Ever noticed that during sporting events or endurance competitions, athletes are sipping on brightly colored beverages?
Some of them even have that sports drink logo plastered around their wrists, forehead, socks, or towel. Why is that? What’s the deal with sports drinks?
Many people, especially athletes and fitness professionals, believe that sport drinks offer magical ingredients that help hydrate the body and improve both exercise and sports performances.
But other people believe that fitness drinks are just filled with glucose (sugar) and empty nutrients that don’t benefit the human body very much at all. So, who’s right?
Are sports beverages just a hoax? Or are they really worth the hype in delivering what the body needs when it undergoes intense exercise and physical activity?
And if they are beneficial, what are the best sports drinks?
To answer all of those questions, we first need to answer…
What are sports drinks?
Sports drinks are popular beverages among athletes, fitness professionals, gym-goers, and endurance competitors.
They come in a variety of formulas and flavors, and are often marketed to meet specific athletic needs.
Many sports drinks contain a combination of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and calories designed to rehydrate and fuel your body during and after intense exercise or physical activities.
In fact, scientific research shows that “Functional sports drinks play an important role in hydrating, in improving athletic performance, and in preventing or helping specific health conditions. Their formulas can be designed specifically to increase energy, improve mental focus, and/or to prevent bone and joint pain.”
But not all sports drinks are created equal. Some really do contain a whole lot of empty calories that do nothing for your body, let alone improve your athletic endurance or recovery.
This is why researching for the best, or even healthiest, sport drink is so important.
But given the fact that our body is made up of 70% water, why don’t we just stick to hydrating with good ol’ high-quality H2O?
Sports Drinks vs. Water
Yes, the majority of your body is water. And it uses that fluid to help regulate your body temperature, brain function, hormones, and it even helps to prevent your brain from colliding with your skull when you’re doing intense jumping exercises. Thanks, water!
Water is even found in your blood, sweat, tears, and urine. This means you're losing water throughout the day, especially if you’re working out, training, or actively competing.
So, it’s a no-brainer to only consume water instead of sports water drinks, right?
Well, it depends…
As it turns out, water isn’t the only thing you’re losing throughout the day, and when you exercise… you’re also losing a lot of electrolytes, vitamins, and essential minerals.
For those reasons, athletes need a little more than plain ol’ H2O. They need healthy sports drinks with electrolytes and added nutrients to help replenish what they’re losing through their sweat, breathing, etc.
If you’re just lounging on the couch, then a glass of water will do the trick in rehydrating your body. But athletes need a bit more nutrients when it comes to hydration.
What makes a good sports drink for hydration?
Sports drinks are designed for athletes who need to replenish the nutrients they lose when they engage in prolonged and intense physical activity.
We lose more than just water during exercise, especially when that exercise or training is prolonged and high-intensity because we sweat… a lot!
When we sweat, we lose a ton of electrolytes, primarily sodium followed by potassium.
Not having enough sodium can affect the overall function of your brain, causing headaches, confusion, and even nausea/vomiting. It’s a horrible feeling, and it can hinder your fitness and athletic performance.
Other vital electrolytes are lost in your sweat too—like calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate.
In fact, muscle cramps, also known as Charley horses, can be a result of dehydration and low levels of magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Experiencing a leg cramp during competition can throw you off your game and disrupt your overall performance. Not cool!
You’re even losing sugar through your sweat—which affects the function of your muscles and prevents fatigue. According to research, “Muscle glycogen, the predominant form of stored glucose in the body, and blood glucose are the main energy substrates for muscle contraction during exercise.”
This means… Sucrose, or sugar, is an ideal and essential substance for athletes, as it helps maintain and increase their muscle glycogen deposits during prolonged exercise or endurance performances.
Lastly, during intense physical activity, whether it’s interval training, sports conditioning, exercise, or endurance competitions, you're losing calories, which is actually another word for energy.
It’s unrealistic for athletes to take a 15-30 minute break during their competitions or sports games to eat a calorie-dense meal. That’s why they rely on nutrient-dense and calorie-dense, healthy isotonic drinks.
So, what does this all mean? Well, the best sport hydration drinks are actually isotonic drinks, which contain more than just water. They also contain the following:
- Water –– The main ingredient in healthy isotonic drinks is H2O, which not only helps hydrate the body, but it’s the number one ingredient used to promote the perfect water balance for athletic performances.
