- Sports drinks vs. water
- Sports drinks vs. energy drinks
- Are sports drinks good for your health?
- When should you drink sports drinks?
- How to make your own sports drinks
- Best homemade sports drinks recipes
Athlete Nutrition Essentials: How To Make Your Own Sports Drink
Sports drinks have been proven as an essential alternative to water in rehydrating and refueling athletes, especially active adults. These commercially available drinks are accessible, but is there a better and much healthier alternative?
The answer is yes! You can make your own sports drinks at home with ingredients rich in nutrients. This comprehensive guide will help you find and create the perfect sports drink recipes based on your needs and preferences and enlighten you about the various health facts surrounding sports drinks.
Are Sports Drinks Better Than Water?
When it comes to hydrating and refueling, you have lots of options to choose from. But athletes usually choose between sports drinks and water. Water, on its own, is technically the healthiest and most necessary drink for all individuals. Sports drinks, meanwhile, contain nutrients necessary for improving an athlete’s performance and endurance.
According to W. Larry Kenney, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University and a sportsbook author, water is a good option for low-intensity and non-endurance athletes whose priority is not carbohydrate replacement but sports drinks are the best hydrator for athletes undergoing rigorous training and exercise.
The ability of sports drinks to efficiently hydrate active athletes lies on its ingredients. Dr. Christoper Finlay of nonprofit health system HonorHealth said that all sports drinks have three main components: water, salt, and energy. The most important extra ingredients carrying these components are electrolytes, mineral essentials that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. These can be calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, sodium, and magnesium. Science already stated that we need electrolytes to regulate proper fluid levels in the body as we lose them when we sweat.
Another important additive is carbohydrates, which are usually in the form of sugar. A good amount of carbohydrates in a sports drink is 6 to 8 grams per 100 mL. Sports Dieticians Australia, a professional organization of dietitians specializing in sports nutrition, strongly suggested that “the carbohydrate concentration of a sports drink should not exceed 8%”.
Healthy variations of sports drinks may also contain protein, vitamins, and other ingredients that can help athletes refuel and rehydrate. The combination of all aforementioned elements is what makes sports drink better than water in efficiently hydrating athletes undergoing rigid training and exercise.
What’s the Difference Between Energy Drinks and Sports Drinks?
It’s a common misconception that energy drinks and sports drinks are the same. After all, they are marketed as the best hydration drinks to refuel fluid loss. However, the two have striking differences in terms of main ingredients and health effects—just like how water is an entirely different liquid.
We’ve mentioned the core ingredients of a sports drink earlier, but what’s in an energy drink? According to the University of Michigan’s health department, the main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. On top of that, they may also contain extract from the guarana plant—an ingredient similar to caffeine, amino acids, sugar, and vitamins. In short, energy drinks contain stimulants.
Energy drinks can instantly boost energy levels and keep individuals awake. Still, they are not recommended for general consumption or as a substitute for water or sports drinks during training, exercise, and other heavy activities. High-calorie content and strong stimulants in energy drinks can lead to serious health conditions.
Are Sports Drinks Good For You?
Sports drinks contain additives and ingredients not found in water. And one of these ingredients is sugar. Too much sugar consumption has health drawbacks, and many commercially-produced sports drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, a cheaper and sweeter alternative to regular sugar.
As stated in the Sugary Drinks section for sports drinks on Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s official website, “estimates show that sports drinks comprise about 26% of total sugar-sweetened beverage intake in adolescents.” Sports drinks have less sugar than soda and energy drinks, but they have sugar nonetheless. Drinking too many of these, especially when not undergoing vigorous training or exercise, can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and other related diseases.
It is advisable to choose the right type of sports drink and know when to drink sports drinks. Experts only recommend choosing sports drinks over water when there’s a need for the body to refuel energy through electrolytes consumption, and dieticians in Australia warned that carbohydrates in sports drinks should not exceed the 8% mark.
Sports drink, on its own, is good for aiding hydration and improving athletic performance. It can help regulate nerve and muscle function. Dr. W. Larry Kenney proved that these sugars in sports drinks provide energy during prolonged exercise.
When to Drink Sports Drink?
Generally, you should only drink sports drinks when undergoing vigorous exercise, training, or activity. You should only consume sports drinks when there’s a need for your body to maintain proper fluid levels. Otherwise, stick to water or hydration drinks without sugar content.
The Cooper Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting life-long health and wellness worldwide through research, education, and advocacy, released a list of activities where there’s a need to replenish your body fluids using liquids with electrolytes and carbohydrates, such as sports drinks. Here are some examples of heavy activities where you’re allowed to drink sports drinks as opposed to regular water:
- Half or full marathon
- Triathlon or duathlon
- Long training run or bike ride
- Long practice for sports
- Game time for any active sport (football, soccer, hockey, basketball, tennis, etc.)
- Hiking or brisk walking for longer than an hour
- Manual labor (roofing, construction, lawn work, etc.)
In addition to the list, Sports Dieticians Australia also advised drinking sports drinks before and during these activities and while you’re recovering after these activities. Sports drinks can fine-tune the body’s fluid and reduce urine losses before a heavy activity. At the same time, it can deliver optimal fluid and fuel delivery during the actual activity and the recovery phase. Aim to drink 4 to 6 ounces of sports drinks every 15 to 20 minutes during your training or physical activity.
