Which sports drinks are the best for runners?

It’s rare to see an ad for a sports drink that doesn’t show an athlete dripping sweat, exhausted, reaching for a sport drink.

Electrolytes lost during exercise needs to be replaced. If you are running for more than 60 minutes, then you should be replacing electrolytes during your run.

But one question I get a lot is, which sports drink is best for runners?

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Here’s my take on what makes a sports drink the winning one for you.

First, let’s make sure we’re working from a solid definition of what a sports drink is.

Sports drinks, like Gatorade, Tailwind, and Powerade are designed to be consumed during and/or after exercise to replace fluids lost due to sweating and breathing. They’re mostly water with a mixture of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

As we’ll soon discuss, though, they’re not all created equal.

It should be noted that sports drinks are not the same as energy drinks, and they’re not intended to improve performance. They are designed to give you high doses of caffeine to wake you up and snap you out of brain fog.

Energy drinks contain caffeine and other stimulants, like taurine and guarana, which provide zero nutritional value. You are better off avoiding them altogether. Energy drinks aren’t regulated by the FDA or any other governing body so there is no guarantee they even contain what they claim.

Sports drinks, on the other hand, can be helpful. Especially when used correctly and appropriately as part of your training.

But aren’t sport drinks loaded with sugar?

A lot of runners tend to skip sports drinks because they tend to be loaded with sugar. This is true but sports drinks contain various forms of sugar and these sugars are forms of carbohydrates that help fuel endurance activities. Not all sugars are the bad sugars we associate with foods like candy, etc.

So, now that we know what a sports drink is let’s look at our recommended brands:

My recommended sport drinks for runners

From all the variety of the products, here are the three sports drinks that I have personally used to support proper hydration and performance during my training. While Tailwind is my current go-to, Gatorade endurance and BodyArmor are great alternatives. I used Gatorade endurance for years.

Tailwind Nutrition caffeinated endurance fuel

Tailwind is my personal go-to sports drink for endurance running and what I recommend to my coaching clients who struggle with GI distress, or simply haven’t picked a brand to start with.

I like the taste of Tailwind and it doesn’t leave that gritty feeling on my teeth like some drink mixes do that don’t mix as well. The flavors are great, with Tropical flavor being my favorite. Orange is good, but I try to avoid that flavor since so many races use orange or lemon-lime flavors and I need something different.

Tailwind has a simple yet effective formula to meet your hydration and electrolyte needs. It has a non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan-friendly formula without artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Also, it contains caffeine, which can give you an extra boost of energy when you need that mental focus.

I buy both the bulk bags which I use when I mix at home, and the individual packets when I mix on the run.

Run Coach Recommended
Tailwind Nutrition Grab-and-Go Caffeinated Endurance Fuel

This is my personal go-to sports drink for myself and the one I recommend to my coaching clients.

  • Provides energy, calories, and hydration: This drink mixes easily and provides a combination of simple carbohydrates (dextrose and sucrose) for quick energy, electrolytes to replenish what you lose through sweat, and water to keep you hydrated.
  • Easy to use and portable: The single-serving packets are lightweight and convenient for carrying on runs, bike rides, hikes, or any other athletic activity.
  • Gentle on the stomach: Many users find that Tailwind is easier to digest than other sports drinks or gels, which can cause stomach upset.
  • Clean taste: The raspberry buzz flavor is described as light and refreshing, with no artificial flavors or aftertaste.
  • No dyes or preservatives: The ingredients list is simple and natural, appealing to health-conscious consumers.
  • Gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free: Suitable for people with dietary restrictions.
  • Dissolves easily: No residue left in your hydration pack makes cleaning simple.
  • Price: It is a more expensive option than some other sports drinks.
  • Caffeine content: Each serving contains 35mg of caffeine, which may be too much for some people.
  • Not suitable for everyone: While generally well-tolerated, some individuals may still experience digestive issues or other side effects.
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BODYARMOR fruit punch sports drink

If you don’t have time for shaking and mixing, a ready-to-drink BODYARMOR Fruit Punch sports beverage is the best option for you. You just have to open the bottle and fuel yourself with a mix of coconut water, vitamins, and potassium-rich electrolytes.

BODYARMOR Fruit Punch Sports Drink contains no artificial flavors, sweeteners, and colors. This is my favorite drink to have readily available or when I am in a hurry and don’t feel like mixing anything. I keep several in my refrigerator and grab. I use these after most shorter runs if I sweated a lot, more than an on-the-run endurance drink.

