19

Comments to this answer say e.g.,

Can't stress enough how ... important it is to drink more than just water

... (and other people's comments then ask for details about the drink's contents).

The context is in answer to this question, How to ride when the weather is hot? -- to which people answer that it's no longer adequate to just drink water.

There's a related question here Formula for Homemade sports drinks but I don't find it informative.

My question is, what's the minimum ingredient list for a "sports drink", on a day when you should be drinking several liters?

For example, when I get home I drink water mixed with a cheap fruit syrup (i.e. some kind of sugar) plus table salt (i.e. sodium chloride).

Is that sufficient? Móż commented,

Seriously, electrolyte drinks are just sugar, salt and flavour. Two of those things are very, very cheap.

Another comment was,

Any sports drink powder will do. Basically sugar and electrolytes.

Upvotes suggest people think this comment is important:

Make sure you get a real sports drinks, not lollie water sold as sport drink

Is salt sufficient as an electrolyte or is it important to have more (e.g. calcium, potassium, and/or I don't know what) during a ride?

What about other ingredients (proteins, amino acids, even fats, or whatever), do you suppose any of those are essential? Beneficial? Or should I take it that they serve to differentiate a store-bought product and maybe justify a high cost?


I get slightly inconsistent results from looking at the ingredients. Two of the products people recommended in comments were "Hammer" and "Rynopower".

Hammer for example has approximately (to within a factor of 2) equal quantities of each electrolyte:

Mineral Source Amount Daily Value
Sodium Sodium Chloride 80mg 4%
Chloride Sodium Chloride 120mg 4%
Calcium Chelate 100mg 10%
Magnesium Chelate 50mg 12%
Potassium Chelate 50mg 1%
Manganese Chelate 0.5mg 25%

Or:

Mineral Source Amount Daily Value
Calcium Calcium Carbonate,
Calcium Chloride
100mg 10%
Magnesium Magnesium Oxide 50mg 13%
Manganese Manganese Gluconate 3mg 150%
Chloride Calcium Chloride 60mg 2%
Sodium Sodium Bicarbonate 200mg 8%
Potassium Potassium Bicarbonate 100mg 3%

Whereas Rynopower has much more sodium:

Mineral Source Amount Daily Value
Sodium NaCl, Na citrate 333 mg 17% ?
Potassium K citrate 85 mg 2-3% ?
Calcium Ca citrate 40 mg 4% ?
Magnesium Mg citrate 24 mg 6% ?

The latter suggests to me, rightly or wrongly, that Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium are trace elements which don't need to be replenished in a big way en route (as long as your regular diet include adequate calcium); whereas the former implies that you need as much extra of those other elements/salts as you do sodium.

5
  • Thinking of it you could make this more general and ask what is essential to ingest: it doesn't have to come from a drink. You have to eat anyway (I suppose), so if you'd just drink plain water and get the essentials from food (be it 'sports' bars or anything else) that is ok as well.
    – stijn
    Jul 20, 2016 at 11:14
  • Mainly you need water. To a certain extent, the other elements are there to make the water taste better after hours in the saddle (or doing whatever exercise you're doing). But you also need to replace salts lost in sweat -- mainly sodium (table salt) and potassium. (The body has an enormous store of calcium in the bones, so there's no danger of running short of that.) The amount of sugar in most sport drinks is not really enough to make a difference -- it's just there for taste. Jul 20, 2016 at 11:21
  • 3
    Some mineral waters are pretty rich in minerals :) I choose one with high amount of potassium, but really, sometimes you dont wanr to be sipping some sugary liquid, carry at least one plain mineral water bidón, and maybe another one more charged. I carry one plain water bidón and another with a squeeze of lemon, couple slices of ginger root, maybe some salt and a dash of honey that I left sitting overnight
    – gaurwraith
    Jul 20, 2016 at 11:29
  • @stijn What you wrote is plausible but I meant this as a follow-on from this question in which I say that on a sub-100 km ride I eat a couple of bananas. None of the answers to that told me that I need to eat, but many told me that I need to drink more carefully: which is why I'm now asking about drink. Someone who reads the answers to this question can probably adapt it easily e.g. if they'd prefer to eat rather than drink their electrolytes or whatever.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20, 2016 at 11:48
  • An answer for this question will be too long for various conditions. As all the comment and answer say : it depends. For example, there is specially formulated energy drinks for professional cyclist for quick recovery. However, it will be overkill and too much calories for seasonal cyclist. And those special formulated sachet come with a price tag. While seasonal cyclist can always take those nutrient from food.
    – mootmoot
    Jul 21, 2016 at 8:27

