The Best Sports Drinks to Fuel Your Workout

You train hard – at the gym, on the field, and on the track – and you need a Sports Drink that offers what you need to perform your best. After all, hard work means sweat, and sweat calls for hydration.

When it comes to hydration, water is a no-brainer, but you also need energy and electrolytes. Enter, the humble, yet powerful Sports Drink.

Sports Drinks are an essential part of most athletes’ post-workout recovery plans because they are an incredibly easy way to get a boost of energy and quickly replenish any electrolytes that you’ve lost after high endurance workouts, competitions, or training sessions lasting more than an hour. Let’s put it this way: any time you work hard and sweat a lot, Sports Drinks are your friend.

Before we review the best Sports Drinks to fuel your workout first, let’s take a look at what makes a good Sports Drink and how you can benefit from them.

What Are Sports Drinks?

Sports Drinks are beverages that provide fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes, three things that athletes need.

Sports Drinks were first created in the 1960s when an assistant football coach at the University of Florida (the “Gators”) asked a team of physicians to investigate why the heat was affecting so many of their athletes. The physicians ultimately determined that the players weren’t properly replenishing the fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates lost during practice and games. This discovery led to the creation of “Gatorade,” a carbohydrate and electrolyte beverage that quickly skyrocketed in popularity.

Hydration and Sports Drinks

One of the main purposes of Sports Drinks to prevent dehydration. Proper hydration is important for cardiovascular function, body temperature regulation, and athletic performance. Adequate hydration also helps to ensure your muscles function properly. When you sweat, you lose fluid. Many factors can influence your sweat rate -- including the length of time you exercise, the intensity of your workout, and the environmental conditions in which you exercise – but the following guidelines can help you to optimize your hydration (1):

  • Before Exercise: It’s important to make sure you’re properly hydrated before you even begin to exercise. Try to drink 16-20 ounces about four hours before exercising, especially if you’re slightly dehydrated.
  • During Exercise: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking according to your thirst sensation during exercise, warning that drinking more than 800 mL per hour may increase the risk for developing dilutional hyponatremia (also known as water intoxication). For prolonged exercises, beverages containing 6% to 8% carbohydrate – as most Sports Drinks do – may provide additional benefit.
  • After Exercise: During your post-workout recovery, aim to drink 16 to 24 fluid ounces for every pound of body weight you lost during exercise. To calculate this, simply weigh yourself before your workout, then again after your workout.

Electrolytes and Sports Drinks

Another purpose of Sports Drinks to replenish electrolytes, which are lost with sweat. Electrolytes – including sodium, potassium, and magnesium – are minerals in the body that have an electric charge. They help to balance the amount of water in your body, balance your pH level, move nutrients into cells, move waste out of cells, and make sure that your nerves, muscles, heart, and brain can all work properly (2).

Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes that are typically added to Sports Drinks. In addition to helping to replace any losses due to sweating, this also helps to conserve fluid in muscle cells, and improve the overall palatability of the beverage (3). Magnesium is another electrolyte added to some Sports Drinks. Magnesium helps to maintain muscle function, keeps the heart beat steady, helps to keep bones strong, and aids in the production of energy, among many other essential cellular functions.

The amount of electrolytes in Sports Drinks varies based on the brand and manufacturer. However, all the top Sports Drinks on our list provide 110 to 500 mg of sodium per serving and 45 to 370 mg of potassium per serving, while just a few offer the added benefit of magnesium.

Carbohydrates and Sports Drinks

In addition to replenishing fluids and electrolytes, Sports Drinks are designed to rapidly increase the glucose circulating in your blood. Glucose is important because it’s a quick source of energy, helping to fuel the cells in your muscles, supporting your endurance and performance.

Most traditional Sports Drinks provide 14-17 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces, in the form of glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose. This corresponds to a 6-8% solution, which has been shown to maximize gastric emptying, enhance fluid absorption from the intestine, and supply energy to working muscles (3).

The amount of carbohydrate needed to maintain blood glucose levels during prolonged physical activity ranges from 30-60 grams per hour (3, 4). In order to meet this carbohydrate need solely with Sports Drinks, you would need to drink 2 to 4 cups per hour. Therefore, you may find it more realistic to partially supplement longer workouts, such as marathons, with energy bars or gels.

