• Helen Phillips

Quick Guide to Sports Drinks ... Do they Really Help Performance?


What should I drink?

Take a walk down supermarket aisles or on the shelves of your local sports store and they’re laden down with a vast array of sports and energy drinks. Different flavours, ingredients and claims for energy and performance improvement.

And if you’ve ever raced a half or full marathon, your goodie bag will contain, along with water, a flapjack and a banana, the latest innovation to promote.

So what’s the big deal? What drink should you go for?

Water is a Sports Drink Too!

If you’re exercising for less than 1 hour, not sweating that much or burning many calories you only need water to rehydrate after your workout.

Sports drinks are usually high in calories from carbohydrate, so you risk taking in more calories than you’ve burned by rehydrating with many! Likewise, drinking high carb sports drinks outside of training is going to impact on your daily calorie intake and could contribute to weight gain.

What are Lite Sports Drinks?

These drinks contain lower quantities of sugar than other sports drinks. Lucozade Sport Low Cal contains 10g carbohydrate per 500ml (whereas their Isotonic drink contains 32.8g per 500 ml).

Lite sports drinks also contain electrolytes, such as sodium, that along with the good flavour stimulate you to drink, so great if you’re dehydrated.

However, since these drinks contain low levels of carbohydrate, they’re not going to be effective at topping up your fuel levels, so wont help with improved endurance on the run.

What are Isotonic Sports Drinks?

Isotonic sports drinks contain higher levels of carbohydrate as well as electrolytes. The ingredients are in the same concentration as the body, so hydration is rapid.

The higher levels of sugar, Lucozade Sport contains 32.8g carbohydrate per 500ml, helps top up blood sugar levels, so these drinks will help with performance and endurance.

Isotonic sports drinks are a great choice if you’re exercising at high intensity for more than 1 hour, as they provide your body with additional sugar which can be used as fuel, as well as electrolytes to help keep your body hydrated.

What is a Recovery Drink and Should I use one?

Recovery drinks contain a mixture of carbohydrate and protein and are designed to be drunk immediately after exercise.

The amounts and ratios of carbohydrate and protein vary between brands, but if you’re using a recovery drink pick one with a ratio of 3 : 1 to 4 : 1 carbohydrate to protein.

These drinks contain carbohydrate to refill depleted glycogen stores and protein to start muscle repair. They also contain electrolytes to help with rehydration.

Recovery drinks are useful if you’re planning on exercising within the next 24 hours. But if you’ve only done a light training session they’re not needed, you can get your replenishment carbohydrates and proteins from your next real food snack or meal.

An alternative to a formulated recovery drink is milk. Milk is excellent at hydrating the body, it is a good source of both carbohydrate and protein as well as electrolytes. And it’s cheaper!

If you're planning on running a half or a marathon check out my FREE guide Long Runs Made Easy for lots more tips for getting the most out of your runs.

Click HERE for Long Runs Made Easy