At some point you may have asked yourself, “Should I be drinking sports drinks when I exercise?” If you listen to commercial ads, you might think the answer is yes. Ads tell us we should all be drinking sports drinks no matter how much (or little) we exercise. That is not the full story.
Water is the main ingredient in sports drinks, but they contain other ingredients including electrolytes, (usually sodium, potassium, and a few others), some type of sugar or artificial sweetener, and coloring and flavoring additives. Examples include Accelerade, Gatorade, and Powerade.
Did you know that a regular 20 oz sports drink contains more than half of the maximum recommended added sugar for a whole day? (For instance, there are 9 teaspoons of sugar in a 20 oz. bottle of one leading brand. That means you are drinking 135 calories of added sugar in a single bottle.) And as for electrolytes, you consume plenty of electrolytes in food. Your pre-exercise meal provides more electrolytes than you’d get by drinking a sports drink.
When you might benefit from a sports drink is when you’ve engaged in exercise of vigorous intensity for more than one hour, especially if sweating heavily. (Think running for a solid hour plus.) For those times, you can save a considerable amount of money by making your own homemade version. You may even feel better about what you and your family members are drinking!
Homemade Sports Drink 
Makes 4 servings
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup hot water
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 ½ cups cold water
- In the bottom of the pitcher, dissolve the sugar, salt, and hot water.
- Add the remaining juices and add water.
- Chill in the refrigerator before your next sporting event or physical activity!
What do you need to remember about using sports drinks?
- Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity.
- Don’t use sports drinks to replace water or low-fat milk during meals or snacks.
- Of greater importance than sports drinks for athletes of any age, but especially youth is to eat a balanced diet, snack as needed, and drink adequate water to best enhance physical and mental performance. 
Written by Darci Bell, RDN, LD and Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD
Original photo source: runner