The Best Sports Drinks, According to a Dietitian

Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix is made with simple ingredients

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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 sodium, potassium, 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 beverage, especially if they are sweating heavily. Registered dietitian Kristy Baumann, RD, who specializes in running nutrition, recommends a sports drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates when engaging in prolonged physical activity, noting the importance of focusing on sodium to aid in hydration and replenish losses through sweat. 

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 electrolyte, fueling, and hydration needs when choosing a product. We evaluated products based on taste, carbohydrate and electrolyte content, and ingredient quality.

Reviewed & Approved

Best Overall: Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix contains carbohydrates for energy and the electrolytes lost in sweat to help you stay hydrated.

Best On the Go: Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier provides carbohydrates, electrolytes, and B vitamins, all in convenient single-serve packets you can throw in your gym bag.

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.

Are Sports Drinks Beneficial?

If you are not engaging in prolonged exercise and are consuming a balanced and varied diet with adequate water intake, you likely do not need a sports drink. However, there are certain situations in which sports drinks might come in handy. The added sugars and electrolytes in sports drinks are specifically formulated for physical activity, because they can help you stay fueled and hydrated, which can delay fatigue and enhance performance.

Sports drinks may help you avoid dehydration if you are:

  • Engaging in prolonged exercise: If you are exercising for over an hour, you may benefit from sports drinks. They will not only help you stay hydrated, they will also provide you with carbohydrates to keep you fueled.
  • Exercising in the heat: If you are exercising in the heat, you may want to hydrate with more than plain water. Consuming large amounts of plain water can result in a condition known as hyponatremia, or low levels of sodium in the blood. Opt for a sports drink that contains electrolytes and carbohydrates to help you avoid dehydration.
  • Experiencing altitude shifts: Altitude changes can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Adding a sports drink, water, and carbohydrates can help you avoid side effects.
  • Experiencing illness-related fluid losses: When you are ill and lose fluids through vomit or diarrhea, you also lose electrolytes. A sports drink can help you stay hydrated and replenish lost electrolytes while providing you with easy-to-drink energy.

Who May Not Benefit From Sports Drinks

  • Recreational athletes: If you are exercising for under an hour or engaging in low- to moderate-intensity exercise, you can most likely adequately recover with plain water and food. Be sure to include carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods after exercise.
  • Sedentary individuals: Sports drinks typically contain added sugars meant to aid athletes. If you are not engaging in exercise, you might turn to plain water to stay hydrated. The added sugars in sports drinks can result in excessive sugar intake.
  • Children who are not exercising at high intensity: Children who are not engaging in high-intensity exercise should turn to water as a first means of hydration. Most of the research done on sports drinks has been conducted on adult populations; more research is needed to determine whether they are suitable for children.

Best Overall: Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix

Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix

Amazon

Pros
  • Carbohydrates for recovery

  • Electrolytes lost in sweat

  • No artificial sweeteners or colors

Cons
  • Higher sugar content may not be suitable for all

Looking for a quality sports drink with the ingredients and necessary nutrition to keep going? Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix takes the top pick among sports drinks. One scoop contains 80 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates, necessary for optimal recovery and rehydration, along with 380 milligrams of sodium to help you replenish fluids lost during exercise. 

Skratch hydration mix comes in various flavors, including lemon lime, strawberry lemonade, summer peach, and fruit punch. They're flavored with real fruit and taste refreshing, encouraging you to drink more. Skratch products are gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, and kosher, and they do not contain any artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.

The powder comes in a resealable stand-up pouch made for easy use and storage, or as single-serve packets for when you’re on the go. Mix one scoop into 12 to 16 ounces of water to support your hydration and refueling needs.

Serving size: 1 scoop | Calories per serving: 80 | Sodium per serving: 380 mg | Carbohydrates per serving: 21 g | Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Cane sugar, dextrose | Electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium | Price at time of publication: $22 ($1.10 per serving)

Best On-the-Go: Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier Electrolyte Drink Mix

Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier Electrolyte Drink Mix

Amazon

Pros
  • Easy to take on the go

  • Higher sodium content for heavy sweating

Cons
  • Lower carbohydrate content

If you’re on the go and want to take your sports drink with you, Liquid I.V. comes in convenient packets that you can throw in your gym bag. These packets contain 500 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of carbohydrates per serving, which can help you refuel and rehydrate after a hard workout. Since this amount of carbohydrates is somewhat low, we recommend pairing this with carbohydrate-containing foods for complete post-workout recovery.

Liquid I.V. comes in a wide variety of flavors including lemon lime, piña colada, and acai berry, so you are sure to find one you like. For added benefit, Liquid I.V. also contains vitamins B3, B5, B12 and vitamin C, important vitamins for active individuals. It is also non-GMO and free from gluten, soy, and dairy.

