has been a topic of recent sports nutrition research due to its high citrulline content. Cirtulline is a precursor for nitric oxide (NO), which has been thought to enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles during athletic activity. There has not been much research on this topic, but one study did find watermelon juice ineffective in improving exercise performance. However, watermelon juice will help to alleviate muscle soreness. Overall, watermelon juice is hydrating, provides adequate amounts of potassium and carbohydrates with the added bonus of easing muscle soreness. But, it does not miraculously boost athletic performance, nor does it help replace any of the sodium lost in sweat. It’s definitely not a drink for the competitive athlete.

Sports drinks: Sports drinks have been proven to aid in athletic performance, maintain hydration, and help with recovery. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests drinking 289226168_5023363cac_zsport drinks with 4-8% (about 15g per 8 ounces) carbohydrate composition for moderate to high intensity activity lasting longer than 60 minutes.   Gatorade has many products on the market, but the original G series contains 80 calories, 21g of carbohydrates (7%), 160 mg of sodium, and 45 mg of potassium in 12 fluid ounces. Comparable to Gatorade, Powerade contains 80 calories, 21g carbs (7%), 150 mg sodium, and 35 mg potassium in 12 fluid ounces. Although these sports drinks are too high in calories and sugar for the everyday gym goer, they are the perfect blend of carbohydrates, fluid, and electrolytes for any endurance athlete.



  • SCAN-dpg. Available at: http://www.scandpg.org/local/resources/files/2009/SD-USA_Fact_Sheet_Exercise_Hydration_Apr09.pdf Accessed on 3/29/15
  • Dunford, M. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. 4th Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association, 2006.
  • Kalman, DS, Feldman S, Krieger DR, et al. Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012: 9:1, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-1
  • WTR MLN WTR. Available at: http://wtrmlnwtr.com/. Accessed on 3/29/15
  • Bescos R, Sureda A, Tur JA, et al. The effect of nitric-oxide-related supplements on human performance. Sports Med. 42(2):99-117
  • Cutrufello, PT, Gadomski, SJ, Zavorsky, GS. The effect of l-citrulline and watermelon juice supplementation on anaerobic and aerobic exercise performance. J Sports Sci. 17:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Tarazona Diaz, MP, Alacid F, Carrasco, M et al. Watermelon juice: potential functional drink for sore muscle relief in athletes. J Agric Food Chem. 61(31):7522-8


Water: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kstepanoff/15113565826/in/photolist-p2wYz9-dc924e-fM4AnX-p4wTZw-qbvG7a-mp7Q7p-nLybQ7-7njEyR-pvYtzL-aCwrT5-pgsrm4-jSkovV-8mo13L-atrNA2-qbvBMP-6mhNsa-99Jyyr-2mi6mz-pgvDTc-cskKZj-ecVG3x-7tD1t-8CMcCg-9XFYLj-9XFXsN-ed2may-9XFWXW-9XFYaN-pvWpAq-hXDcq8-eabsJH-9D8fgT-cZ3bVU-drqPXK-oygEad-bYsYf3-qsVTJK-cxFyx-qsMeDU-qsMejf-qsUsGK-qsVTpM-6gWqFU-fJvguc-3drxDU-aS7YWk-7qzxBG-pQxK8T-9mEK6j-ao5SwQ


Gatorade: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fillmorephotography/289226168/in/photolist-rymS5-oLbV2B-oLbUNR-mDTjkZ-otGbdN-5Lxd9s-mDV2WS-mDV23C-mDV1gN-mDUTZu-mDT8jv-mDT7vX-mDTRCM-nK6z6j-nK6yv1-nuDwq7-nLR136-nM6kJ5-nuDhLK-nM6k2d-nM6jtu-nK6xLf-nuDwnU-nuDiyg-nLQXRT-mDT9at-mDUXVf-ouuPKj-ouvtbi-oKV62z-otGHAK-otGauo-otG7nS-otGp33-otG78d-otG7oT-otG888-oKV5Rz-oKV5iv-otGJCz-mDUSZd-oYx1u5-ouvjJ8-oLa27y-3vvgm-ouuGoW-otGs9d-otG7RB-oLa2Q7-otGr1G





Vitamin Water: https://www.flickr.com/photos/theimpulsivebuy/5544410573/in/photolist-9rWy6K-858Ar6-92XTSh-6VFGdn-6VFEWp-99JcY9-99JcTE-99F55p-6VKMym-6VFGNX-6VFFHi-6VKHVm-6xWGCS-8NFSpa-8NFSjH-8NFSet-8NJWP9-8NJWHA-8NJWDm-8NFRSR-8NFRKK-8NJWny-8NJWhJ-8NJWdG-8NFRqH-8NFRkM-8NFRga-8NFRbR-8NFR74-8NJVJS-8NJVDN-8NFQQt-8NFQJZ-8NJVph-8NFQtc-8NFQp6-8NJV65-8NFQgz-8NJUXq-8NFQ72-8NJUN9-8NJUHd-8NFPQD-8NFPLe-8NJUus-8NFPCx-8NJUm7-8NJUhy-8NJUcC-8NFPkn



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    What Do I Feed My Child Athlete? | Nutrition à la Natalie
    September 15, 2015 at 8:01 am

    […] tell you is that sport drinks are ONLY needed for intense activity lasting longer than an hour.  You can read all about sport drinks here, but my overall opinion is that kids don’t need them.  For exercise lasting longer than an hour, […]

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