5 Answers 5

12

In the past I was used to buy sport drinks - like Gatorade - spending a lot of money and always in doubt about their efficiency.

But my sport Nutritionist suggested me a simple, natural and efficient recipe you can make at home for a tasty (and really cheap) sport drink:

  • 500 ml water;
  • 2 tablespoon sugar;
  • 1 teaspoon salt;
  • Juice from one orange;

Just mix all ingredients in your water bottle and go cycling. I start to drink always after one hour of cycling - when our body needs salt and some carbohydrates - and it does his job even on endurance races like Audax events.

6
  • 2
    Gatorade is probably cheaper in the US. Gatorade Powder to make 6 gallons (about 23 liters) is 7-10 dollars depending on where you shop. An orange is about 40 cents, so this is probably twice as expensive.
    – Batman
    Jul 20, 2016 at 17:24
  • @Batman Gatorade powder has the added advantage of being able to refill your water bottles at fountains and still top off with electrolytes.
    – Brad
    Jul 20, 2016 at 17:34
  • 1
    I'd add to this that Potassium is as important as Sodium. You will get some from oj. You should try to match Sodium intake mg for mg with Potassium. Bananas are the cheapest way to do so.
    – ebrohman
    Jul 20, 2016 at 17:45
  • @Batman In some countries (like here in Brazil) Gatorade in powder are not available, sadly. But I think that a natural drink - in general - perhaps, is always healthier for your body and easier to digest/absorv than a chemical one. Speaking about costs in particular, here in Brazil an orange costs less than $0.10, fruits are really cheap here :) Jul 20, 2016 at 17:57
  • I wonder if OJ concentrate could be substituted in some manner. Jul 26, 2016 at 17:27
4

Mostly it's about replacing salts (more than just sodium chloride, but also salts of potassium and magnesium, for instance), and of course water, that you lose as part of any exercise.

There might also be some sugar, to help maintain energy levels, although the tabs I use are sugar-free (they expect you to eat or ingest energy some other way).

6
  • A sport drink might contain 100 cals of sugar. You're burning 500-1000 cals an hour. The sugar is not really significant, except for taste. Jul 20, 2016 at 11:23
  • The sugar serves more of a purpose than just taste. The amount is such much lower than the amount of energy you're expending because you're are not able to take in a 1:1 ratio while riding, without the digestive process negatively impacting your riding.
    – Ealhmund
    Jul 20, 2016 at 13:41
  • Glucose and Sodium actually get transported into cells together: courses.washington.edu/conj/bess/transport/summary/… So a wee bit of sugar seems to be necessary so that your cells can get the Sodium
    – Dominik R
    Jul 20, 2016 at 15:39
  • 1
    @DominikR the amount of sugar is small enough to be labelled as 0g, in a tab which gives me 180mg sodium.
    – PeteH
    Jul 20, 2016 at 16:01
  • Glucose is necessary as a transporter molecule for common ions like Na and K, so sugar-free is a bad idea. Also NB that if you can't find glucose, sucrose (table sugar) (which is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose) will do if you don't mind the extra calories of the fructose coming along for the ride.
    – user316117
    Jul 21, 2016 at 2:41
4

When answering this question, we all need to keep in mind how hot it is, and how hard you're riding. Unless it is both very hot, and you are riding very hard, then you will be just fine with only water. And you'll only need to drink when you're thirsty.