While carbohydrates in Sports Drinks have always been considered an essential element for endurance athletes some newer Sports Drinks on the market are lower in carbohydrates. These Sports Drinks have been developed in response to the popularity of the Ketogenic Diet. These low-carb Sports Drinks are a good option for athletes who want to regain fluids and electrolytes while maintaining a state of ketosis.

Protein and Sports Drinks

While protein isn’t traditionally found in Sports Drinks, some newer versions are including them. In one research review of twenty studies, it was found that drinking a Sports Drink with protein during exercise improves endurance performance, produces lower losses of body weight induced by dehydration, and helps to reduce post-exercises muscle damage compared to Sports Drinks with only carbohydrate and electrolytes (5).

In another study, published in the European Journal of Sports Science, it was found that when whey protein was consumed with carbohydrate-electrolyte Sports Drinks, rehydration was significantly improved during a 4-hour recovery after a 60-minute run (6).

Another major benefit of adding protein to Sports Drinks is it helps to reduce post-exercise muscle damage. During extended moderate to high-intensity exercise, up to 20 percent of the muscle’s energy is derived from the breakdown of muscle protein. Therefore, increasing protein in the post-training recovery period is important to facilitate the repair and remodeling of skeletal muscle (7).

Beware of Caffeine & Artificial Ingredients

When looking for a Sports Drink, beware of those that also claim to be “Energy Drinks,” particularly if the label doesn’t say how much caffeine is in it. A single energy drink can contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine, which is 12 times as much as what’s in a can of cola.

Also, keep in mind that many traditional Sports Drinks have either artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors and/or artificial food dyes When looking to a Sports Drink to maintain or enhance your health, these ingredients may not be in your best interest. Fortunately, there are some newer options on the market that offer a cleaner ingredient list.

The Ten Best Sports Drinks for You to Try

With so many Sports Drinks in the market, it can be tough to know which one to choose. Here are our top ten recommended Sports Drinks for you to try as part of your post-workout recovery.

  1. Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Given that Gatorade is the original Sports Drink, a lot can be said for its taste, availability, and overall role in providing just what your body needs. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute continues to invest in research and innovation, helping to ensure that their products maintain the hydration benefits that athletes seek. Despite being the original, most Gatorade products, including this one contain artificial food dyes, ruling it out for anyone looking to follow a clean lifestyle.

  1. Gatorade Zero Thirst Quencher

New to the market in 2018, Gatorade Zero Thirst Quencher is for athletes that prefer a low-sugar, low-calorie alternative to traditional sports drinks. Gatorade Zero has comparable electrolytes and hydration benefits as the original Gatorade Thirst Quencher, but has no sugar and just 1-2 grams of carbohydrate, depending on the flavor. A downside: the ingredient list includes the artificial food dye yellow #6 and the artificial sweetener sucralose.

  1. DayLyte

Looking to replenish electrolytes without all the added ingredients found in typical sports drinks? Then an electrolyte concentrate, like DayLyte, is your best bet. DayLyte has zero calories, zero carbs, zero sugar and is non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free. DayLyte also has at least 50 percent less sodium than the other options on this list, making it a good choice for anyone who is sodium-sensitive. DayLyte also provides 65 grams magnesium, which plays an important role in regulating muscle contractions and hundreds of essential cellular reactions. Because DayLyte is calorie-free an carb-free, it’s also a good option for anyone following a Ketogenic Diet.

  1. Accelerade

Accelerade has a patented 4:1 ratio of carbs and protein that helps to fuel muscle cells and improve rehydration. Accelerade claims to increase endurance by 295%, decrease muscle damage by 83%, increase rehydration by 15%, and increase endurance in a subsequent workout by 40%. This product does contain dairy, in the form of whey protein, so should be avoided by anyone with dairy allergies.

