Hydration: Sports Drinks or Energy Drinks?

By Kary Woodruff

We are in the heat of the summer – pun intended – so hopefully we are focusing on our hydration. We have discussed important hydration tips in other blog posts, so now let’s address a common question I receive as a sport dietitian – which is better: sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) or energy drinks (Red Bull, Monster, etc.)?

Sports_Drink-v-Energy_Drink

There is a very clear answer to this question – sports drinks are significantly better for health and for performance. 

I understand the allure to energy drinks – they are promoted by popular athletes and promise amazing energy for sport. Yet the research does not back up such promises. Energy drinks have very little scientific evidence to support their claims, and may even work against an athlete’s performance goals. Energy drinks are full of chemicals and stimulants, they are poorly regulated and so do not always include what they claim they have, or have a lot more of what they claim they contain. There is believe that for developing athletes under the age of 18, there may even be some negative effects on health due to the high caffeine and stimulant content. Really, there is nothing good about energy drinks.

Sports drinks, on the other hand, do have extensive clinical research to back them up. They are a great source of fluids, carbohydrates in the correct concentration, and a good balance of electrolytes to help us hydrate in hot climates. We see that athletes actually drink more fluids overall when they drink sports drinks, versus water, which can improve performance as well. Overall, sports drinks can be a helpful component to an athlete achieving peak performance.

Of course, there is a time and a place to sport drink. Sitting on the couch watching TV does not warrant a bottle of Gatorade. But out on the playing field in hot, dry weather? Absolutely. So, why reach for something that may be harmful to performance, when you can reach for something proven to improve performance?

The question is yours to answer.