How do popular drink options compare?

There are so many popular drink options marketed to improve sports performance. These drinks usually include ingredients like electrolytes, caffeine, protein or just plain water.

With so many on the market, which of these popular drink options are necessary when exercising and what purpose do they provide?

Popular drinks and their purpose

Drink Purpose Who is this necessary for?
Water-Hydration
-Assists in a range of body functions
-Everyone!
-Water should be the drink of choice for all.
Sports drinks-Hydration
-Provision of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes
-Recreational exercisers and the general population do not require sports drinks, as hydration needs can be met using water and carbohydrate needs can be met through food.
-Sports drinks may be useful for those that need to ingest both carbohydrates and fluids/electrolytes at the same time.
-Sports drinks are generally designed for use during exercise lasting greater than 90 minutes.
Caffeine-based drinks-When taken before or during exercise, caffeine can reduce perception of effort and/or fatigue
-Can have potential side effects – e.g. increased heart rate, gastrointestinal upset, sleep disturbances etc.
-Caffeine can be used to benefit performance through the reduction of effort and/or fatigue.
-However, recreational exercisers and the general population do not generally require caffeine-based drinks.
Protein-based drinks-Hydration
-Provision of protein
-Recreational exercisers and the general population do not require protein-based drinks or protein powders, as hydration needs can be met using water and protein needs can be met through food.
-However, protein-based drinks can be a convenient option for someone that struggles to get in protein-rich food post-exercise or has high energy requirements.

Related: What to eat and drink during exercise

For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

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