- Electrolytes –– These minerals are found in your blood and other bodily fluids. They carry an electric charge that affects the acidity of your blood, the amount of water found in your body, and your muscle and brain function. Sodium is the primary electrolyte found in healthy isotonic drinks, like Tailwind’s Nutrition Endurance Fuel sports drinks.
- Sucrose and Glucose –– Athletes need sucrose, which provides both glucose and fructose, to support proper muscle function.
Many sports nutrition drinks include dextrose, which is a simple sugar found in corn, fruits, and honey. It’s identical to glucose and can be quickly absorbed in the body and used as a quick source of energy. Tailwind’s Isotonic Endurance Fuel is considered by many as the best glucose sports drink.
Some of the top sports drinks use high fructose corn syrup, which can increase appetite and contribute to inflammation, diabetes, fatty liver, and high triglycerides. For those reasons, high fructose corn syrup drinks aren't ideal for athletes.
Other, newer sports drinks specialize in low sugar formulas and even stevia-infused elixirs. These aren’t bad options per se, but endurance athletes and fitness professionals need sucrose to prevent fatigue.
- Calories –– The weight loss industry has somewhat demonized the term calories. But the truth is, “calories” is just another word for energy. And we all need them to survive.
The more calories a food or sports drink has, the more energy it provides for endurance athletes and fitness junkies. Even the healthiest sports drinks, like Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel, use sucrose and glucose, which provide the body with a certain amount of energy-promoting calories.
If you’re purely focused on exercise and cutting back on your caloric intake, you can opt for low sugar sports drink powders or sports drinks with organic stevia leaf extract, which are known to be the best low-calorie sports drinks on the market right now.
Now, speaking of exercise and weight loss…
What is the best exercise drink?
Exercise and hydration go hand-in-hand, so of course, plain water should be your first hydrating option. But remember, intense workouts can have you sweating a lot, so consider an electrolyte sports drink. Specifically, one that contains sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Now, if your primary focus is to maintain or lose weight, then you’ll need to focus on more than just your water balance… You’ll need to consider your energy balance or caloric intake, as well.
Losing weight requires burning more calories than you consume in a day. For that reason, you may want to consider drinking a low-calorie sports water drink.
However, some studies have shown that consuming sports drinks with electrolytes and added calories during moderate to high-intensity exercise can still maintain a substantive caloric deficiency.
This means, not all low-calorie sports drinks are best for intense workouts and exercise routines. Sometimes you’ll need a good hydration sports drink that contains a perfect balance of calories, electrolytes, and adequate hydration if you want to maintain your energy throughout your workout, while not stressing your body out.
Organic coconut water is a great source of those three ingredients, but not everyone loves the taste of coconut. Thankfully, Tailwind Endurance Fuel mixes are praised for being the best-tasting sports drinks in the exercise industry. They offer various flavors and are packed with the nutrients needed to enhance even the most vigorous workouts.
So, if you’re looking for the best sports drinks to have during your workout, consider electrolyte-infused water, organic coconut water, or Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel.
What makes a good sports drink for recovery?
Muscle soreness is to be expected for any athlete, fitness junky, gym-goer, or endurance competitor. A great muscle recovery tip for when you engage in any physical activity is to hydrate. We can’t say it enough… The more adequately you hydrate, the better your body will function.
Hydration also contributes to a faster recovery time.
You see, recovery is key after intense workouts, strenuous conditioning, and high endurance competitions. That’s why sports drinks are recommended for hydration and recovery.
They help replenish essential nutrients you lose through your sweat, breathing, and urine. And they help rehydrate and recover tired muscles, joints, and bones.
But not all sports drinks contain the right recovery nutrients. If you’re drinking a sports drink that only contains sugar and electrolytes, then your muscles might take a little longer to recover and repair.
Believe it or not, protein is a key ingredient in exercise and recovery. And here’s what researchers say have to say about it:
“Dietary protein is required to promote growth, repair damaged cells and tissue, synthesize hormones, and for a variety of metabolic activities… There is a significant body of evidence to indicate that individuals who are engaged in intense training require more dietary protein than sedentary counterparts…
Recent evidence indicates that ingesting protein and/or amino acids prior to, during, and/or following exercise can enhance recovery, immune function, and growth and maintenance of lean body mass. Consequently, protein and amino acid supplements can serve as a convenient way to ensure a timely and/or adequate intake for athletes.