How to Make Your Own Sports Drink
There are hundreds of commercially available sports drinks in the market. But as proven by experts, many of them contain high amounts of sugar. In addition to that, they can be costly. Making your own sports drinks with your preferences and needs in mind can save you lots of money and help avoid the health risks of sugar consumption.
Here are effective ways and steps to make your own sports drink at home:
Find and Mix Electrolyte-Rich Ingredients
There are raw ingredients that contain electrolytes—a good combination of calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, sodium, and magnesium. You can opt for base ingredients that you can find at home if you want a cheaper alternative to commercially available sports drinks. Here’s a list of electrolyte-rich food and substances that you can add to your drink:
- Salt or sodium
- Table sugar
- Raw honey
Among all the food and substances on the list, salt is probably the most accessible and important ingredient. Salt contains a good balance of sodium and chloride. Despite being accessible, however, it’s crucial to opt for natural salt over table salt. Natural ones contain more minerals on top of sodium chloride. Most sports drinks nowadays only use table salt.
When mixing salt and other ingredients on this list, make sure to consider the amount of electrolytes you’ll require on your training or even on a daily basis. The right amount varies based on age, weather or climate, water consumption, and level of activity, so ensure that the electrolyte content of the ingredients you’ll add to your drink will be sufficient.
Use Healthy Liquids As Bases
You’ll need liquid bases to mix in all your dry ingredients and make an actual sports drink. Water is a good liquid base as it provides natural hydration. After all, water alone is enough to rehydrate. But there are other healthy liquids with more nutrients and minerals to add to your electrolyte-rich dry ingredients. Here’s a list of liquids you can try:
Natural Fruit Juices
Natural fruit juices contain lots of vitamin C, minerals, and healthy sugars like glucose and fructose. To get the most out of these natural nutrients, you can dilute 400 to 600 ml of fruit juice to 1 liter of water or sports drink with half a teaspoon of natural salt.
Coconut water is another healthier alternative to water. It’s a natural hydration drink rich in potassium. It uses pure potassium as its main electrolyte ingredient, so it contains less sodium and calories. Due to its unique nutritional properties, various studies—with some of the latest hailing from the IOSR Journal of Sports and Physical Education and The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health—have proven that coconut water with additional sodium content can be an excellent alternative to commercially available sports drinks.
You can use natural coconut water from real coconut or purchase commercially available coconut water. Just make sure to consider the sugar and calorie content of the product before choosing a variant.
Add Textures and Flavorings
You can also consider your taste buds and other preferences when making your own sports drink. You can add textures and flavorings, preferably healthy ones. Fruits, once again, are a good option since they contain natural nutrients. But here are other natural flavorings and ingredients you can also add to enhance your drink:
Mint can improve the sweet flavor of your drink and provide a lasting cooling effect. Aside from taste, mint is also a good source of vitamin A, which can improve your vision and overall health.
Chia seeds have gained a lot of recognition in the past years since numerous studies relating them to weight loss popped out. But its connection to improving athletic performance and endurance as part of a sports drink also yielded several studies.
According to the Food Features section for Chia Seeds on Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s official website, Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. It can prevent the development of chronic diseases when eaten as a part of a plant-rich diet.
Harvard’s resources established that Chia seeds are healthy. But a study from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research went as far as finding their effect on sports drinks. According to the study, Chia seeds can enhance athletes’ endurance on activities lasting 90 minutes and decrease their dietary sugar intake while increasing their Omega 3 fatty acids intake. However, it doesn’t affect performance.
Ingestible Essential Oils
Ingestible essential oils can enhance the flavor and the after-taste of your sports drink. These oils are usually added to candies, chocolates, and other desserts. Some common ingestible essential oils are peppermint, lemon, and orange. You could opt for citrus-flavored ones if you didn’t add sour fruits to your base ingredients.
Healthy Sports Drink Recipes
If you don’t have a personal recipe or preference for your sports drink, you can follow some healthy recipes proven to boost athletic performance and endurance. Here are some of the most nutritious and delicious recipes by nutritionists and dieticians:
Homemade Fruit Sports Drink by Nutritionist & Author Nancy Clark
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp. Salt
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 3 1/4 cups cold water
Lemon-Pomegranate Electrolyte Drink by Apple’s Dietician Peggy Pletcher
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut water
- 2 cups cold water
- Additional options: sweetener, powdered magnesium and/or calcium, depending on needs
Natural Sports Electrolyte Drink by Cookbook Author Katie Wells
- 1 quart liquid such as green tea herbal teas, coconut water, or plain water
- 1/8 -1/4 tsp Himalayan salt
- 1 tsp calcium magnesium powder
- 1/4 cup or more 100% juice optional
- 1-2 tbsp. sweetener such as honey or stevia (optional)
Regardless of your sports drink option or recipe, remember that the main goal is to stay hydrated and ensure that your body has enough electrolytes. Making a sports drink or an electrolyte hydration drink at home is one way to keep you hydrated before, during, and after a rigorous sports activity. Still, we highly advise you to always monitor the sugar content of your drink. Sugar, even in small amounts, adds up quickly. This is one of the most common problems of athletes, so drink sports drinks moderately and at the right time.