The 7 Best Sports Drinks of 2021, According to a Dietitian

How to choose a sports drink that is right for you

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Sports drinks, or electrolyte-enhanced beverages, help to replenish water, electrolytes, and energy lost during exercise. These drinks often contain a source of energy-boosting carbohydrates, as well as a balance of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, which help combat dehydration, replete glycogen stores, and delay fatigue.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals partaking in vigorous exercise for one hour or longer consider drinking a carbohydrate-based sports beverages, especially if they are sweating heavily. Registered Dietitian, Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, recommends a sports drink with electrolytes when engaging in prolonged physical activity, stating, "When choosing a sports drink for a super sweaty workout—or over an hour of exercise—I recommend looking for a beverage with at least 300 milligrams of potassium and at least 80 milligrams of sodium."

There are many options on the market when it comes to sports drinks, including ready-to-drink beverages and mix-with-water tablets or powders. Consider your calorie, sugar, and electrolyte needs when choosing a product that suits your hydration requirements.

What to Look for in an Electrolyte Drink

Form

Sports drinks come in many forms, including ready-to-drink beverages, powders, and tablets. If you are looking for the easiest, grab-and-go option, a ready-to-drink sports drink is usually available at any grocery or convenience store. If you travel frequently or simply want a more portable sports drink, choosing a tablet or powder that you mix with water may be preferable.

Electrolytes

When you sweat, your body loses fluid and electrolytes. Sports drinks contain electrolytes—including potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium—to help combat dehydration. They work with your body to improve the absorption of fluid and replenish mineral losses. Look for a sports drink that contains at least sodium and potassium.

Calories

If you are engaging in endurance activities or strenuous sports, you may need a sports drink that is high in calories. When choosing a sports drink, consider your activity level, caloric expenditure, and energy needs. You may choose a sports drink higher in calories if you are training for a marathon. However, if you are exercising for over an hour but trying to lose weight, you may want to replete electrolytes without consuming extra calories.

Sugar

Many sports drinks contain sugar to help athletes replace carbohydrates lost during exercise quickly. If you watch your sugar intake or prefer a sugar-free option, some tablets and powders are low in sugar. Avoid sugar-free sports drinks that contain potentially harmful artificial sweeteners.

Sports Drinks Dosage

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

There is no established RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for sports drinks. However, there are established recommendations for total water intake for healthy adults. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends adequate intake of 3.7 liters (125 ounces) for men and 2.7 liters (91 ounces) for women, daily from both foods and liquids. Remember that some foods, like certain fruits and vegetables, contain a high percentage of water that counts towards your daily hydration goals.

The DRIs for total water intake (from both food and beverages) for individuals under the age of 18 years are as follows:

  • 4-8 years: 7 cups/day
  • 9-13 years: 9 cups/day for girls and 10 cups/day for boys
  • 14-18 years: 10 cups/day for girls and 14 cups/day for boys

It is important to note that adequate fluid intake is individualized and based on age, gender, activity level, climate, lifestyle and overall health status. Additionally, you may need increased fluid intake during periods of excess losses due to sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Lastly, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting added sugars to 24 grams per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sugar intake to 6% of their daily calories. If you are choosing a sports drink with added sugar, be sure not to exceed these daily limit recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sports drinks good for kids?

    Excessive, regular intake of high calorie, high sugar sports drinks can lead to increased risk for dental erosion and obesity in children. However, pediatrics athletes may benefit from some sports drinks to help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat and provide carbohydrates for increased energy expenditure. In general, most children can adequately hydrate on water alone, and can get added electrolytes and carbohydrates from whole food sources.

  • Can sports drinks cause kidney stones?

    There are different types of kidney stones and each require different dietary modifications for prevention. In general, adequate hydration is an important factor in preventing all types of kidney stones. However, studies have shown that drinking high intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sports drinks, is associated with increased risk for kidney stone formation. In general, it is best to meet your individual fluid intake goals from water and whole foods.

  • What are the benefits of sports drinks?

    Sports drinks that contain water and electrolytes can help to replenish fluid and electrolytes during periods of excessive losses, for example, through sweat, vomiting or diarrhea. Drinking sports beverages with carbohydrates can help to fuel you during periods of increased energy expenditure as carbohydrates break down to glucose, which is our body's main form of energy.

  • How many sports drinks can you drink per day?

    The amount of sports drinks you can drink daily depends on your individual needs and the type of sports drinks you are consuming. If you are losing excess fluids and electrolytes through sweat, vomiting or diarrhea, consider increasing your intake of sports drinks. If you’re running for 60-90 minutes or longer, you’ll need to consume some carbohydrates to refuel, which could be in the form of a sports drink. The exact amount you need depends on your gender, size, age, and effort level, but most people need between 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrates per hour for runs up to 2.5 hours. In general, be sure not to exceed the the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend limit of 24 grams per day (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men of added sugars.

     

  • Can you drink sports drinks while pregnant?