Finally, adequate intake and appropriate timing of protein ingestion has been shown to be beneficial in multiple exercise modes, including endurance, anaerobic, and strength exercise.”
Another key ingredient used for repairing and recovering your muscles is carbohydrates. That’s right, carbs are essential for the recovery process in athletes.
Now, we know you’re well aware that hydration is the most important factor in both endurance and recovery. So, it’s not a coincidence that carbohydrates contain the word “hydrate” in it.
Carbs, which are made up of sugar molecules, help replenish your glycogen stores and provide your body with rich nutrients, energy, and hydration. After an intense workout, prolonged exercise, or a strenuous athletic performance, the body needs more energy and recovery than ever, and that’s where carbs really come into play. Essential fats are also very important for athletic recovery.
That said, look for healthy sports drinks with electrolytes, rich carbohydrates, complete proteins, essential fats, and high-quality H2O. Tailwind’s Recovery Mix is packed with each of these key ingredients and more. They’re designed to get you back on your feet and into your endurance zone faster and stronger than ever before.
Sports drinks benefits backed by science
We already know that functional sports drinks, like healthy isotonic drinks, play a huge and important role in hydrating the body, especially for athletes.
They help restore electrolytes, carbohydrates, and other important nutrients which can be lost in our sweat during intense workouts, prolonged exercise, and endurance competitions.
But that’s not all… intermittent activities like football, basketball, soccer, and rugby alternate between intense physical exercise and rest.
According to research, consuming healthy sports drinks with electrolytes and added carbs not only helps to reduce fatigue but also significantly increases sports performance in both soccer and rugby athletes.
Another study found that sports drinks improved cyclists’ performance by over 2%. While the results of this study aren't as strong as the results found in intermittent sports, this study does show that sports drinks can be healthy for athletes to consume before, during, and after their performance.
Now, there are several other studies that have explored sports drinks and their effects on better athletic performance, and most of them have shown that the average sports drink promotes better overall performance—especially sports drinks that contain carbs.
This is because carbohydrates help to slow the speed at which your body actually runs out of its own stored carbs/energy both during and before you engage in athletic activity. And as luck would have it, many of the healthiest sports drinks contain beneficial carbs that increase your athletic energy.
That said, research shows that 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour might help to improve both exercise and intense physical activity, especially if you're exercising or conditioning for more than 30 - 75 minutes. For exercise sessions lasting 2 hours or more, it’s best to consume more carbs… Roughly 60 grams per hour.
Keep in mind that these recommendations should only be applied for prolonged physical activity without rest, like triathlons, long-distance running, cycling, etc.
Intermittent athletic activities that have rests in between, like weight training and even football, may need to adjust the number of grams they consume per hour. However, it’s important to note that each person is biologically built differently, so what works for one person may not work for another person, regardless of their athletic activity.
What is the best sports drink?
The clear winner: Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel and Recovery Mix! There’s no contest.
Tailwind was started because one guy was tired of traditional sports drinks that hijacked his energy. He needed a nutritional sports beverage that was easy on his digestive system, balanced his electrolytes and hydration, tasted delicious, and most of all, maintained his energy levels.
After studying sports nutrition and learning everything he could on how the body processes fuel, Tailwind was officially born.
Today, Tailwind is the drink of choice for hardcore endurance athletes, fitness professionals, and gym-goers.
And the best part… Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel and Recovery Mix tastes amazing! They come in several mouth-watering flavors, and they’re specifically and scientifically formulated to meet your body’s nutritional needs, especially during intense training, hardcore workouts, and strenuous athletic performances.
If you’ve been struggling with most sports drinks that claim they’re the healthiest and most hydrating, we encourage you to give Tailwind’s Endurance Fuel and Recovery Mix a try. They’re dedicated to helping their customers reach their goals, no matter how big or small. They’re cheering you on, every step of the way. Now, tell us, is there another sports drink that supports you like that?
You see, athletes created Tailwind, so they know the pain, energy, and determination it takes to meet their athletic and fitness goals. This means, they’re the perfect cheerleader to have in your corner.
So, what are you waiting for? Tailwind’s delicious sports drink powders are just one click away! Go on, check them out!
Now, we get it. Maybe you still have a few questions…
Common Hydration and Sports Drinks FAQs
Asking questions isn't a bad thing. It shows that you’re very inquisitive, and you do your due diligence. We love that about you!
So, we decided to jot down a few of the most common sport drink and hydration questions below. Take a few moments and give them a quick look…
Why is hydration important?
