Most athletes know the importance of hydration when running.
Dehydration can have adverse effects on the brain and the body. Most runners drink water while they’re running to keep hydrated and healthy.
Many runners will also carry an electrolyte tablet, energy bar, or gel with them to help them over that last energy hurdle. But what if you could have both of those in one product?
You can. And, in fact, that product is really where the whole sports energy industry started: sports drinks. The best sports drinks for runners aren’t sugar-loaded energy drinks. Rather, like the original original (Gatorade), they focus on replacing electrolytes, which are arguably more important to performance. Most come as packets of powdered mix, balancing carbohydrates and electrolytes. Empty the contents into your water bottle wherever you are to give you some extra energy and replace lost electrolytes.
We chose Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel as our favorite sports drink for runners. It’s all-natural and easy on the stomach, 100 calories per serving, and has the option for caffeinated or not.
But there are many other great options out there to fit your taste buds and stomach. Read on to see our favorites…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
Huma Hydration Low-Calorie Drink Mix
Vega Sport Hydrator
Science in Sport Beta Fuel
1. Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
Tailwind sports drinks are great for replacing expended carbohydrates and electrolytes. They are made from all-natural ingredients and are vegan and gluten-free, as well as non-GMO.
Because they are made from natural ingredients, they’re easy on the stomach and most runners won’t have digestive issues after ingesting it. There are just 100 calories per scoop, including 25 grams of carbohydrates for an energy boost and a small amount of electrolytes, including 300 grams of sodium.
Tailwind states that with their drink, you won’t need any other nutrition requirements like gels or electrolyte tabs. We’ve found that it’s hard to drink Tailwind alone while on long runs. We often supplement with gels or real food. But it’s good to know this is an option.
Also, some people may find that the drink tastes salty, due to the sodium content. It’s important to drink a lot of plain water after drinking this as well, to balance out the electrolyte levels. Alternatively, use a weaker ratio of powder to water to customize it to taste.
- All-natural ingredients
- Can be used in place of gels
- Easy on the stomach
- Can choose between caffeinated or non-caffeinated
- Some may find that it tastes too salty and is not flavored enough
Top All Natural
2. Huma Hydration Low-Calorie Drink Mix
It’s essential to have a healthy sports drink, and not one loaded with sugar or low-quality ingredients. Huma Hydration Drink Mix is all-natural and has no artificial sweeteners, as well as being just 10 calories per serving.
There are no carbohydrates in this drink, but there’s a good blend of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals to replace what you lose when you sweat. It will help you feel better when you start to feel faint due to dehydration and electrolyte loss, but it is not designed to give you an energy boost.
The drink is sweetened with Stevia, and some people may find that it’s too sweet or that it causes digestive upset.
- 10 calories per serving
- Gluten-free and vegan
- Naturally sweetened
- Contains electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins
- This product uses Stevia and some people may find this makes the drink too sweet
Best Vegan and Gluten-free
3. Vega Sport Hydrator
If you’re a vegan, it can be hard to find suitable sports drinks. This drink is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and clear of any artificial flavorings or sweeteners. It’s even non-GMO Project certified.
It’s also an electrolyte drink more than an energy drink. There are just 5 calories per scoop, and you will get a blend of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. There’s also added vitamin C, which will give you a bit of an immune system boost, especially in the winter months.
Some people who have used this drink feel that recent changes have not improved the old recipe. If you’ve used it before, keep that in mind. If you’re new to it, you won’t know the difference.
- 5 calories per serving
- NSF Certified for Sport
- No artificial flavors or sweeteners
- Immune system support
- If you’ve used this product before you may not like the new formula
4. Science in Sport Beta Fuel
An isotonic supplement is one that’s in liquid form and is the same concentration as the human body is already. They are said to be easier to absorb.
This drink comes in just two fruity flavors and is made and flavored with natural sweeteners. It’s also pH-neutral and easy on the digestive system.
One sachet in 500ml of water gives you a whopping 80 grams of carbohydrates. It’s best for race days and long practice runs. Considering you’re going to be drinking water throughout your exercise anyway, it’s an easier alternative to gels and chews if you’ll be out for a long time.