Serving size: 1 stick | Calories per serving: 45 | Sodium per serving: 500 mg | Carbohydrates per serving: 11 g | Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Dextrose, cane sugar, stevia | Electrolytes: Sodium, potassium | Price at time of publication: $23 ($1.44 per serving)

Best With Caffeine: Tailwind Nutrition Caffeinated Endurance Fuel

Tailwind Nutrition Caffeinated Endurance Fuel

Tailwind

Pros
  • Contains caffeine for a boost

  • Suitable for increased carbohydrate needs

  • No artificial flavors or dyes

  • More affordable per serving than other options

Cons
  • Some may be sensitive to caffeine

Tailwind Endurance Fuel is a great option for athletes to hydrate and replace necessary electrolytes on the go. It contains 310 milligrams of sodium per serving to help you replace what you lost in sweat. Beyond electrolytes, Tailwind also contains 25 grams of carbohydrates in the form of dextrose and sucrose, so this powder can be used as a convenient source of fuel during exercise. This might be an especially helpful choice if you do not enjoy using bars, gels, chews, or whole food while exercising. Tailwind is also non-GMO, soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan-friendly.

Each scoop contains 35 milligrams of caffeine, which studies show may boost athletic performance. However, if you know that you are sensitive to caffeine, this might not be the option for you. Be sure to practice with Tailwind before using it during a race to ensure that it sits well.

Serving size: 1 scoop | Calories per serving: 100 | Sodium per serving: 310 mg | Carbohydrates per serving: 25 g | Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Dextrose, sucrose | Electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium | Price at time of publication: $40 ($0.80 per serving)

Best Ready-to-Drink: Gatorade Endurance Formula

Gatorade endurance drink

Gatorade

Pros
  • Suitable for increased carbohydrate needs

  • Budget-friendly, ready-to-drink option

  • Unlike other Gatorade options, contains no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners

Cons
  • Many Gatorade options contain artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners

When you think of sports drinks, Gatorade is probably the first brand that comes to mind. It was created in the summer of 1965 by a football coach at the University of Florida where the mascots are Albert and Alberta Gator, hence the name Gatorade. 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 it. 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's endurance formula is designed for endurance athletes with higher sodium needs. The 22 grams of carbohydrates, including sugar, can be helpful for endurance athletes looking for a quick source of easily digestible carbs, and the 310 milligrams of sodium help replenish losses from sweat.

Gatorade is budget-friendly and available almost everywhere, making it an easy option to buy after a long run in the sun. While many types of Gatorade include artificial colors and flavors, the endurance formulas do not. They come in just two flavor options—lemon lime and orange—and are flavored with natural flavors and colored using beta carotene, a pigment naturally found in orange vegetables.

Serving size: 1/2 bottle | Calories per serving: 90 | Sodium per serving: 310 mg | Carbohydrates per serving: 22 g | Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Sugar, maltodextrin, fructose | Electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium | Price at time of publication: $16.49 ($1.03 per serving)

Best for Daily Use: Harmless Harvest Coconut Water

Harmless Harvest

 Amazon

Pros
  • Made from one simple ingredient

  • USDA organic and fair trade certified

  • Ready to drink

  • Good source of carbohydrates

Cons
  • Low sodium content may not be suitable for athletes

  • Some may be allergic to coconut

  • More expensive per serving

If you’re looking for an organic, potassium-filled drink you can use on lower-intensity exercise days, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water may be a great option for you. While this drink is a bit more expensive than other options on the market, it is made only from 100% fair trade certified, USDA organic coconut water. This drink provides potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and magnesium.

Each bottle of Harmless Harvest Coconut Water provides 15 grams of carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen stores and aid in rehydration. Note, however, that coconut water is low in sodium, so if you are using this drink after exercising, consider pairing it with sodium-containing foods. Keep in mind that these bottles come in a variety of sizes and that one serving is 8 ounces or 1 cup.

Serving size: 8 ounces | Calories per serving: 60 | Sodium per serving: 40 mg| Carbohydrates per serving: 15 g | Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Naturally occurring carbohydrates from coconut | Electrolytes: Potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous | Price at time of publication: $57 ($2.38 per serving)

Best Higher Sodium: Precision Hydration PH 500

PH 500

Amazon

Pros
  • Suitable for increased carbohydrate needs

  • Informed Sport Certified

  • Variety of sodium and carbohydrate options to meet your needs

Cons
  • Only one flavor option

  • More expensive per serving

Sweat rate and sweat composition vary from person to person. Precision Hydration makes hydration packets with varying levels of sodium and carbohydrates so you can find one that works best for you. The PH 500 Hydration Packet contains 250 milligrams of sodium along with 17.5 grams of carbohydrates to help you stay fueled and hydrated. If you are a salty sweater, there are PH 1000 and PH 1500 hydration packets with higher sodium levels.