  1. Cytomax

Cytomax markets itself as an elite product for elite athletes, especially endurance athletes like marathon runners, cyclists and triathletes. Cytomax provides 22 grams of carbohydrates from multiple sources, which utilizes the body’s ability to transport and deliver energy through unique pathways. In addition to sodium and potassium, it provides 14 mg of magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism. It’s sweetened with stevia.

  1. Vitaminwater Active

Vitaminwater Active combines reverse osmosis water and coconut water for a Sports Drink that’s sweetened naturally. In addition to offering 230 mg of sodium and 70 mg of potassium, it provides Vitamins C and E, which have antioxidant properties, as well as 100% of the Daily value for Vitamins B5, B6 and B12. Unlike Gatorade, Vitaminwater Active is colored naturally using vegetable extracts.

  1. Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier

Liquid I.V. claims to hydrate 2-3 times faster and more efficiently than water alone. The Hydration Multiplier is a non-GMO electrolyte drink mix that uses a proprietary Cellular Transport Technology to deliver hydration to your bloodstream faster and more efficiently than water alone. If you need a massive boost to your electrolytes, Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier is the option for you, providing a whopping 500 mg of sodium and 370 mg of potassium. However, keep in mind that this more sodium than most of us need to replenish after an average workout.

  1. Nuun Performance

Nuun Performance powder is recommended for intense or long workouts as a way to help you stay hydrated. Because it’s in powder form, it’s easy to pack along with you and allows you to mix up the perfect amount for your hydration needs. In addition to providing 380 mg of sodium and 210 mg of potassium, this performance powder provides 20 mg of magnesium.

  1. Honest

New to the market, the makers of Honest Tea have recently entered the Sports Drink space with Honest Sport. Like most Sports Drinks, it’s designed to help people rehydrate and refuel with a balance of electrolytes and carbohydrates. However, unlike traditional Sports Drinks, Honest Sport is made with certified organic ingredients.

  1. Muscle Milk

Not your traditional Sports Drink, Muscle Milk is more of a ready-to-drink shake. It includes 5 grams of protein, derived from milk. Depending on the product, it may be calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, milk protein isolate, milk protein concentrate and/or whey protein concentrate. In addition to protein, this product provides the most potassium of any drink on the list, serving up 1000 mg.

Top Ten Sports Drinks: Comparison Chart

Sports Drink


Carbs (g)

Sugar (g)

Protein (g)

Sodium (mg)

Potassium (mg)

Gatorade Fierce Thirst Quencher







Gatorade Zero Thirst Quencher




























Vitaminwater Active







Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier







Nuun Performance







Honest Sport







Muscle Milk








  1. Brad R. Exercise and fluid replacement: brought to you by the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2013; 17(4).
  2. S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. Fluid and electrolyte balance. Accessed August 6, 2018.
  3. Sawka, MN, Burke, LM, Eichner, ER, et al. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2007; 39: 377-390.
  4. Manore, M, Barr, SI, and Butterfield, GE. Position of the American Dietetics Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the American Dietetics Association. 2000; 100:1543-1556. 
  5. Espino-González E, Muños-Daw M, Candia-Lujan R. Effects of ingesting carbohydrate-protein supplements during exercise on endurance performance: a systematic review. Nutr Hosp. 2015; 32(5): 1926-35.
  6. Li L, Sun FH, Huang WY, Wong SH. Effects of whey protein in carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks on post-exercise rehydration. Eur J Sports Sci. 2018; 18(5): 685-694.
  7. Moore DR, Camera DM, Areta JL, Hawley JA. Beyond muscle hypertrophy: why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014; 39(9): 987-97.

Laura Hoover, MPH, RDN

Laura Hoover is a registered dietitian nutritionist, writer, and speaker. Laura has appeared on WGN Chicago, FOX Chicago and WCIU Chicago, and her work has been featured by The Washington Post, Shape, Working Mother, Red Tricycle, and other major media outlets.


Laura is the author of Mom’s Sugar Solution (Adams Media 2018) and founder of Smart Eating for Kids, both of which feature simple recipes and strategies to empower and enable busy, health-conscious families.


Laura received her Master’s in Public Health, focusing on Human Nutrition from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She completed her dietetic training at the University of Michigan Medical System and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.