Updated: Sep 20, 2021
How to make your own sports nutrition drink
We know that dehydration may negatively affect our health (causing cardiovascular stress, increasing body temperature) and impair performances. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are well hydrated before starting exercising as well as drinking during exercise and the recovery phase. Training duration, environmental temperature and humidity, body size and fitness levels are all factors that affect an individual's sweating response - the fluid lost during exercise can be up to 2 litres per hour. It is advised to drink during exercise, especially during prolonged high-intensity training, however, try to not overdrink - it is advised to drink to the point at which you are not gaining weight. Ideally, you can weigh yourself before and after training to check how much fluid you lose while exercising. A weight loss of 1 kg represents a fluid loss of 1 litre. We also have a helpful guide on recovery nutrition which can help you repair and recover faster.
There are lots of sports drinks on the supermarkets’ shelves, and they are often quite costly. It might also be hard understanding what you really need, so we thought we would create this guide on sports drinks and recipes for you to try to make your own sports drink.
First of all, what are sports drinks?
There are two types of sports drink available on the market: Fluid replacement drinks and energy drinks (carbohydrate drinks).
Hydration drinks (hypotonic and isotonic)
Fluid replacement drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates diluted in a solution. Their purpose, thanks to the electrolyte content, is to replace fluids faster than plain water. However, the sugars will also increase blood sugar levels and this will spare glycogen stores. You can find two options: hypotonic and isotonic drinks. The difference is that a hypotonic drink has less carbohydrate and electrolytes per 100ml than your body’s fluid and, therefore, it is absorbed faster than plain water because it is more diluted. An isotonic drink is the typical “sports drink” and has an equivalent concentration of carbohydrate and electrolytes per 100ml. These drinks are usually the best choice in terms of rehydration and refuelling (because of its carbohydrate content).
Energy drinks usually contain more carbohydrates per 100ml than the drinks described above and are usually isotonic drinks - the drinks you make using powders can be either isotonic or hypotonic. Their purpose is to boost your energy levels, as they provide large amounts of carbohydrates, as well as fluids.
When should you choose sports drinks instead of water?
If your high-intensity training or performance lasts longer than 1 hours your body needs a quick fluid and fuel replacement. Consuming sports drinks containing around 40-80g sugar (carbohydrate) per litre during intense and prolonged workouts will help you rehydrate as well as enhance your performance, as dehydration and low blood sugar can lead to early fatigue. In addition, if you are a person with excessive salty sweat - you can notice this on your clothes after training - it is recommended to choose sports drinks with a little sodium content to replace the electrolytes lost through sweating. Finally, if you notice that you need to drink less than 1 litre of fluid during training or you are doing a low/moderate intensity physical activity for less than 1 hour, probably you don’t need a sports drink but just plain water.
In general, for high-intensity training that lasts 1-2 hours, it is recommended to consume up to 30g of carbohydrates per hour, as this will help you keep your blood sugars levels high and delay the onset of fatigue. If you train for 2-3 hours it is advisable an intake 60g of carbohydrates per hour.
Most of the sports drinks found on the market have a carbohydrates content of 40/80g per litre, therefore, drinking a standard 500ml bottle per hour will provide you with around 20/40g carbohydrates per hour.
Having said this, since sports drinks can be extremely expensive, if you think you need them, based on your activity level, you can definitely make your own sports drinks and save some money. Below, Francesca has shared some recipes taken from the Anita Bean book - choose the amount of sugar and type of sports drink (Isotonic or Hypotonic) based on the above recommendations.
DIY sports drinks
40-80 g sugar
1-litre warm water
¼ tsp salt (optional)
Sugar-free squash for flavouring (optional)
500 ml fruits squash
500 ml of water
¼ tsp salt
200 ml squash not low calorie
¼ tsp salt
20-40 g sugar
1-litre warm water
¼ tsp salt
Sugar-free squash for favouring (optional)
100 ml fruit squash
900 ml of water
¼ tsp salt
250 ml of fruit juice
750 ml of water
¼ tsp salt
You may wonder why you have to use fruit juice or fruit squash to create a sports drink. In general, fruit juices contain around 110 g of carbohydrate per litre - remember that sugar is a carbohydrate - and, therefore, we can describe them as hypertonic drinks. A hypertonic drink (i.e. cola or other soft drinks) is more concentrated than body fluids and not the best choice for fluid replacement. However, by diluting 1 part fruit juice with 1 part water you can easily create an isotonic drink, which is perfect for rehydration and also for fuelling your body during and/or after training.
Our advice is to create a hydration plan that suits you and helps you achieve your goals. Try and experiment with the concentration of sports drink that works well for you, but do not do this during an important competition.
Francesca is our sports nutritionist who used her sports nutrition expertise while she was a ballet dancer for most of her life. Francesca uses this unique insight to provide clients practical, insightful and lifestyle-driven nutritional advice in both Italian and English. She is a registered associate nutritionist with the AfN. Please visit contact us to request Francesca's expertise.
Bean, A., 2017. Complete guide to sports nutrition. [S.l.]: BLOOMSBURY SPORT.
Coyle, E. (2004), “Fluid and fuel intake during exercise”. J. Sports Sci., vol. 22, pp. 39-55.