The stuff other than water your body needs you will get through food soon enough.

The answers and comments in that other answer mostly all assume you are riding in extreme heat or racing. Considering that only a small segment of people are doing either of those, much less both, it makes no sense to follow those pieces of advice all the time for all conditions.

15
  • Actually that was the intent of my question: it was a follow-on to this question about riding when it's very hot, in which I said that I normally just drink water, but people agreed that when it's very hot, then I need to drink really a lot and not just water.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20, 2016 at 16:57
  • 2
    @KateGregory Thanks for the reference, but having read I don't think it says exactly that. It says, "In the scientific community, we generally don’t recommend sport drinks for anything less than 90 minutes, if you are exercising really intensely, if you are exercising in the heat, if you are exercising for a very long period of time." -- and so, a multi-hour cycle in the heat might be one of the (few) instances where it is necessary?
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20, 2016 at 18:34
  • 1
    @whatsisname -- I've run into the low salt condition myself a couple of times over the years. When you're low on salt you just feel a bit more thirsty than normal -- you don't feel any more hungry. And if you did feel hungry you still might not eat enough of the right foods to replenish the missing salt. Jul 20, 2016 at 22:33
  • 1
    @whatsisname - The condition described in that Wiki article is not what we're discussing. Rather, it describes a specific condition caused by overindulging in liquids, a form of "water intoxication". Jul 20, 2016 at 22:50
  • 1
    @whatsisname from what I see everyday on the road, there is a lot of amateur people riding hard, for long distances /time, and in hot weather, myself included. I've had several cases of bonk and started to give more attention to what I eat and drink during rides. The thing with eating is that, one, you need to carry the stuff and there's only so much you can carry, and eating prompts drinking which can be another limited resource on ride. So an enriched drink that quenches thirst and helps with salts could be useful. Too sugary will make for more water needed to break sugars, tho.
    – gaurwraith
    Jul 20, 2016 at 23:12
4

Note that there's a big gap between what's necessary and what's useful. If you're drinking a lot you probably only need a small amount of NaCl/table salt. But drinking salty water isn't much fun, so you might be tempted to drink less of it that you should. Hence it's probably useful to add sugar and flavour. If you're doing that, why not make a "proper" electrolyte drink.

I'm a big fan of DIY based on just sugar and salt, I expect I get enough of everything else by eating fruit and other stuff. I used to add a tiny bit of potassium chloride because I got a few grams from a lab once, but when that ran out I did the maths and decided that $10 worth of that had the same potassium content as $10 worth of dried banananas and I like dried bananananananas more.

The LiveStrong site has a similar "recipe":

Rehydration Project. Mix 1 liter of water with 8 teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Half a cup of orange juice or half of a mashed banana can be added to add potassium.

Locally I can buy "Oral Rehydration Salts" in sachets for a prices somewhere between cordial powder and energy drink.

WHAT IS IN restore O.R.S. SACHETS? Each restore O.R.S. sachet contains glucose 3.56 g, sodium acid citrate 530 mg, sodium chloride 470 mg and potassium chloride 300 mg. restore O.R.S. is a pleasant tasting orange flavour.

Livestrong also say:

If commercial preparations are available, these should be used as errors in formulations of homemade versions can occur

But I'm not sure quite how you could make an error mixing sugar, salt and water. If you can't get it all to dissolve, add more water. If you can't taste it, add more powder. It's not rocket surgery.

Also, I often get my salt from hot chips, because when I'm cycle touring I generally have lunch in town and buy take-away chips (they're called fries in the US, I believe). That gets me cheap fat, starch and salt in one tasty package (because on long tours I also burn a lot of energy so cheap calories are all good). I would rather each junk food than buy energy drinks, even in town.