If you mix it with more or less water than instructed, the solution will no longer be isotonic. It can still be used, but it won’t be as effective. It’s also quite high in calories, at 320 per serving. Consider it a fuel as much as a hydration aid.
- Informed Sport Certified
- Easy on the stomach
- Natural flavors and sweeteners
- pH-neutral, isotonic formula
- Some people may find that this doesn’t mix well and it may form clumps
- High in calories
Best Pre-Run Sports Drink
5. Nuun Hydration Prime
If you are looking for something you can drink before your workout to give you some energy, Nuun Hydration Prime is what we recommend. It only has 35 calories per serving, and it comes in both caffeinated and caffeine-free options so you don’t have to worry about getting the jitters.
This pre-workout drink is plant-based and suitable for everyone including vegans. Their ingredient list is all-natural and features BCAAs for optimal muscle recovery, adaptogens (natural herbs and prebiotic fiber which helps the digestive system to work smoothly), and electrolytes to get a head start on what you will lose during your workout.
It is Informed-Sport certified, which means there are no banned or illegal substances in it. One of the ways this pre-workout mix is effective is that it encourages water retention, which might sound bad. But it keeps you hydrated for longer.
- Informed-Sport Certified
- 35 calories per serving
- Vegan BCAAs
- Adaptogens included
- Some people may find that the aftertaste is slightly bitter due to natural herbs
Top Sports Drink with Protein
6. Pacific Health Accelerade
If you’re working on building muscle or hitting your protein count every day, getting a little bit of protein during your run may be convenient for you.
Accelerade doesn’t contain a lot of protein (5 grams), but it’s enough to be useful and help with recovery and repairing muscle fibers. Ingesting protein can also help even out your body’s absorption of carbs.
Each flavor has 21 grams of carbohydrates to give you an energy boost on the road or trail. You can use this sports drink before, during or after your exercise, depending on what suits you, because it increases hydration, improves endurance, and helps muscles to recover.
- Patented 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein
- Decreases muscle damage and speeds up recovery
- Can be used before, during and after an exercise session
- Some may find that the combination of vitamins, carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes may cause a metallic aftertaste
Best for Long Runs
7. GU Roctane Energy Drink Mix
You might have noticed at this point that some of our top options come from producers of gels. They are, in essence, gels in diluted form (or gels are drinks in concentrated form). Since GU Roctane is one of our favorite gels, it makes perfect sense for the drink version to also be an excellent option. If you’re the kind of runner who likes long runs, then this drink is for you. You’ll find 60 grams of carbohydrates in any given flavor, which will boost your endurance during a run.
There are also electrolytes, specifically sodium and potassium, to keep you feeling good. BCAAs also feature, helping to repair muscles and recover faster.
Most of the flavors do contain caffeine. The only one that doesn’t is grape. If you want a sports drink without caffeine, you might get bored drinking only one flavor of this one.
- Informed-Sport Certified
- Contains branched-chain amino acids
- Available with or without caffeine
- The non-caffeinated version is only available in grape flavor
Top Sodium & Glucose Sports Drink
8. Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix
For a quick boost to your energy, this sports drink will work. It is designed to deliver a fast dose of electrolytes and easy-to-absorb carbs. You will find that each serving of Skratch contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, of which 18 or 19 grams is sugar.
The drink is designed to give a quick boost, but some people may find that they end up with a sugar crash later on. The ingredients are quite good and apart from the sugar, there should be nothing that may cause a problem. Every flavor is gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO.
Good levels of iron, calcium, potassium, and sodium help the body recover and get back to its normal state.
- 100% natural, plant-based ingredients
- 80 calories per serving
- Easy on the stomach
- Non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free
- Some may find that it doesn’t dissolve fully and leaves particles at the bottom
Best Tasting Sports Drink
9. Clif Hydration Electrolyte Drink Mix
Sports drinks are well known for having a flavor that takes some getting used to. Most of us aren’t necessarily used to drinking salty liquids, and most sports drinks, because they are replacing electrolytes, have that element in different amounts. When trying to make a mix that’s healthy and appealing, many companies end up with drinks that opt more for healthy than appealing. Clif Hydration, though, has got some of the best feedback about taste that any sports drink ever has.
It dissolves well in water and doesn’t leave a chalky residue or bitter aftertaste. The flavors are also slight and not overwhelming. They’re naturally flavored as well, so the nice taste isn’t artificial.
