Which sport drink is the healthiest?

Quick Answers

When choosing a sports drink, the healthiest options are ones lower in sugar and higher in electrolytes like sodium and potassium. The best sports drinks for most athletes contain about 14-15 grams of carbohydrates (from added sugars), under 100 calories, and 200-400mg sodium per 8oz serving. Popular sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and Vitaminwater are designed to quickly replenish fluids, carbs, and electrolytes lost during exercise, but contain added sugars and may not be the healthiest options compared to drinks with less or no added sugar.

What are the key differences between sports drinks?

The main differences between sports drinks are:

  • Carbohydrate content – Sports drinks contain varying amounts of carbohydrates from added sugars, ranging from 14-15g up to over 60g per serving.
  • Calories – Lower calorie sports drinks have around 50 calories per serving, while higher calorie options can have over 200 calories.
  • Electrolytes – Electrolyte content like sodium and potassium varies between different sports drinks.
  • Sugar content – The amount of added sugars differs between options. Lower sugar drinks have under 10g per serving while higher sugar drinks can have 40g or more.
  • Other ingredients – Some sports drinks have extra ingredients like caffeine, protein, vitamins, collagen, etc.

When comparing sports drinks, look at the Nutrition Facts label for carbohydrate, sodium, potassium, calorie, and sugar content. Drinks with 14-15g carb, 100-150mg sodium, under 100 calories, and lower sugar are often the most balanced option for most people and athletic activities.

What are the key health and performance considerations when choosing a sports drink?

The key health and performance factors to consider when selecting a sports drink include:

  • Carbohydrates – Carbs fuel working muscles and restore glycogen stores. Aim for 14-15g carbohydrate per serving.
  • Electrolytes – Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are lost in sweat. Sodium aids hydration and potassium supports muscle function.
  • Calories – Lower calorie drinks (~50-100 per serving) help avoid consuming excess calories.
  • Sugars – Some sugar helps carb absorption but excess sugar provides empty calories.
  • pH level – Sports drinks should be formulated with a pH of 3-4 which optimizes the rate fluids are absorbed.
  • Flavor – Flavor preferences vary by individual, but can impact drink palatability and consumption.
  • Individual needs – Factors like exercise duration and intensity, sweat losses, sport type, preferences, and goals all impact ideal sports drink choices.

Aim to choose a sports drink that helps hydrate, provides fuel and electrolytes lost in sweat, and suits your specific sports nutrition needs and goals. Moderating sugars and calories is key for overall health.

What are the pros and cons of sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade?


  • Contain carbs and electrolytes to rehydrate, refuel, and replenish what’s lost in sweat
  • Utilize a 6-8% carbohydrate solution for better fluid absorption
  • Flavored to promote fluid consumption
  • Widely available at grocery and convenience stores


  • Higher in added sugars – Gatorade has 21g and Powerade 35g per 20oz bottle
  • Higher in calories – Gatorade has 140 and Powerade has 200 calories per 20oz serving
  • May contain artificial colors in some flavors
  • Higher cost per serving compared to alternatives
  • Contains controversial common food additives like artificial sweeteners, natural flavors, etc. in some products

The combination of carbs, electrolytes, and proper pH make Gatorade and Powerade effective at enhancing hydration and performance when exercising. However, the higher sugar and calorie content may not make them the healthiest option, especially for non-athletes just looking to stay hydrated. Moderating intake and choosing lower sugar varieties when possible is recommended.

How do drinks like Vitaminwater, Propel, and coconut water compare as sports drinks?

Drink Carbs (g) Calories Sodium (mg) Potassium (mg) Sugars (g)
Vitaminwater (20oz) 32 120 0 60 31
Propel (20oz) 0 10 58 36 0
Coconut water (11oz) 13 60 252 600 11

Key differences:

  • Vitaminwater has more carbs and sugars than ideal for sports drinks but provides B vitamins.
  • Propel provides electrolytes with zero carbs/sugars as a lower calorie option.
  • Coconut water has natural electrolytes but lower carb content and may taste unpleasant to some.

For intense training lasting over 1 hour, Vitaminwater and coconut water lack sufficient carbs and sodium compared to mainstream sports drinks. Propel can replenish electrolytes without the unneeded sugars but lacks carbs for fueling activity. For moderate exercise under 1 hour, these drinks can provide hydration with fewer carbs and calories compared to traditional sports drinks.

What are the best low-sugar or low-calorie options?

