Many studies support the performance benefits of sports drinks, and while they do offer the benefit of enhanced fluid absorption and energy delivery during exercise, it is only in a specific context that they should be considered necessary.

For example, during recreational exercise like a gym workout, five-a-side soccer, walking or light jogging, water is more than sufficient.

Even though electrolytes are important for recovery and rehydration, if you are consuming food shortly afterwards, plain water and the electrolytes naturally present in food are adequate to support rehydration.

A key consideration is that many people use recreational exercise with the intention to reduce body fat. Consuming a sports drink during exercise will limit your body’s ability to use fat as a source of energy, and only serves to restore calories that you burn.

In terms of general health, daily intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages (which sports drinks are) have been implicated in weight gain and ill-health, and although the jury is still out on that one, it is certainly something that needs further attention.

Similarly, considering many other lifestyle-related diseases have been linked to the overconsumption of added sugars, sports drinks are another culprit that should be avoided.


In the vast majority of cases, only athletes or those completing high volumes of labour-intensive work should justifiably consume a sports drink. If, for some reason, you are exercising in extreme environmental conditions like high temperatures or high humidity for prolonged periods, then an electrolyte drink with some added sugar is advisable.

Athletes who regularly complete prolonged bouts of high-intensity exercise can benefit from a well-formulated sports drink with optimal levels of carbohydrate and electrolytes.

This is because athletes often complete exercise bouts resulting in depleted energy stores and significant fluid losses. Water alone does not provide the necessary electrolytes or energy to sustain prolonged (greater than one hour) high-intensity exercise.

Commercial sports drinks are all roughly equivalent in their formulations, and are designed to provide the ideal balance of fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes to facilitate a rapid transit time through the stomach and absorption through the small intestine into the blood during exercise.

For example, marathon runners can overcome fatigue resulting from depleted energy stores (muscle and liver carbohydrate stores known as ‘glycogen’) in the later stages of the race by regularly consuming a suitable sports drink.

But with all that said, it is during very specific periods that even elite athletes use and/or need sports drinks, and this is certainly not for every field or gym session.


If you are someone who exercises intensely on a regular basis, and feel that a sports drink can benefit you, as you might have guessed, i suggest making your own. All you need is water, table salt and fresh fruit juice or dilutable cordial.

Simply add about 300ml of fruit juice or cordial to 700ml of water and mix in an eighth of a teaspoon of salt (a couple of pinches). The juice will add a little sweetness and enhance the palatability of the fluid while also supplying a source of energy in the form of fructose, a fruit sugar. 

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