    Adequate hydration is an important factor in supporting a healthy pregnancy. While sports drinks can help to meet your hydration goals, it's best to consult your physician to see if they are appropriate to incorporate into your diet while pregnant.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here


We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science, as well as clinically tested and approved for use in humans. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. These attributes include non-GMO, Organic, and allergy-friendly products that are free of most artificial ingredients including colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. When possible, we recommend products that are third-party tested and certified.


It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

Here are the best sports drinks:

Best Overall: NOOMA Organic Electrolyte Drink

NOOMA Organic Electrolyte Drink
Pros
  • Naturally occurring electrolytes from coconut water

  • Few simple ingredients

Cons
  • Expensive

Looking for a simple, organic sports drink with quality ingredients and necessary nutrition to keep going? NOOMA takes the top pick among sports drinks. The plant-based sports drink is USDA-certified organic, non-GMO, and vegan friendly. Unlike many other sports drinks, each ingredient on the label is easy to read and comes from real foods.

Each 17-ounce carton contains 30 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrates with no added sugar. Coconut water adds potassium, while natural sea salt provides a boost of sodium to help you replenish fluids lost during exercise. There’s a hint of organic stevia to give it a touch of sweetness, but otherwise, it’s a great alternative to sugar-laden sports drinks.

There's a flavor for every taste preference, including Chocolate Mint, Lemonade, Watermelon Lime, Mango, and Blueberry Peach. The convenient 12-pack provides adequate hydration for all your favorite workouts.

Flavors: Lemonade, Watermelon Lime, Mango, Chocolate Mint, Blueberry Peach | Calories per serving: 30 | Sugar per serving: 5 grams | Non-GMO: Yes | Organic: Yes | Sweetener: Stevia leaf extract | Electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium

Best Low-Sugar: Nuun Sport Electrolyte Drink Tablets

Nuun sport electrolyte drink tablets
Pros
  • Good for travel

  • Contains five electrolytes

Cons
  • Contains additives

If you're a fan of sports drinks but watch your sugar intake, you may opt for a low- or no-sugar option. Nuun Sport's electrolyte tablets contain only 1 gram of sugar, 15 calories, and no artificial flavoring. Compared with the average sports drink that contains more than 30 grams of added sugar, this tablet provides an electrolyte boost without tons of extra calories and carbs.

The convenient tablets mix easily with water to create a hydrating, tasty beverage that comes in a variety of stevia-sweetened flavors, including Lemon Lime, Tri-Berry, Citrus Fruit, and Orange. Each tube provides 10 tablets that contain a balance of essential vitamins and minerals. They’re also soy-free, gluten-free, kosher, and vegan.

Flavors: Lemon Lime, Tri-Berry, Citrus Fruit, Orange | Calories per serving: 15 | Sugar per serving: 1 gram | Non-GMO: Yes | Organic: No | Sweetener: Stevia leaf extract, dextrose | Electrolytes: sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium

Best Higher-Carbohydrate: Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Gatorade Thirst Quencher
Pros
  • Suitable for increased carbohydrate needs

  • Flavor variety

Cons
  • 34 grams of added sugar

  • Contains additives

When you think of sports drinks, Gatorade is probably the first brand that comes to mind. Created in the summer of 1965 by a football coach at the University of Florida, this thirst-quenching drink was made with athletes in mind to help them replenish and recover after a tough workout.

The formula is simple—it has an electrolyte and carbohydrate base, which is essentially what is lost after sweating in the heat, and a sweet flavor to entice you to drink. Favored on the sidelines of the NFL for 44 years, this go-to sports beverage is a preferred drink for many professional athletes as well as active adults.

Gatorade is budget-friendly and available almost everywhere, making it an easy option to buy after a long run in the sun. While it does have a lot of sugar in it, this can be helpful for endurance athletes looking for a quick source of easily digestible carbs.

For those who want to watch their sugar consumption but love the taste, consider mixing a few tablespoons of Gatorade with cold water for a refreshing electrolyte drink. It comes in a variety of flavors, including Lemon-Lime, Orange, and Fruit Punch.

Flavors: Over 20 flavor options | Calories per serving: 140 | Sugar per serving: 34 grams | Non-GMO: No | Organic: No | Sweetener: Sugar, dextrose | Electrolytes: sodium, potassium

Best Powder: Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder

Ultima Replenisher
Pros
  • Contains all six electrolytes

  • Contains vitamin C

Cons
  • Expensive

Powdered mixes go further than traditional bottled sports drinks—just stir some into water and go. Ultima's delicious-tasting powder provides six important electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate) with no artificial flavors. This sugar-free, zero-calorie, and zero-carbohydrate beverage is sweetened with stevia.

It's made with real fruit flavors and comes in many delicious varieties, including Cherry Pomegranate, Raspberry, Grape, and Orange. They're not overly sweet and taste refreshing.

Unlike other powders, which can be chalky, Ultima mixes well and dissolves completely to become a smooth, hydrating drink. The versatile product appeals to many athletes, including those who follow vegan, gluten-free, keto, and paleo lifestyles. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, it’s also caffeine-free.

