Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sports Drink Review: A Comparison

Reposted from

In this article I’ll be reviewing and comparing some of the most popular sports drinks on the market including old favorites such as Accelerade, HEED and Perpetuem as well as some of the newcomers on the market such as Gu Electrolyte Brew and PowerBar Ironman Perform. I’ll also throw nuun into the mix as an ultra low-calorie sports drink option.

Why take a sports drink over just plain water?

Water has its place for certain workouts (30-60 min / low intensity); however, once you start cranking the intensity or duration you’re going to need something a little more “heavy duty.” Sports drinks include calories + electrolytes which are critical for endurance athletes. The electrolytes will help you in absorbing and retaining water (preventing dehydration and hyponatremia) while the calories will help you go the distance.

What about protein in sports drinks?
Research results are inconclusive; however, here are some general guidelines. Taking a protein-carb sports drink during a workout can reduce performance for that workout but may improve your ability to recover from that workout. In effect it starts the recovery process early but can sacrifice current workout performance. That being said, protein in sports drinks is probably a good option for training, but a bad option for racing. The one exception may the long course races (ultra-distance running and Iron-distance triathlon). Your best bet is to experiment and find what works for you.

Chocolate Milk?
While there is some research that shows chocolate milk can serve as a good recovery drink alternative, there is very little evidence to support that it works as a sports drink. It is low in electrolytes, has risk of spoilage, and doesn’t sit well with most athletes while exercising.

Sports Drink Comparison Table

Pros: Great taste, mixes well. Has protein to assist in recovery and endurance.
Cons: Low in electrolytes. Uses whey protein concentrate which is not as effective as the "whey protein isolate" variety.
Ideal For: Long endurance (3+ hr) workouts.

Pros: Low in sugar. Kosher certified. 80 serving tubs are a great value!
Cons: Stevia taste may turn off many athletes. Low in electrolytes
Ideal For: General purpose sports drink, those looking for low-sugar option. Lack of protein makes it ideal for racing.

Pros: A blend of carbs, protein, and fatty acids make this a great option for ultra endurance type events. Very high quality ingredients. Kosher Certified. Cafe Latte flavor is caffeinated.
Cons: An acquired taste. Tends to “spoil” if left unrefrigerated or if left in the heat for more than a few hours. Slow to be digested when compared to other options so it may not be a good option for most races*.
Ideal For: Long endurance (3+hr) workouts as long as it can be kept cold or in powder form.

Gu Electrolyte Brew
Pros: Light taste that goes down easy. Kosher. Blueberry Pomegranate flavor has 2x the electrolytes.
Cons: Doesn’t dissolve as easily. Tip: mix the powder initially in bit of warm water until it dissolves. Then pour in cold water whiel continuing to mix.
Ideal For: Racing. Take the Blueberry Pomegranate flavor if you’re susceptible to cramps or other effects of dehydration.

Pros: Low calorie option with lots of electrolytes. Tubes are amazingly convenient to carry—turn any water source into a sports drink. Kona Cola flavor is caffeinated.
Cons: Lack of carbs mean it’s not the best option for longer workouts or races. Some people may be turned off to the taste.
Ideal For: General purpose exercise / fitness or rehydration.

Ironman Perform
Pros: High sodium sports drink with great light taste.
Cons: Could use more potassium or other electrolytes.
Ideal For: Long distance workouts or races, especially where warm temperatures and high humidity conditions are expected.

Hopefully this comparison shows you there's no "one best sports drink". It largely depends upon the event or workout. Personally I like Gu Brew as my main sports drink for most races and workouts. I use nuun for most of my off season training or for shorter workouts. Ironman Perform appears to be a great option for it's namesake races and other hot weather / long course events. If you like the taste, I think the Hammer products are great choices as well though I am confused why they are light on electrolytes. I think Accelerade needs a "product update" to replace the cheaper whey-protein concentrate with whey protein isolate. Keep in mind that sports drinks with protein are not necessarily going to result in better performance, but may aid your ability to recover and take on tougher future workouts.

*If you’re competing in an ultra distance event or multi-day where a major concern is “will I finish” then this is a great option. It's hard to recommend it for other types of races and I haven't seen any published research on it. Each circumstance is different so please consult your coach for further guidance.

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