Proper hydration helps transport the nutrients your body needs for energy, strength, recovery, and overall health.
It helps regulate your body temperature, prevents infections, lubricates your joints, and maintains proper function of all your organs, especially your brain.
Staying hydrated also improves your quality of sleep, mood, cognition, and appetite.
Why is it important to stay hydrated during exercise?
Proper water balance—or hydration—during exercise and athletic activity greatly influences endurance performances, strength, and overall power. It also helps reduce heat exhaustion, stress, and the possibility of stroke.
Water is an essential nutrient in an athlete's diet. But they also need added electrolytes, carbohydrates, and other nutrients.
How to tell if you're dehydrated?
Dehydration simply means that your body just doesn’t have enough fluid to properly function—in which case you may experience the following symptoms:
- Feeling tired
- Dry skin and dry mouth
- Feeling thirsty
- Dark-colored urine
Headaches, confusion, fainting, lack of urination, rapid heartbeat, and breathing can be a result of severe dehydration which can be life-threatening.
Dehydration is due to sweating too much and not drinking enough fluid. But vomiting, fever, diarrhea, as well as urinating too much due to certain medications or illnesses, can cause dehydration as well.
Who benefits more from sports drinks?
Both sportsmen and sportswomen who engage in prolonged continuous exercise, training, conditioning, and endurance performances all can benefit greatly from sports drinks.
How do athletes lose water?
The most common way athletes lose their water is through their sweat. But they can also lose it through breathing and urinating. Sweating during athletic exercise and intense physical activities helps to cool your body down and return it to an optimal temperature.
But as you sweat, you lose more than just water… You lose electrolytes, energy, and other nutrients. This is why consuming sports drinks during exercise and other athletic activities helps to replenish those lost nutrients.
How do athletes become dehydrated?
When athletes engage in high-intensity conditioning, exercise, and sports performances, they lose a percentage of their body weight through their sweat. This means athletes can become dehydrated after a mere 1-2% of body mass loss.
This amount of loss can greatly affect their endurance and technical abilities, specifically their decision-making, memory, reaction, and attention.
How much fluid does an athlete need?
According to research, athletes are recommended to drink as much as 500 mL of fluid solution containing carbohydrates and electrolytes at least 1-2 hours before athletic events. They should also continue drinking cooler drinks in intervals to help replenish their fluids and cool down their bodies.
If they’re engaging in prolonged and intense athletic exercise and events that last longer than 1 hour, they’ll need to drink anywhere from 600-1,200 mL an hour.
Athletes, fitness professionals, and other endurance competitors shouldn’t wait until they're thirsty to rehydrate. They need to hydrate well before they begin to train, exercise, or compete in order to help maximize their endurance performance.
How do athletes stay hydrated?
Water should be an athlete's go-to for all their hydrating needs. But because they lose more than just water when they sweat, they’ll need to consume healthy sports drinks with electrolytes, carbohydrates, and other nutrients to replenish the nutrients those lost electrolytes.
What is the healthiest sports drink?
The healthiest sports drinks contain vital electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. They also contain sugars like dextrose and glucose to help provide the body with optimal carbohydrates for energy endurance, without including artificial sweeteners or artificial flavors. Tailwind offers some of the healthiest sports drinks in the athletic industry.
What is the best sports drink for recovery?
Tailwinds Recovery Mix is hands-down the best sports drink for recovery. It contains complex carbs, nutrient-rich proteins, and essential electrolytes. You simply mix the powder in a glass of high-quality H2O, and you’re set for athletic recovery.
What is the best sports drink for energy?
Tailwinds Endurance Fuel is perhaps the best sports drink for energy. It contains essential electrolytes, complex carbohydrates, calories, and proper hydration. They also offer caffeinated Endurance Fuel mixes that give the body a little more boost.
Healthy drinks for athletes
Water will always be the healthiest drink for athletes. But as you can see, sports drinks provide essential benefits for all types of athletes as well.
While most sports beverages are best for prolonged and high-intensity endurance workouts, training, and competitions, research shows that they can also be beneficial for exercise routines and intermittent sporting events. Because the truth is, all athletes need to stay hydrated.
Regardless of your sport of choice, we encourage you to choose a sports drink that contains a balanced formula of electrolytes, carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, and other high-quality ingredients. In the end, that’s what makes a sports drink truly the best!