Only downside is that I first purchased BodyArmor thinking it was mostly coconut water. I was disappointed that it contains less than 10% coconut water. Just something to be aware of as I thought the description was a little bit misleading. Then again, misleading claims are commonly found on most sports supplements as they are not FDA regulated.

Great for Grab and Go, Ready-Mixed
BODYARMOR Sports Drink Sports Beverage

This is my go-to after a shorter run, to replenish electrolytes. My favorite part of BodyArmor is the convenience of not have to mix it. While I prefer Tailwind for endurance runs, BodyArmor is great when you simply want a ready-to-drink post-run drink or when you can simply grab and go.

  • Electrolyte Replenishment: BODYARMOR contains electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, which help replenish electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. This can help prevent muscle cramps and fatigue.
  • Carbohydrates for Energy: BODYARMOR contains carbohydrates, which provide the body with energy during exercise. This is especially important for endurance athletes.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: BODYARMOR is fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B3, B6, and B12, which help support energy metabolism and overall health.
  • Natural Flavors: BODYARMOR uses natural flavors and colors, which some consumers prefer over artificial ingredients.
  • Gluten-Free and Soy-Free: BODYARMOR is suitable for people with dietary restrictions.
  • Taste Options: BODYARMOR comes in a variety of flavors, including fruit punch.
  • Convenient Packaging: BODYARMOR comes in single-serving bottles and larger sizes, making it convenient for on-the-go hydration.
  • Sugar Content: BODYARMOR contains a significant amount of sugar, with 26 grams per 16-ounce serving. This can be a concern for people who are watching their sugar intake.
  • Calories: BODYARMOR contains 70 calories per 16-ounce serving.
  • Coconut Water Content: While advertised as a natural source of electrolytes, the actual amount of coconut water in BODYARMOR is only 10%.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: The LYTE versions of BODYARMOR contain sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which some people prefer to avoid.
  • Price: BODYARMOR is generally more expensive than other sports drinks.
  • Potential for Stomach Upset: Some people experience stomach upset after consuming BODYARMOR, especially if consumed in large quantities.
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Gatorade endurance formula powder

Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder is scientifically researched and tested by many athletes. It contains nearly 2x sodium, 3x potassium of traditional Gatorade, which makes it a perfect choice for marathon runners and anyone planning a longer training session.

Just like Tailwind and BODYARMOR, Gatorade Endurance Formula doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners and flavors that could cause stomach issues. 

I, personally have not noticed much of a difference between the endurance formula version of Gatorade and their regular (non-G2) version. By the way, avoid Gatorade G2 if you are looking for a carbohydrate replacement drink. G2 is an electrolyte replacement, not a carbohydrate replacement drink. Regular Gatorade is carb-replacing.

Endurance formula Gatorade has added electrolytes. I recommend it for those who sweat heavily or those who have traditionally had to rely on salt tablets for extra sodium. This has extra sodium built in.

Best for extra electrolytes
Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder
  • Replenishes Electrolytes: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder contains a blend of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are essential for maintaining fluid balance and muscle function during exercise. This can help prevent muscle cramps and fatigue, especially during long-duration or high-intensity workouts.
  • Provides Carbohydrates for Energy: The powder contains carbohydrates in the form of maltodextrin and sucrose, which provide readily available energy for working muscles. This can help improve performance and endurance.
  • Promotes Hydration: The powder is designed to be mixed with water, which helps to replenish fluids lost through sweat and maintain hydration during exercise.
  • Customizable: You can adjust the amount of powder and water to customize the concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates to your individual needs and preferences.
  • Portable and Convenient: The powder comes in individual packets, making it easy to carry and mix with water on th
  • High Sugar Content: The powder contains a significant amount of sugar, with 30 grams per serving. This can be a concern for people who are watching their sugar intake or have diabetes.
  • Artificial Ingredients: The powder contains artificial flavors and sweeteners, which some people prefer to avoid.
  • Not as Refreshing as Other Drinks: Some people find the taste of the powder to be less refreshing than other sports drinks or plain water.
  • Can Cause Stomach Upset: Some people experience stomach upset after consuming Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder, especially if consumed in large quantities.
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A comparison table showing the main ingredients of the Gatorade Endurance Formula, Tailwind Nutrition Caffeinated Endurance Fuel, and BODYARMOR Fruit Punch Sports Drink.

