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Sound Food Swap: Sports Drinks

Rethink that drink!

Sports drinks are designed to replenish fluids, sugars, and electrolytes — all important, especially if you are active for over one hour (less than that, and plain old water will likely suffice). But many come with additional ingredients that have less to do with performance and more to do with marketing. For example:

  • That electric blue color that is supposed to conjure up the pure, fresh runoff from glacial melt? That is thanks to Blue 1, an artificial color derived from petroleum.
  • To keep that color from separating out in the bottle? Glycerol Ester of Rosin, a highly processed ingredient derived from the sap of certain pine trees, the safety of which is currently being re-evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority.
  • And while we’re at it, do we really need the 52 grams of sugar you’d get from a 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade or Powerade? Probably not.

So, what’s a sweaty, thirsty athlete to do? Consider swapping out the neon sugar bomb for these more appropriate sports drinks from time to time.

Swap #1: Good old fashioned water 

32 ounce bottle of Gatorade: $1.69
32 ounces of water: $0.00

If you’re working out for less than an hour, just drink water! Your body can get replenish any nutrients you used up whenever you eat your next meal.

Swap #2: Water + a banana

32 ounce bottle of Gatorade: $1.69
Water + a banana: $0.35

The potassium in a banana restores electrolytes, and the carbs in bananas replenish glycogen stores – making them a great option for athletes who want a more natural approach to refueling. Also a great choice for kids who need a drink and a snack between bouts on the playing field during a sports game.

Swap #3: DIY Electrolyte Drink

32 ounce bottle of Gatorade: $1.69
32 ounces DIY Electrolyte Drink: $2.50

Because the flavor and nutrients are coming from real foods (not cheap chemicals), this is a more expensive option but may work well if your priority is to have a less processed sports drink (as opposed to having to deal with those pesky banana peels mid-run). The sugar comes from fruit, the electrolytes come from salt, and it’s delicious. Pro tip: Make a big batch and freeze in bottles so you can grab and go as needed. Link to recipe here.

Other options:

  • A lot of less processed electrolyte replacement powders are on the market right now. Nuun is a popular one that is sold at most grocery stores, and while it does replace electrolytes it doesn’t replace sugars or contain a substantial amount of calories.
  • Half Gatorade/Powerade and half water. Diluting your sports drink is an easy way to cut the chemicals in half while still getting a boost of sugar and electrolytes.
  • Vitamin water isn’t high up on our list because it is flavored with “natural flavors” (read: chemicals), but it is a step in the right direction since it contain sugars and electrolytes without the artificial colors or weird emulsifiers.

Thirsty for more? Go deeper on sports drinks with this deep dive.

Do you have thoughts on sports drinks? Have you found something else that works for you? We’d love to know about it!


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