3
  • Actually, here in the US when I'm riding and stop at a "convenience store" for a cold drink, I'll grab a bag of "potato chips" (probably "crisps" in the UK) to have with the drink. The potato chips are rich in sodium and have a significant amount of potassium. (Yeah, they do have a fair amount of fat as well, but you earned it, right?) I got into this habit after suffering severe leg cramps a few years back, while riding on a very hot day. Traced the cramps down to low potassium. Jul 21, 2016 at 2:38
  • 2
    Morton Lite Salt is a 50/50 mix of NaCL and KCl.
    – user316117
    Jul 21, 2016 at 2:45
  • @user316117 Comments disagreeing with the answer are inappropriate unless you can explain why you're disagreeing. If you think 50% KCl is important you would be better off writing your own answer explaining why and how.
    – Móż
    Jul 21, 2016 at 21:35
2

The minimum ingredients list is indeed just table sugar and table salt. Users might want to pay some attention to the quantity of sugar and salt that they're adding.

Sodium

1 tsp table salt has about 2,320 mg of sodium. More sophisticated consumers might try mixing some Morton Lite Salt in - 1/4 tsp is reported to have 290mg sodium and 350mg potassium. The ideal ratio of sodium to potassium isn't something I've researched. Also, some might consider sodium citrate; if used in conjunction with carbs, it may increase absorption of fluid and other electrolytes.

How much salt? We sweat different volumes, and we have different concentrations of sodium in our sweat. I sweat a lot and I believe my sweat is average or above average in saltiness. I believe I've typically taken about 600-1,200mg total sodium on summer group rides that aren't centuries. You can add up the sodium in the typical list of snacks you might eat on a ride and start there. You may need more than you think or currently consume in the heat, so consider titrating up if you believe it necessary.

Precision Hydration (commercial entity, so they want to sell you stuff) recommended that for a hot century or similar event, I take in about 1,500mg sodium every hour. This is an absolutely whopping amount of sodium. I might try adding more salt, but I don't know that I'm going to try 1,500mg per hour. You might consider basing your intake on common commercial blends, e.g. Skratch is 400mg sodium per 16 oz water, and I could drink 2-3 bottles of it in the heat if I wanted.

I am not sure other electrolytes are essential. That said, it appears possible to buy bulk powdered calcium and magnesium citrate. You could define a target dose close to some commercial blend and then mix your own.

Carbs

For carbs, 1 tbsp table sugar is about 12g of carbohydrates, i.e. about 48 calories. Older recommendations were to aim for 30-60g of carbs every hour, and I bet a lot of people didn't even hit that. Current pro cyclists are aiming for 90-120g per hour, but bear in mind that they're out for much longer and they're working a lot harder than we mortals are. It's my understanding that you can indeed dissolve 60-90g of sugar in a large bottle of water, although it may need some work (a lot of agitation, maybe gentle heating).

More sophisticated users might want to hit a certain ratio of glucose to fructose. Each sugar is taken up by a different chemical transporter in our gut, so if you want to hit 90+g of carbs per hour, you may want to take in both types. Table sugar, or sucrose, gets broken into one molecule each of glucose and fructose. Maltodextrin powder is pure glucose. Maple syrup, one of my favorite food sources due to portability, is majority sucrose, but the exact amounts of glucose and fructose probably vary by batch and may not be precisely known.

I won't state what ratio people should aim for because I'm not sure how settled the science is. I believe one company whose name I can't recall aims for 1 glucose to 0.8 fructose, but I've seen commercial products with 1:1 or other ratios. Again, users should experiment. If you are riding hard, be aware that you burn a lot of carbs. andy256's answer was only 24g carbs per bottle. Personally, on 3-4h group rides, I think I'm at around 20g of carbs per hour. I know that I could benefit from more, and I'm deliberately trying to take more, but sometimes you don't get a lot of opportunities to eat in a group ride.

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