Goals for 2021, Monthly Challenge, Nutrition, Running

Hydration Challenge Update #2: Should I Drink Sports Drinks?

January is half over already, can you believe it?! I’ve been tracking my fluid intakes this month and experimenting with hydration during my training. One of the things I have experimented with is using a sports drink on my longer workouts. Over the years I have varied back and forth with whether or not I drink sports drinks as well as the brands that I use. So, should you be drinking them? The short answer to this question is only if you want to. For the long answer… well, keep reading!

There is so much information (and some of it is conflicting) about the pros and cons of using sports drinks, which ones are the best, and what should be in them. The basic components of most sports drinks are:

  • Water to replace fluids
  • Carbohydrates to replenish lost energy
  • Sodium to enhance water absorption and retention

There are so many different brands of sports drinks out there, and without much evidence out there to support one being superior to another, it really comes down to what you tolerate and prefer. I have used a few different sports drinks in my training over the years – for my first half marathon, I fueled with pretzels and regular Gatorade. At many of the races I have run they have offered Gatorade Endurance formula and I have taken that. I have pounded Powerade after a hard run. I’ve tried Hammer’s Fizz and Heed products. Most recently I have been using Nuun – I add the Nuun Sport tablets to my water for shorter runs, especially when it is hot (these don’t contain any carbohydrates but offer flavor and some electrolytes, as well as a light fizz), and I use the Nuun Endurance formula (which offers carbohydrates plus electrolytes) for my longer runs.

One of the biggest pros to using sports drinks is that they may help athletes hydrate better. One reason is that the electrolytes may help maximize fluid absorption and retention. Another is that for some athletes, having a flavored beverage may encourage more fluid intake overall. The second reason is why I personally use sports drinks – I prefer flavored drinks over plain water.

Another reason someone may choose to use sports drinks is because the liquid calories may be easier to tolerate than trying to consume gels or other solid foods while exercising. This may be a more convenient option, too, since many events offer sports drinks at their aid stations, so athletes do not have to make sure they carry their own fuel. Many elite athletes rely on sports drinks to replenish their energy needs – for them it is a lot more efficient to take a drink and often much easier on their stomachs during intense performance.

Sports drinks aren’t easy on everyone’s stomachs, though. When I first started running, drinking anything other than water while exercising made my stomach turn. Some people only like to drink water and don’t like the taste of sweet drinks. That is why ultimately the answer to whether or not to use sports drinks is only if you like them and only if you want to!

If you want to try out sports drinks, it is best to experiment with them during your training. Before your big event, see if you can find out which brand of sports drink is offered at the aid stations at your race. Experiment with that sports drink during your training runs to see how your body reacts to it and if you will want to reach for it on race day or maybe skip those drinks altogether. Remember what I said in my last update: nothing new on race day!

Remember that what I share on my blog is a bit of what I am learning (or re-learning) and trying out for myself. Just because I am a registered dietitian does not mean I am an expert in sports nutrition, much to many of my friends dismay. I tell them… “I’m seeking out advice and input just as much as you are when it comes to this stuff!”

If you are interested in learning more about sports drinks, fueling your workouts (running and otherwise) and getting adequate hydration for top performance, I suggest seeking out a registered dietitian that specializes in sports nutrition. Some registered dietitians have earned a specialist credential: Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, or CSSD. You can search for one of these experts on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website – click here!

As for my own hydration challenge to myself for this month, I’m a little “below average”. I’ve been been getting around 67% of my 85oz goal on a daily basis. But hey, let’s be optimistic – it’s more than 50% of my goal, so my glass is technically half full, right?! I have also been meeting my goal of 20oz plain water almost every day!

I’d love to hear how your hydration plan is going, if you’re using sports drinks or not, and if you are which ones are your favorites. Feel free to share your experiences on my Facebook page or here on the blog in the comments!

I’ll share another update with you next week… as well as what my next challenge will be!


Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners, 5th Edition

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