What is the Best Sports Drink for Athletes?

There are many different options on the market, and it may be overwhelming to pick the best sports drink. Many things need to be considered when you are picking out a sports drink, including fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, which are the main components of a sports drink. 

This blog will walk you through what to look for in electrolyte beverages, what you need, and my final opinion on different options that are available to help you decide what sports drink is best! 

What should I look for in a sports drink?

Sports drinks are found everywhere, and the market for them is growing. However, all sports drinks are not created equal. There are 3 things that you want in a sports drink: electrolytes, fluid, and carbohydrates. 

The highlighted items are what you want in your sports drink: carbs, electrolytes, and fluid


Electrolytes are ions found in the body that influence all of the chemical reactions that occur inside of us. The main electrolytes consist of sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These ions are found within the water of our bodies and they help to maintain fluid balance inside and outside our cells. 

We have an issue with not having enough electrolytes when we are heavily sweating, through urine, or sick. When you sweat, you lose more sodium and chloride (aka salt) than every other electrolyte, with only small amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium lost. Replacing electrolytes is very important when you are undergoing high-intensity training to make sure the balance of electrolytes remains intact. 

The amount of electrolytes that you need depends on how much you are sweating and what concentration of electrolytes you sweat out. This is different for everyone! However, if you are losing a significant amount of water weight during training (more than 2% of your body weight), including some type of electrolytes will ensure you are on the right track. This can be in the form of an electrolyte packet or a sports drink that we discuss below!


Electrolytes are great and all, but the main focus of your hydration as an athlete should be the water itself. Without water, electrolytes would have nothing to control, so it is important to make sure you are hydrating properly

Everyone’s hydration needs are different, but in sports drinks, there is a simple way to break it down. The amount of water in the sports drink matters! When we are looking at the differences in sports drinks, it usually comes down to the concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates in water. 


Carbohydrates are important to include in workouts that exceed an hour. This is because once the glucose (or sugar) in our blood begins to be used up, our bodies look for an extra push of energy, which a sports drink can give. The magic range of carbohydrates to fluids in a sports drink is 6-8%. Products like Gatorade and Gatorade Endurance have a 6% ratio of carbohydrates to fluid.

This percentage range is effective because there isn’t too much sugar that will clog up your stomach and make you experience symptoms like discomfort or nausea. However, it is enough to give you a push of sugar through your bloodstream to keep your workout going.  

Sports Drink Review

When deciding what to choose for a sports drink, the options are endless. I wanted to help you out and give you some ratings on different products and why they received the rating they did. No product is perfect but these ratings will show you what a drink has, and what is missing based on the components needed for a sports drink, carbohydrates, fluids, and electrolytes. 

Liquid IV

Sports Dietitian Grade: A

Liquid IV has grown rapidly on the market and can be bought almost anywhere! This powder has a makeup of carbohydrates and electrolytes. When mixed with 16 ounces of water, it is a good hydration drink! It is based on the WHO dehydration mixture, but it is a little lower on the glucose side. This formula is simply based on dehydration recovery, not to fuel a workout.

The Right Stuff

Sports Dietitian Grade: A

The Right Stuff is popular in the endurance world due to its small packaging, high sodium levels, and transportability. The Right Stuff contains a large amount of sodium (70% of daily needs) and not much else. This is ideal for athletes who are performing in events like Ironmans and marathons, or athletes who know they are at risk for increased sodium excretion. The Right Stuff is a sodium supplement as it does not include carbohydrates, but it can be useful in a period of long exercise where you will not be able to get in enough electrolytes to meet your needs or struggle with digesting carbohydrates. 

The Right Stuff is beneficial for helping prevent/release cramps in heavy sweaters but may be too much sodium for the casual athlete.


Sports Dietitian Grade: A-

Gatorade is an OG in the sports drink market and its success on the market is for good reason! Many athletes are scared to reach for it because “sugar is bad”, but it’s what you need and the proof is above! I give this drink an A because it has all the major components of a sports drink that you would need to be successful. They also have other options on the market that are available for different hydration needs!


Sports Dietitian Grade: B+

Powerade is another drink that has been around for ages, and the nutrition facts are very similar to Gatorade but their ingredients do differ. You may have a preference between the two when it comes to taste, but Powerade also includes ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup as its source of carbohydrates. This can be harder on an athlete’s stomach, so starting out using small amounts may be beneficial to see how your body reacts. 


Sports Dietitian Grade: B+

LMNT is a new formula of electrolytes that contains large amounts of sodium and no carbohydrates. This formula should be used in cases where severe dehydration is a risk, and it shouldn’t be used during exercise that lasts longer than an hour without a carbohydrate source also available. This formula is helpful in situations like long tournament days, where you are outdoors for most of the day and performing at a high level for multiple games. LMNT will prevent electrolyte imbalance, but without the proper hydration with it, its benefits won’t be fully available.


Sports Dietitian Grade: B+

Nuun gets a B+ because it has a good electrolyte combination, but it is missing the carbohydrate component to make a complete sports drink. This is a good thing to reach for when you are training for less than an hour in hot conditions where you may be sweating a lot.

Coconut Water

Sports Dietitian Grade: C

Coconut water is one that many athletes aren’t sure about because it isn’t super fancy, but it can provide you with some of the necessary components of a sports drink. Coconut water provides fluid and SOME carbohydrates. The main component missing from coconut water is the electrolytes, especially sodium. Coconut water is a natural source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium but it does not contain the most important electrolyte to replenish, sodium.  You can drink coconut water during training, but its sodium concentration may not be enough. 

Body Armor

Sports Dietitian Grade: C

Body Armor is a common grab from athletes, but is it the best? Body Armor includes coconut water with the carbohydrates that you would need during exercise. The thing it is missing is sodium. Body Armor has adequate amounts of potassium and other vitamins/minerals, but not enough sodium to replenish losses that may occur if you are sweating for a long duration. I would recommend pairing this drink during training with a salty meal post-workout. 

Prime Hydration

Sports Dietitian Grade: D

Prime Hydration is a sports drink on the market that really contains nothing but fluid. The low sodium content is not enough to replenish any losses that would be in sweat. Plus it has no sugar! It contains some electrolytes in potassium and magnesium, but those are minimally lost in sweat compared to sodium and chloride. The potassium is also not naturally occurring in the drink since it is only 10% coconut water! This beverage is basically flavored water, which isn’t great for performance. But it is a way to get in fluids if you like the taste.


So, what is the best sports drink? The answer depends on what you are looking for. 

There are three components that should be included in a sports drink: fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. All three of these play a role in exercise and are important to include when you are exercising for extended periods of time while sweating. Consuming sports drinks can decrease your risk of dehydration while also increasing energy during workouts (if carbohydrates are involved). 

There are so many different sports drinks/powders on the market and all of them are a little different from each other. In my review above, you can see that there is a time and place for different supplements depending on what you need as an athlete. Some only need electrolytes, while others need to include the easily digestible carbohydrates that are found in drinks like Gatorade or coconut water. 

Making a decision on what sports drink is right for you may take some experimentation with different types. Hydration, electrolytes, and other things are regularly discussed with my athletes in the Performance Fueling Club (PFC). PFC is an online sports nutrition coaching program that helps athletes with flexible on-demand content and live nutrition coaching with a sports dietitian. 

If you are looking for guidance on hydration, I encourage you to sign up today. We currently have open enrollment, and I would love to help support you in getting to your goals! 



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