Flavors: Blue Raspberry, Raspberry, Grape, Lemonade, Orange, Cherry Pomegranate, Pink Lemonade, Watermelon | Calories per serving: 0 | Sugar per serving: 0 grams | Non-GMO: No | Organic: No | Sweetener: Stevia | Electrolytes: magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate

Best with Caffeine: Nuun Sport + Caffeine

Nuun Sport + Caffeine
Pros
  • Contains organic green tea extract

  • Good for travel

Cons
  • Contains added sugar

Nuun Sport + Caffeine is an easy, portable way for athletes to hydrate and replete necessary electrolytes on the go. Each tube contains ten tablets that mix with water to create an effervescent, thirst-quenching, electrolyte-filled beverage. With only 1 gram of sugar and 15 calories, the super clean tablets provide all the electrolytes athletes need, with minimal extra sugar and no artificial flavorings.

Each tablet also contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, which can help add extra pep to an athlete’s step. Studies show that caffeine may boost athletic performance, although it is important not consume too much at once. Nuun Sport + Caffeine tablets may help athletes get a leg up on the competition, boosting performance while simultaneously rehydrating. 

Flavors: Cherry Limeade, Mango Orange, Fresh Lime, Wild Berry | Calories per serving: 15 | Sugar per serving: 1 gram | Non-GMO: Yes | Organic: No | Sweetener: Dextrose, stevia | Electrolytes: sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium

Best Single-Serve: Ultima Replenisher Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder, Variety Pack, 20 Count Stickpacks

Ultima Replenisher Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder
Pros
  • Contains all six electrolytes

  • Good for travel

  • Contains vitamin C

Cons
  • Expensive

Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Powder is an excellent choice for a sugar-free beverage that will replenish electrolyte levels, hydrate effectively, and provide supporting minerals. In addition to electrolytes, most sports drinks contain sugar and carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar modulations and add unwanted calories to the diet. Sweetened with stevia, Ultima is a delicious, zero-carb drink that is perfect for athletes who want to add electrolytes to their beverage but don't want extra sugar. 

The Ultima Single Serve Variety Pack comes with 20 sticks in a variety of flavors, including cherry pomegranate, grape, lemonade, orange, and raspberry. These convenient sticks are perfect for athletes to throw in a gym bag or stash in their pocket to mix with water on-the-go. With less mess and great flavor, these single-serve sticks are perfect for athletes who want an electrolyte boost but don't need additional carbs and calories.

Flavors: Raspberry, Grape, Lemonade, Orange, Cherry Pomegranate | Calories per serving: 0 | Sugar per serving: 0 grams | Non-GMO: Yes | Organic: No | Sweetener: Stevia | Electrolytes: magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus

Best Natural: Harmless Harvest Coconut Water

Harmless Harvest Coconut Water
Pros
  • Contains only 1 ingredient

  • Naturally occurring electrolyte source

Cons
  • 20 grams of sugar per serving

  • Expensive

If you’re looking for the most natural, organic, electrolyte-filled drink available, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water is the best option for you. Made solely from coconut water sourced from organic young coconuts grown in Thailand, the thirst-quenching drink provides a variety of nutrients, including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Coconut water is a great natural electrolyte drink that helps to rehydrate and restore electrolyte balance. Each 8-ounce serving of Harmless Harvest Coconut Water provides 15 grams of carbohydrates and 60 calories to help replete glycogen stores. Although this drink is a bit more expensive than other options on the market, the beverage is truly nature's sports drink—made only from 100% Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic coconut water.

Flavor: Coconut | Calories per serving: 90 | Sugar per serving: 20 grams | Non-GMO: Yes | Organic: Yes | Sweetener: None | Electrolytes: magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus

Final Verdict

For an excellent organic electrolyte drink, try NOOMA (view at Amazon). If you prefer a more natural electrolyte beverage, consider Harmless Harvest Coconut Water (view at Amazon).

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Orrù S, Imperlini E, Nigro E, et al. Role of Functional Beverages on Sport Performance and Recovery. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1470. doi:10.3390/nu10101470

  2. Brad A. Exercise and Fluid Replacement: Brought to You by the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Health Fit J. 2013;17(4):3. doi:10.1249/FIT.0b013e318296bc4b

  3. Choudhary AK, Lee YY. Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connectionNutr Neurosci. 2018;21(5):306-316. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2017.1288340

  4. Fitness C on N and the C on SM and. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1182-1189.

  5. Ferraro PM, Taylor EN, Gambaro G, Curhan GC. Soda and other beverages and the risk of kidney stonesClin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2013;8(8):1389-1395.

  6. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics, dietitians of canada, and the american college of sports medicine: nutrition and athletic performanceJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(3):501-528.

  7. Kalman DS, Feldman S, Krieger DR, Bloomer RJ. 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):1. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-1

  8. University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. Sugar in sports drinks. 2020.

  9. Spriet LL. Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of CaffeineSports Med. 2014;44(Suppl 2):S175-184. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8