Are Sports Drinks Worth the Money?
Updated: Apr 1
With millions in marketing campaigns, sports drink giants like Lucozade Sport and Gatorade have made a name for themselves as high-performance supplements. In this article, we discuss when sports drinks can be useful, and when they are likely not.
In the latest of this month’s articles on sport nutrition supplements, we’re going to talk about sports drinks. In particular, we are going to talk about isotonic sports drinks like Lucozade Sport. These drinks are a big part of most professional teams’ refuelling strategies, be it at half-time or full-time, and are also used by endurance athletes like marathon runners. Follow along to learn:
How they work to improve performance,
When they are useful to consume, and
When they should not be consumed
How Sports Drinks Improve Performance
If you read our first ever article, you’ll know just how important carbohydrates are for powering exercise performance. For a refresher, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel for moderate- to high-intensity exercise, and have been shown to improve performance more than any other nutrient (1). Isotonic sports drinks contain both carbohydrates and electrolytes at levels that are similar to normal levels in the body. This means they help to refuel and to rehydrate—which is also important for performance.
When to Consume Sports Drinks
Isotonic sports drinks are ideal for use just before, during, and/or after any moderate- to high-intensity exercise that involves an endurance element (e.g., running, cycling, football, etc.). They help to replenish your fuel stores (glycogen) while providing water and electrolytes for rehydration purposes. Ultimately, they can help you to perform your best when consumed before and/or during exercise, and help you to recover when consumed after exercise. However, they are not magic. You can get similar results from a piece of fruit or two and some water. This leads us to the next paragraph…
When Not to Consume Sports Drinks
Unless you’ll be playing again very quickly and you need to fuel up with a lot of calories and carbohydrates (like in a tournament format), or if you have a big match where performance is crucial, they’re likely unnecessary. As I have said, a banana or two and some plain old tap water will do a similar job. For most footballers or athletes, the training load is not going to be high enough to demand regular consumption of these drinks, and consuming them in the absence of very hard training can lead to unnecessary weight gain due to their high sugar and calorie content. So, if you choose to consume them as a handy way to fuel, be mindful of the calorie load.
Here are the key points to remember from this article:
Isotonic sports drinks can help you to fuel before or during exercise, and refuel after exercise, due to their carbohydrate, electrolyte, and water content
They can be particularly helpful and useful in scenarios where you need to be fully fuelled for optimal performance (e.g., big matches), or when it is crucial to refuel as quickly as possible before exercising again (e.g., in a tournament format)
They are unnecessary for most people most of the time
You are better off choosing healthier options (e.g., fruit and water) for refuelling after training in most scenarios
That’s a wrap for this week. Make sure to let us know what you have thought of the articles this month—we are interested to hear about what you think and what you would like us to cover down the line.
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All the best!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) 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 Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(3):501-28. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2016/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.25.aspx
Isotonic sports drinks: These drinks have the same concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates (sugar) as your blood normally has, so they help to maintain optimum blood sugar and electrolyte levels
Electrolytes: Minerals that carry an electrical charge when dissolved in water, e.g., sodium and potassium. When we sweat, we lose electrolytes, and must replace them via fluids or food. These losses are not of huge concern in lower intensity exercise, but become more important the longer and more intense the exercise, and especially in hot conditions.
Glycogen: The stored version of carbohydrates, or glucose. When we eat carbohydrates, most is stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver.