The right sports drink

One of the aspects of nutrition that we cyclists don’t give much thought to is hydration. We think that I’ll just drink water or buy a sports/energy drink for my ride. It’s just easy to run some tap water into a bike bottle or just purchase a sports drink during a store stop. I will admit that some sports drinks aren’t that bad but typically not the ones found at gas stations and the corner store.

In this article I am not going to try and write a dissertation on all aspects of hydration for endurance athletes. Instead I am going to share some practical tips and leave you with my sports drink recipe.

What to drink

It may have sounded like I was anti water above but that is not the case. Most of my off-season rides I only drink water. My off-season rides are only range between 1.0-3.5 hours per ride. On short 1.0-1.5 hour offseason rides I only drink, filtered tap water. During 2.0+ hour rides I will drink a sports drink. When the summer heat and humidity increase I will add electrolytes to my water and sports drinks.

What should a sports drink contain?

  • 2 or more easily digestible carbohydrates
  • Electrolytes
  • Water
  • NO High Fructose Corn Syrup (Can cause upset stomach)
    • Fructose from natural fruit juice is good!
  • NO Sugar Alcohols (Can cause upset stomach)

What are Electrolytes?

“An electrolyte is “any compound that, in solution or in molten form, conducts electricity and is decomposed (electrolyzed) by it. It is an ionizable substance in solution” (Medilexicon’s medical dictionary). “

Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells.(”


When to drink

I get asked this question often especially when it starts getting hot. The answer to this question is deceptively simple – ALL DAY! Hydration begins at the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. 2 liters of water a day.

How often to drink

In addition to daily hydration I will go through 24oz. of fluids per hour while riding. To consume 24oz. a fluid in an hour I simply take a sip off my bike bottle every 5 minutes. If you wait to drink until you are thirsty you are putting yourself at risk for dehydration.

Performance sucking dehydration

Dehydration is an abnormal loss of water from the body due to physical exertion or illness.

Symptoms of Dehydration Include

  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating may stop
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and lightheaded
  • Decreased urine output

In reading the above symptoms I think we can all agree that dehydration will be a detriment to our cycling performance. I want to point out one of the symptoms above and that is muscle cramps. It is widely believed that the cause of muscle cramps isn’t about fluid loss but the loss of electrolytes from sweating.

Dehydration Warning!

If you stop sweating and start getting chilled you are done! Get off the bike and consume fluids immediately. How else can you determine if you are dehydrated? The simplest way is to look at the color of your urine. If your urine is a very pale yellow to clear you are properly hydrated. If your urine is a darker yellow or even brown in color you are approaching dangerous levels of dehydration.

Popular Sports Drink Comparison


Not all sports drinks are created equal

The table above is not meant to be an all-encompassing view into the complete list of ingredients in each brand. I have actually tried every one of the above drinks and mixes. I have not found one solution that I like the most. Endurollytes, NUUN, Elixir and Electro Mix are technically just electrolyte solutions. Accelerade is a bit different from PERFORM, Powerade and Gatorade in that it contains protein. There were quite a few studies done where performance was improved in athletes that consumed a sports drink that contained protein and carbs. There is now some ongoing debate if this is actually true or not. I can tell you that I am not able to consume Accelerade when it’s hot as it is a bit to thick and sweet. However I did find that the extra protein did seem to help with muscle soreness during and after long and intense rides. I found away to get the benefits of protein by using an amino acid in my homemade sports drink recipe below.

Coach Rob’s Rocket Fuel

The past 2 season of riding I have either been consuming Hammer Nutrition’s Endurollytes or NUUN tabs in my sports bottle and I like both electrolyte solutions. I started looking for alternatives to the list of sports drinks above so I started researching and sought the help of a Sports Nutritionist. I spoke with Kelli Jennings from Apex Nutrition and we came up with the below recipe. It is different from Kelli’s own Home Brew Recipe. After some experimenting here is what I discovered that has worked well for me and those I coach.

In a 24oz sports bottle add water, ice, mix the following then shake until dissolved

1 – NUUN tab (Your Favorite Flavor)              < 8 calories

1 – Pinch of Sea Salt or Morton’s Lite Salt       0 calories

2 – TBSP Maltodextrin                                        < 96Calories                            

2 – TBSP Dextrose                                                 < 30 Calories

1 – TSP L-Glutamine (optional)                          0 Calories               

1 – TSP d-Ribose (optional)                                 12 Calories

Total Calories for 24 oz. Bike Bottle            < 226 Calories


What are the ingredients, what do they do and where do I get them?

NUUN tabs – “Nuun is a portable sports drink mix that contains the necessary electrolytes to keep you properly hydrated without all the sugars like most sports drinks.”

Sea Salt – “Tap water today has had most minerals and trace elements removed in an effort to purify our drinking water supplies. None of the electrolyte mixes or sports drinks had enough sodium for Kelli’s approach to balanced electrolyte consumption. Sea Salt and Morton’s Lite Sea salt not only add to the sodium count they replace the trace minerals we need that are missing from tap water and table salt. ”

Maltodextrin – “Maltodextrin, is an easily digestible complex carbohydrate derived from corn.  Maltodextrin contains “glucose polymers”, linked sugar compounds that are easier for the body to use.  Glucose polymers are metabolized at a slow, steady rate that can help to sustain energy during endurance training” (

Dextrose – “Dextrose, or glucose as it’s also known, is a monosaccharide that is less sweet than pure or refined cane sugar, and is not associated with fructose. It is derived entirely from corn, making it natural, effective, and easily utilized by the body. As a simple sugar, it is well-tolerated by most individuals, and can be consumed before, during and after the most intense training sessions.” (

L-Glutamine – “L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body. It accounts for more than 60% of the free amino acids in skeletal muscle and more than 20% of total circulating aminos. This means that glutamine is especially concentrated in muscle. During intense training, your body can lose up to 50% of its glutamine pool to stress and fatigue.  Glutamine may help reduce muscle breakdown (catabolism) and exercise-induced muscle soreness.” (

d-Ribose – “Ribose is a naturally occurring substance used by every cell in your body to synthesize and rebuild energy stores. Ribose is the most fundamental building block of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of energy for every muscle cell in your body.”  (

All of the above ingredients can be purchased at many health food and sporting goods stores or online sports supplement stores. With the exception of NUUN the above ingredients can be purchased in bulk to save money! I have tried NOW Foods and Nutra-Bio brands when purchasing the above ingredients.

The last tip I can give you is that to NEVER experiment with new foods or sports drinks the day of your big ride or race. Use your weekly training rides to experiment with new sports drinks or foods.

Until next article drink more water and Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob

2 Comments on “The right sports drink”

  1. Hello

    I have recently been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and am trying to keep it under control with diet and exercise to avoid the need for meds. I am a passionate cyclist so the exercise part is easy. What is not so easy is finding a sports drink as I am on a complete sugar ban which, of course, includes glucose. Any suggestions on what to drink (or eat for that matter) when out on a long ride (2 hours +)? At the moment I am drinking fruit juice diluted 50:50

  2. Hi Tony,

    I am sorry but I have Zero experience working with athletes that have strict Diabetic diets.

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