Some of the best low-sugar and low-calorie sports drink options include:

  • Gatorade Zero – Contains no sugar but has carbs and electrolytes
  • Powerade Zero – No sugar or carbs but provides electrolytes
  • Nuun Sport – Has 30-40 calories and 1g sugar per 16oz serving
  • Ultima Replenisher – 10 calories and 0g added sugar with electrolytes
  • Succeed S!Caps – Low calorie electrolyte capsules to add to water
  • DIY sports drinks – Combine water, coconut water, fruit juice, electrolytes, etc.

Reading labels to compare carb, calorie, and sugar contents is key when choosing lower sugar/calorie sports drinks. Avoiding artificial sweeteners if possible and opting for natural low-calorie sweeteners like stevia may also be preferable for some. Moderating carb and electrolyte content during lower intensity or shorter duration exercise is also an option.

When are the added sugars and carbs in mainstream sports drinks useful?

The added sugars and carbs in mainstream sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade can provide benefits in some situations such as:

  • High intensity endurance training over 60-90 minutes
  • Prolonged practice sessions or competitions
  • Repeated same-day training sessions
  • Limited recovery time between training
  • Poor access to whole food carbs before/during exercise
  • Individuals prone to GI distress from solid carbs during activity

The added carbs help sustain blood glucose levels to fuel working muscles when glycogen stored in muscles and the liver are depleted. This spares protein breakdown and delays fatigue. The sugars also aid absorption of fluids and electrolytes in the small intestine.

For lower intensity or intermittent exercise under 60 minutes, the extra carbs and sugars are lower priority. Focus should be on fluid and electrolyte replacement.

What ingredients make for an effective, healthy sports drink?

The key ingredients for an effective sports drink include:

  • Water – The fluid base needed for hydration.
  • Electrolytes – Sodium, potassium, magnesium aid hydration and muscle function.
  • Carbohydrates – Fuel for exercising muscles and supporting the training load.
  • pH – Should be slightly acidic at 3-4 pH for optimal fluid absorption.
  • Flavors – Enhance palatability without excess added sugars.
  • Vitamins – B vitamins help utilize carbs and energy metabolism.
  • Functional ingredients – Creatine, amino acids, protein etc. may provide performance benefits.

Focus should be on fluids, electrolytes, and the minimal effective carbs/sugars needed based on the duration and intensity of training. Natural flavors and functional ingredients can then be added according to individual preferences and goals.

When is drinking water alone suitable and when should a sports drink be used?

Water is suitable on its own during:

  • Lower intensity or intermittent exercise under 60 minutes
  • Skill/technique practices or drills
  • Resistance or weight training
  • Hot yoga or pilates classes
  • Recreational activities like casual cycling or hiking

Sports drinks providing carbs and electrolytes are recommended for:

  • Prolonged endurance exercise over 1 hour
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Competitive team games like soccer, basketball, hockey
  • Repeated same-day training sessions
  • Activities done in hot/humid weather conditions

During shorter or less intensive exercise, plain water is often sufficient to keep you hydrated since carbs and electrolytes are not depleted quickly. But for sustained high-intensity training or competition, sports drinks provide fuel and electrolytes that water alone cannot.

How can you make your own healthy sports drink at home?

Some options for making homemade sports drinks are:

Basic sports drink:

  • Water
  • 1/8 to 1⁄4 teaspoon salt (for sodium)
  • 1⁄4 cup orange juice (for potassium and carbs)
  • 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup (for carbs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon/lime juice (for flavor and pH)

Coconut water sports drink:

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup (optional)

Fruit smoothie sports drinks:

  • 1 cup coconut water or fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen fruit like berries or mango
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons protein powder (optional)

The key is to aim for 14-15g total carbohydrate and 200-400mg sodium per serving by adjusting fruit juices, sweeteners, coconut water, and electrolytes based on personal preferences. Adding extra functional ingredients like protein is optional. Homemade sports drinks allow you to control the ingredients and avoid excess sugars found in most commercial options.


In terms of health, the best sports drinks provide fluids, electrolytes, and around 14-15g of carbs with minimum added sugars and calories tailored to your activity. Mainstream options like Gatorade or Powerade effectively deliver carbs and electrolytes but contain high added sugars and ingredients some may want to moderate or avoid. Looking at lower sugar/calorie options or making homemade drinks allows you to control the quality of ingredients while still getting performance benefits. Ultimately the optimal sports drink depends on the type, duration, and demands of your training or competition. But choosing options emphasizing whole foods-based ingredients can optimize both health and performance.

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