Precision Hydration hydration packets are Informed Sport certified, meaning they have been tested to ensure they are free from substances banned in sports competitions. The convenient single-serve packets are great for when you’re on the go. Note that these packets come in one citrus flavor.

Serving size: 1 Packet | Calories per serving: 70 | Sodium per serving: 250 mg | Carbohydrates per serving: 17.5 g Carbohydrate/sugar sources: Sugar | Electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium | Price at time of publication: $14 ($2 per serving)

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. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. We prioritize products that are third-party tested and certified by one of three independent, third party certifiers: USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab. 

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.

What to Look for in a Sports Drink

Third-Party Testing

Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:

  • Third-party testing does not test to see whether a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure that the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
  • Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing. 
  • The third-party certifications we can trust are: ConsumerLab, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive for manufacturers, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations. 
  • Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive, to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
  • Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies, it does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer, and calling up the manufacturer and its testing lab to determine their protocols and decide whether you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.

Form

Sports drinks come in various forms, including ready-made drinks, powders, and dissolvable tablets. Consider the type of exercise you will be doing, and what form will be most convenient for you.

Ingredients and Potential Interactions

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know the ingredients and how much of each one is included, relative to the recommended daily value of that ingredient. Please take the supplement label to a healthcare provider to review the different ingredients contained in the supplement and any potential interactions between these ingredients and other supplements and medications you may be taking.

Sports drinks often contain water, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. This formulation is meant to provide you with fuel, delay fatigue during exercise, prevent dehydration, and replenish electrolyte losses. The amounts of electrolytes and types of sugars contained may vary among products.

Some sports drinks contain artificial colorings, dyes, or sweeteners. They may also have added vitamins, which are not necessarily critical if you are eating a balanced diet. Some sports drinks contain caffeine, so be aware of that if you are sensitive or consuming more than one drink.

Electrolyte Supplement 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 to understand which dosage to take.

While there is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for sports drinks, there are for the electrolytes they contain, based on age, sex, overall health, and whether you are pregnant or lactating.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that those exercising in hot weather include drinks with 20-30 meq/L (440-690 mg/L) sodium, 2-5 meq/L (78-95 mg/L) potassium, and that are 5% to 10% percent carbohydrate.

We also lose some calcium and magnesium when we sweat, although the main electrolytes lost are sodium and potassium. The adequate intake for potassium per day is 2400 milligrams for adult men, and 2600 milligrams for adult women, and the RDA for calcium is 1000 milligrams for adult men and women. You can typically avoid electrolyte imbalances by consuming a balanced diet.

There are also 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 toward your daily hydration goals.

The Daily Reference Intakes (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. You also may have increased fluid needs during periods of excess losses, due to sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.

How Much Is Too Much?

Sports drinks are not meant to be consumed daily for regular activity. Consuming high levels of sodium over time can increase risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease. The added sugars can also contribute to cavities and excess sugar consumption.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sports drinks good for kids?

    Excessive, regular intake of high-calorie, high-sugar sports drinks can lead to increased risk of dental erosion and obesity in children. However, juvenile athletes may benefit from some sports drinks to help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat and to provide carbohydrates for increased energy expenditure. In general, most children can adequately hydrate with water alone, and they 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 requires 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 high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sports drinks, is associated with increased risk of kidney stone formation. In general, it is best to meet your individual fluid-intake goals with water and whole foods.

  • 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 to 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 and 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrates per hour for runs up to 2.5 hours.

  • 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 a healthcare provider to determine whether they are appropriate to incorporate into your diet while pregnant.

  • When are sports drinks appropriate for hydration?

    Sports drinks are appropriate for hydration when you are engaging in strenuous exercise for over 60 minutes, exercising in the heat or at higher altitude, or if you are experiencing illness-related fluid losses. The added electrolytes and sugars can help you prevent dehydration and provide you with necessary fuel.

  • How much do sports drinks cost?

    Sports drinks start at about $10 for a large container of conventional Gatorade powder, which comes to as little as $0.11 per serving. Budget options like this will offer adequate carbohydrates and sodium to serve as effective sports drinks, but they do contain artificial flavors and colors, which we are hesitant to recommend.

    The options included in our list range from $0.80 per serving, for Tailwind Caffeinated Endurance Fuel purchased in bulk, to $2.38 per serving for Harmless Coconut Water, which is a single-ingredient option that is certified organic and fair trade.

    Third-party certifications will often drive up the price of sports drinks, and purchasing in bulk may help to reduce the cost. Our Best Overall option, Skratch Labs Hydration Drink Mix, is $1.10 per serving, which is right around average for options containing only naturally derived ingredients.

Why Trust Verywell Fit

Tamar Kane, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and marathon runner. Tamar has a master's degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Teachers College Columbia University and specializes in working with plant-based athletes, often those who are interested in incorporating electrolyte drinks. Her goal is to help people understand how to properly fuel their bodies (and supplement if needed!) to optimize performance and well-being.

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