Wellness Wednesday: The Benefits of Sports Drinks and What Constitutes An Effective One


Wellness Wednesday: The Benefits of Sports Drinks and What Constitutes An Effective One

Sports drinks have been around for several decades. However, in the past five years, what constitutes a sports drink has gotten cloudy with social media and misleading advertising.


If you are 1% dehydrated, performance can decline up to 12%!

  • Reduces speed and recovery
  • Decreases concentration and focus
  • Increases susceptibility to injuries
  • Accelerates fatigue
  • Promotes muscle breakdown
  • Promotes storage of fat
  • Decreases absorption of nutrients and removal of toxins
  • Enhances the possibility of muscle cramps during activity


Sports drinks were designed to be consumed around activity. They must have at least three essential ingredients in the right amounts to qualify:

  • Fluids
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sodium


Water is the main fluid used as the foundation for a sports drink. Some brands add additional fluids such as coconut or juice.


Carbohydrates are an essential ingredient in sports drinks, as they provide energy to athletes during exercise. The breakdown of carbohydrates in sports drinks typically involves a combination of simple and complex sugars, such as glucose, fructose and maltodextrin within 6-8 percentage range for optimal absorption. On average, sports drinks contain around 50-80 calories per 8-ounce serving.


Many people believe that potassium, magnesium and calcium are the main electrolytes for optimal hydration, but they are wrong. Sodium is the electrolyte that is essential. Sodium helps bring the fluid into the muscle cell versus getting urinated out by the kidneys. Athletes can lose from 200 mg up to 2,000 mg of sodium per pound of sweat versus ~30-150 mg of potassium per pound. Magnesium and calcium losses are negligible through sweat.


Always look at the food label first to make sure the product is meeting the hydration goal for activity.

One product promoting optimal hydration contains ONLY 5 mg of sodium, 10 calories and sucralose and acesulfame (non-nutritive sweeteners) as additional ingredients.

Another contains 353 mg of potassium and ONLY 20 mg of sodium per 8 oz.

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You’ll need:

  • Sports drink of choice
  • Ice tray
  • Blender


  • Pour some of the sports drink in an ice tray and freeze it for a few hours. Don’t use the whole bottle to fill up the ice tray, as you’ll need some of the liquid when you are blending.
  • Once frozen, take the ice cubes and place them in the blender.
  • You can also add a small amount of leftover sports drink to help with the consistency of the slushy.
  • Blend all the ice cubes and sports drink together, and after a couple of seconds, you will have a perfectly-made sports drink slushy.

Slushy Variations

  • Add a slight touch of frozen fruit: tart cherries, pineapple, mango, berries
  • Add a squeeze of lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit

If you have a high-end blender, then you can skip the ice trays. Just pour the liquid in with ice and blend. Add more ice as needed to create the slush consistency.

* * *


When sports performance is the goal, it is important to have a product that meets the end objective.

Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a registered/licensed dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition and founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has been working with swimmers for over 25 years and has launched a sports nutrition academy for athletes. In addition, she is an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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