If you are gearing up for a workout, which kind of sports drinks do you need? That would have been a silly question only a few years ago, when your range of choices was pretty much limited to Gatorade or Powerade, but today there are a ton of alternatives. There’s no universally “best” sports drink; which one is right for you is more a question of what you need when you exercise. Here’s a rundown of how three newcomers to the sports drink game compare to Gatorade, the traditional standard-bearer of the industry.
Despite iconic commercials and dozens of flavors, Gatorade‘s core sports drink product, Gatorade Thirst Quencher, is held to pretty rigid standards determined by their in-house exercise physiologists. Its carbohydrate content—14 grams per eight-ounce serving—is strictly simple sugars, as they are absorbed rapidly during exercise. The sugar concentration is also designed to be easy to absorb without stomach problems, which is a big plus if you’re running hard or biking fast while trying to rehydrate. It’s also got a substantial amount of sodium to replace salt lost in your sweat.
For a more modern take on sports drinks, consider Champion’s Edge. This sports drink mix has about half as many calories per eight ounce serving as Gatorade, and it reduces its simple sugar content by using more complex carbohydrates, which are absorbed more slowly and should provide a steadier supply of energy. Champion’s Edge has a carbohydrate concentration lower than a traditional sports drink, so you might tolerate it better if Gatorade gives you stomach problems during exercise. It also contains a proprietary blend of amino acids, which the manufacturer claims will reduce muscle breakdown during exercise. It’s still got the electrolyte profile of a traditional sports drink, so if you think you’ll need electrolytes during exercise, it’s a good choice. With a variety of products for providing hydration, a mental boost and recovery with low sugar is a healthy alternative many people are turning to.
By adding more vitamins and minerals and upping the sugar content, Body Armor takes a different approach to sports hydration. It contains 30% more sugar per serving than Gatorade, and pairs this with coconut water concentrate and vitamins A, B, C, and E. These are intended to fight muscle damage and prevent post-workout soreness. With its higher carb content, Body Armor is better for restoring your muscle glycogen stores quickly, but its concentration might be more likely to cause stomach problems if you drink it while exercising hard for a long time. Additionally, it’s got very little sodium—only 15 mg per serving compared to Gatorade’s 108 mg. Since most people get too much sodium in their diet anyways, this could be a good thing from a health perspective!
The least traditional of the three new drinks reviewed here, Cherrish is pure fruit juice—not a blend of sugars, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Don’t take this to mean it’s somehow inferior; Cherrish boasts a very high concentration of potassium, plus more carbohydrates (but less sugar) than Body Armor or Champion’s Edge. Since cherries naturally have almost no sodium, Cherrish barely cracks 12 mg of sodium per eight ounce serving. With almost twice the carbohydrate concentration of Gatorade, it’s a great option for muscle glycogen refueling, but it is also more likely to cause issues if you have a sensitive stomach. Since Cherrish is 100% cherry juice, you can’t discount the muscle-recovery benefits either. Research shows that cherry juice can prevent muscle soreness and strength loss following a tough workout.
To pick the right sports drinks, you need to weigh your options. Need something you can guzzle down during a hilly bike ride without getting stomach cramps? Try Gatorade or Champion’s Edge. Need something with more vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates to refuel? Try BodyArmor or Cherrish. The right sports drink at the right time will help you perform better and recover quicker, so it’s worth taking the time to figure out what’s right for you!
John Davis is a Minnesota-based writer, scholar, and coach. He graduated from Carleton College with a degree in chemistry and an interest in the intersection of science, health, and fitness. His research interests include long-distance running, injury treatment and prevention, and lifestyle habits for long-term health. In his free time, he is an avid runner, keen reader of scientific research, and a high school track and cross country coach. His website, RunningWritings.com, provides detailed analysis of elite training, injury treatments, and coaching philosophies for runners. His first book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, was published in 2013 and is available at Amazon.com.