Supermarket shelves are loaded with sports and energy drinks claiming to boost performance and hydration. But do you really need a specialty drink every time you exercise?

The American College of Sports Medicine says that for sessions lasting less than an hour, sports drinks won’t improve performance. Why? Your body has enough stored energy (glycogen) and electrolytes to last that long, so plain water is just fine.

But for sustained sessions lasting more than 60 to 90 minutes, especially in hot weather, you’ll need to replace carbs, electrolytes, and of course, fluids. Though you can do that easily with water and a sandwich, sports drinks conveniently provide all three ingredients. Unfortunately, most products also contain artificial colors and flavors, plus huge amounts of sugar. Products labeled “zero” contain artificial sweeteners and not enough carbs for a long workout.


Gatorade, Powerade, etc.:
A 12-ounce bottle contains 52 grams of sugar (that’s 13 sugar cubes), but the tiny serving size is purposely deceptive. Does anyone only drink 4 ounces? Organic sports drinks like Roar and KRā have much healthier ingredients and less sugar.

Vitamin Water contains anywhere from zero to 27 grams of carbohydrates per bottle, but all versions lack electrolytes.

Coconut water is high in potassium but low in sodium — the electrolyte we lose most when sweating. Some have added fruit juice.

Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar contain caffeine, which can enhance performance if you tolerate it well. Serving size varies hugely, so read labels: Those levels of sugar, caffeine, and calories might apply to a whole can or half.

RELATED STORY: Performance in a Bottle


  • Linda Lindsay

    Linda Lindsay has been writing health articles for Moonshine Ink since 2003. She has a degree in natural resources from Colorado State University, and has worked for the Yosemite Institute, Outward Bound, the Park Service, and Forest Service. She came to Tahoe in 1984 to check it out for a winter and never left. She lives in the Prosser area with her husband, daughter, two dogs, and a cat.

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