You’ll get 60 calories worth of energy, and a dose of electrolyte blend.
- 60 calories per serving
- Contains all 5 electrolytes
- No artificial flavors or colors
- Non-GMO and dairy-free
- If you’ve used this product previously you may not be happy with the new packaging or formula
Top High Potassium
10. Gatorade Endurance Formula
Many people focus on sodium as an electrolyte, but if your potassium level isn’t right it can cause things like muscle cramps, stomach pains, and weakness.
Even though this powder may not dissolve as well as some others, the flavor is less overpowering and it contains nothing artificial. It has 90 calories in a serving, with 21 grams of carbs in each serving.
The formula has been changed to include more electrolytes, including almost 3 times the original potassium level, and twice the sodium.
- 90 calories per serving
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors
- Less overpowering flavor compared to previous formula
- 21 grams of carbs per 12 ounces
- Some may find that the powder doesn’t dissolve properly or it may form clumps
What should you drink during a run?
There are a number of things that runners have to pay attention to while they’re running, like what they’re drinking and when. They also need to consider the following when it comes to what they drink and when they drink it:
- Sweat rate
- Duration of exercise
Before you leave your house to go for a run, you should have at least 6 to 8 ounces of water. While you’re running, you should have liquids every 20 minutes during your run. It’s better to drink smaller amounts frequently, as this will help your body to absorb the fluids better. Just water is great for shorter runs that won’t go over 60 minutes.
If you’ve been running hard for 60 to 90 minutes, a sports drink will help you replace electrolytes. You can look at alternating between water and a sports drink, but you’d need to consider the conditions that you’re running in and the duration of your run.
If you’re going to be running for longer than 90 minutes, then you’d need to use a sports drink that’s high in carbohydrates to maintain your performance. With that duration run, fueling becomes as important as hydration. There are sports drinks that provide both electrolytes and carbs, and they can also help speed up your recovery as well as increase your performance.
Should I drink sports drinks while running?
Depending on the type of running you’re doing and how much you’re sweating, having a sports drink can help replace vital electrolytes. Having a sports drink while you’re running can prevent the following:
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle cramping
- Heat stroke
Research has shown how dehydration can impact your performance and slow you down. You can use the sweat rate test to help you identify the type of sports drink you should have and when you should have it. If you’re running a marathon, you’ll find that having a sports drink that’s high in carbohydrates with electrolytes will help you maintain your efforts.
What are those sports drinks good for? What do they contain?
Sports drinks can help you maintain or replace your electrolyte levels, as well as help you go faster for longer. Depending on the weather conditions and level of humidity, these drinks can help you prevent heat stroke or give you the fuel you need for an interval workout.
Water is the main ingredient in sports drinks, and you can choose between using one that is caffeinated or non-caffeinated. They contain a source of energy-boosting carbohydrates, may contain BCAA’s, and most of them contain the following for electrolytes:
What do I need to consider when buying?
There are a number of different brands that offer a variety of flavors. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan or need a sports drink that’s kosher, you’ll find one that fits your personal preference as well as your training needs. You should experiment with a few different brands and find the one that works best for you.
What you’d need to take into consideration is the following:
- Potassium and sodium percentages
If you’re on a calorie-controlled diet or keep track of your calories, then you’d be able to work this in as some drinks are as low as 45 calories and some are as high as 290 calories.
Each brand also has a unique take on what is most important for your body. Your body being different from mine, our needs will also be different, and so we might prefer different products. Some brands are more carb-heavy and provide calories. Others eschew calories altogether and just provide electrolytes. A couple throw some protein into the mix. The proprietary blend of nutrients is what distinguishes each brand from its competitors.
The higher the level of carbohydrates, the longer and faster you can go, especially for those long runs that are over 90 minutes. Potassium and sodium are important, as both help with proper functioning of the muscles, keep you hydrated, and help you metabolize carbohydrates. The more you sweat, the more potassium you’ll need.
You want your sports drink to do the following for you:
- Make sure that rapid rehydration takes place
- Replenish electrolytes
- Prevent headaches, fatigue, and cramps
- Decrease recovery time
- Have carbohydrates for your muscles to continue working
- Quench your thirst