Rethink Your Sports Drink

Typical sweat loss for those engaging in low-intensity activity for about 30 minutes is up to 0.5 liter (about 2 cups of fluid).  For those participating in higher-intensity activity for more than 1 hour, losses can range from 0.5 to 1.5 liters (2 to 6 cups of fluid).

Fluid replacement before, during, and after exercise is crucial in preventing dehydration. Sweat loss includes more than just water-electrolytes are important in regulating fluid balance. These electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are also lost during exercise.

However, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, there is little evidence to support consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink over plain old water during exercise lasting less than 1 hour. In fact, this can be counterproductive if you are trying to lose weight, as these sports drinks may contribute unnecessary calories.

For those exercising longer than 1 hour, electrolytes found in sports drinks can help replace those lost in sweat.  However, not all are created equal.

Here’s the scoop on the makeup of some popular sports drinks:


Known for its vitamin boost, this drink also contains  7 teaspoons of sugar per bottle and does not contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium—all key electrolytes lost in sweat.

Nutrition Info:

(20-ounce bottle, “Energy” tropical citrus flavor):

  • 120 calories,
  • 32g sugar,
  • 0 milligrams sodium
  • 0 milligrams potassium
  • 0 milligrams  magnesium
  • 0 milligrams calcium


Commonly sold in stores in both 20 and 32-ounce bottles, this drink can contain as many as 200 calories and 50g of sugar— beware if you drink the entire 32-ounce bottle that’s ¼ cup of sugar!

Nutrition Info

(20-ounce bottle, assort. flavor):

  • 125 calories
  • 35g sugar
  • 250 milligrams sodium
  • 30 milligrams potassium
  • 0 milligrams magnesium
  • 0 milligrams calcium


One 14-ounce bottle contains more potassium than a medium banana! However, for athletes engaging in long periods of strenuous activity, more sodium than potassium is lost, which means Zico may come up a little short in sodium for heavy sweaters.

Nutrition Info (14-ounce bottle, natural flavor):

  • 70 calories
  • 15g sugar
  • 180 milligram sodium
  • 610 milligrams potassium
  • 35 milligrams magnesium
  • 25 milligrams calcium


The original Gatorade does contain high fructose corn syrup, but it also contains a balance of the electrolytes, sodium and potassium.

Nutrition Info (20-ounce bottle, assort. flavor):

  • 130 calories
  • 34g sugar
  • 270 milligrams sodium
  • 75 milligrams potassium
  • 0 milligrams magnesium
  • 6 milligrams calcium

Out of bottled sports drinks? Follow the simple recipe below to make your own.


Yield: about 1 liter


¼ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

3¾ cups water

3 tablespoons pineapple juice


1. Combine sugar, salt, and water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar and salt dissolve; remove the pan from heat.

2. Let the mixture come to room temperature, mix in juice, and pour into a container or bottle.

3. Refrigerate until cool.

Nutrition Info for 16-ounces (or 2 cups):

  • 110 calories
  • 28 g sugar
  • 290 milligrams sodium
  • 40 milligrams potassium
  • 3 milligrams calcium
  • 3 milligrams magnesium

Joanna Li is a dietetic intern at Massachusetts General Hospital. She grew up and attended college in NYC, making her a true city girl! As a huge foodie with a passion for nutrition and health, she is a strong believer that food can be both healthy AND delicious. You can find her hanging out at “must-try” places or searching the city for the best vanilla latte!

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Our Be Fit Nutritionists are comprised of dietetic interns studying at Massachusetts General Hospital. During their internship, they receive training on acute care nutrition, ambulatory and community nutrition, food service systems management, and research. Their comprehensive work is done in collaboration with registered dietitians.

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