Sports drinks don’t improve performance, but…

…they do help prevent the degradation of performance that occurs from running out of carbohydrates and from dehydration.

Just a 2-3% level of dehydration can cause up to a 10% degradation of performance so these beverages can help you maintain the level of performance you’ve achieved through training.

Sports drinks contain electrolytes that help replace those lost during heavy sweating. Electrolytes are important because your cells use them to carry electrical impulses, like nerve impulses and muscle contractions.

Your body works extremely hard to keep these electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant, despite changes in your body. During a marathon event or marathon training run, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium.

These electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte balance in your body consistent. To aid in this process, many sports drinks have sodium chloride or potassium chloride added to them. If you only drink water, you dilute your sodium and potassium levels instead of replacing lost electrolytes.

So, it’s not a matter of a brand of sports drink that is better, it comes down to the ratio of water: carbs that help runners the most.

Arm yourself with this information to find the sports drink that’s just right for your body and your performance goals. Try them out and adjust as necessary — it’s that simple!

There are a lot of drinks, pills, chews on the market designed to help runners stay hydrated and boost their performance. Nowadays, you can find options for daily training and hydration, for long runs and marathons, for maintaining fluid balance in hot and humid conditions, for sensitive stomachs, and for faster recovery.

Do sports drinks cause weight gain?

These beverages are intended to aid you when you’re expending energy, not when you’re lounging on a lazy Sunday. They’re a sneaky source of hidden calories for some runners, which could lead to weight gain because the very sugar that aids your muscles while you’re running is the same that converts to extra pounds if you’re not careful.

But don’t worry; as long as you use them the way they’re intended — as part of your fueling routine when you’re training — you should be fine.

Look for a mix of 5-8% carbs

Olympic athletes and marathon runners often have their own custom sports drink to best match their performance needs. For the rest of us, a drink with a 5-8% ratio of carbs.

Studies show that a 5-8% mix of carbohydrates, in addition to electrolytes and water is an optimal ratio for athletes. It has been shown to be the most tolerable on your digestive system and designed to be absorbed by your stomach the fastest.

Whatever brand and flavor you choose, do the math to make sure it checks out!

Is one brand of sports drink better than another?

Some taste better than others and some absorb quicker than others. It mostly comes down to what you prefer and how they make you feel.

When it comes to selecting a brand of sports drink, go with your instincts. Gatorade isn’t necessarily better than Powerade, or Accelerade, etc., They just have different ratios of ingredients and flavors.

Once you know which formula works best for you, you’re golden.

Pay close attention to the way your body digests sports drinks

Try a few brands until you know how your body will tolerate it. The last thing you want is to be 10 miles away from home looking for a bathroom because you tried a new brand and it tore your stomach up. Try a new flavor or brand of drink on an easy day first!

Make sure the carbs are in there

Carbohydrates get converted into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the “currency” your muscles use to perform. Diet sports drinks — like G2, Gatorade’s answer to a lower-calorie sports drink — don’t have the carbs you need for long training runs. Those will work for fluid and electrolyte replacement, but not as a fuel source. It’s best to have the trifecta of water, electrolytes, and carbs for peak performance.

The carbohydrates in these beverages are very important; don’t get caught up worrying about the sugar content — as long as you’re using it, you need it!

Find out which brand your race provides and train with it

It’s ideal to get your body primed with the exact type of fuel you’ll be using the day of the race, but even if you do your research, just remember that things might not go as planned on race day.

Volunteers trying to keep up with high demand might end up mixing the drinks inconsistently, resulting in stronger or weaker mixes than you used in training.

Balance out your overall consumption by following your sports drink with more or less water, according to whether you think it’s weaker or stronger. Check out more race day tips here.

Don’t believe marketing, believe science

The companies that manufacture these drinks spend billions in advertising to make you believe you need fancy pre-and post-workout supplements, beverages, and so on. The nutrition and supplement industry is full of marketers and crap products. Sticking with the choices in this article will help as they have all been tested and are readily available.

All you need is a convenient way to deliver electrolytes and carbs to your body, and these can also come in the form of other types of foods. Examples include pretzels, Clif bars, bananas, gels, sport beans, etc. There is a multitude of sources that are a lot cheaper and more available than many of the products being marketed to you.

Get to know what your body likes and use what is convenient.