The modern era of sports drinks can be confusing, intimidating and stressful. Just 15 to 20 years ago, we had only a few sports-drink options. Today, there are entire grocery-store aisles filled with them. There are boutique-style drinks, customizable drinks and caffeine-laden, sugar-saturated, starch-based, high- or low-carb drinks, and more.
The positive: With this variety, there's a better chance of finding one that works well for you. The negative: There's a lot of confusion among the expert claims, research and ingredients.
Remember that no matter what drink you choose, your nutrition needs and goals are the same.
When choosing your drink, be sure to avoid the five biggest sports drink mistakes. They are:
Mistake #1: Drinking Reactively
All too often, athletes drink after already becoming dehydrated, much too far into their workouts. Instead, drink proactively. Think of your fuel as what your body will use in the next 15 to 60 minutes, not just a source of replenishment (until you're done with your workout). If you're already in a hole and drinking to replenish, you'll train at less than your potential. The better you fuel, the better you can train and the better you will become.
Begin hydrating/fueling before your workout, and continue with small sips throughout—from the beginning of any workout lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes, depending on intensity.
Mistake #2: Diluting the Drink
An estimated 50 to 60 percent of athletes dilute their sports drink substantially. Why? Because many find the drink tastes too sweet, and it goes down easier when diluted. The issue? You're not just diluting the flavor, but also the needed carbohydrates and electrolytes. Although carbohydrates may reach adequate levels with other sources, athletes seldom consume enough electrolytes, especially sodium, with diluted drinks.
More: Electrolytes 101
If you can only get the drink down when diluted, first consider choosing another drink. There are many out there with lighter, less-sweet flavors. Secondly, add back in the sodium you're missing. Remember: Most serious athletes should strive for 400 or more milligrams of sodium per hour. One-half teaspoon (0.5 grams) of salt provides 200 milligrams sodium.