Best Sports Drinks for Cycling : Top Picks and Reviews

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Take a trip to your local bike shop and you’ll quickly learn that there are many many different kinds of sports drinks you can buy.

Which ones will give you the most energy and which will best rehydrate your body?

If you’re thirsting for knowledge about sports drinks, then you’ve come to the right place.

This guide will explore what goes into all those sports drinks you see advertised.

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Electrolyte and Hydration Drinks

Nuun Sport

Nuun Sport Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Nuun

This sports drink tablet from Nuun Sport is designed to give you a burst of electrolytes without all the hassle of mixing a powder into your water bottle.

Drop a tablet into your water bottle, let it dissolve, and you’re ready to rehydrate. Each tablet packs 25mg of magnesium, 300mg of sodium, and 150mg of potassium.

Nuun Sport comes in four different flavors, including Citrus Fruit, Lemon Lime, Orange, and Tri-Berry. Each pack includes one tube of each flavor.

Skratch Labs

Skratch Labs Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Skratch Labs

This sports drink features all-natural organic ingredients that are made from, well, scratch.

If you don’t like filling your body with ingredients you’ve never heard of before then Skratch Labs hydration mix might be for you.

According to Skratch, this mix is made from real food. The mix uses cane sugar and only uses real fruit, such as actual lemon juice and lime juice, for flavoring.

Each serving includes 380mg of sodium, 39mg of potassium, 39mg of magnesium, and 21g of carbohydrates.

SaltStick Caps

SaltStick Caps Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Clif

Nothing fancy here. With these no-nonsense SaltStick Caps, you get exactly what the label says: capsules of electrolyte salts.

These swallowable capsules are designed to reduce muscle cramping by replenishing electrolytes on a long sweaty day of riding. Each cap comes packed with 215mg of sodium, 63mg of potassium, 22mg of calcium, and 11mg of magnesium.

SaltStick capsules come in two different sizes: 30 capsules and 100 capsules.

Clif Shot Hydration Drink

Clif Shot Hydration Drink Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Clif Shot

The folks at Clif, a company well known for its energy bars, protein bars, and gels, have designed a hydration drink that replaces electrolytes while also giving you a carb boost.

Each 22g packet of drink mix includes 20g of carbohydrates for energy, 250mg of sodium, and 50mg of potassium.

Clif’s hydration electrolyte drink comes in a variety of flavors, including cranberry-raz and lemon lime-ade. Just dump a packet into your water bottle, and you’re good to go.

High Carb Energy Drinks

Science in Sport

Science in Sport Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Clif

Science Sport, a company that specializes in sports nutrition supplements, packs in 36g of carbohydrates into its GO energy drink powder. And it does it on just 7g of sugar per serving, which minimizes blood sugar crashes.

This drink powder is also loaded with electrolytes with 356mg of sodium, 25mg of calcium, and 88mg of potassium for each 40g serving.

SIS’s Go powder comes in orange and raspberry flavor. Two sizes are available; 1.25 lbs and 3.5 lbs.

Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder

Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Gatorade

Gatorade Endurance Formula ain’t your father’s Gatorade.

Like traditional Gatorade, Endurance Formula focuses on replacing electrolytes. It just packs in a lot more punch with nearly twice the sodium at a whopping 300mg and three times the potassium at 140mg.

It also offers a boost of energy with 22g of carbohydrates. Consider this the high octane version of Gatorade. Gatorade Endurance comes in cherry, lemon-lime, orange, and watermelon.

Tailwind Nutrition

Tailwind Nutrition Sports Drink
Photo Credit : Tailwind

Tailwind’s goal with its Tailwind Nutrition sports drink was to create a supplement that provided plenty of electrolyte replacement without the syrupy sweetness that’s so hard to choke down midway through a six-hour ride.

What it came up with is a light tasting drink that still has plenty of electrolytes and carbs. Tailwind Nutrition includes 303mg of sodium, 88mg of potassium, 26mg of calcium, 14mg of magnesium, and 25g of carbohydrates per serving.

Oh, and for good measure, it also provides a nice kick with 35mg of caffeine.

GU Roctane

GU Roctane Sports Drink
Photo Credit : GU

GU, well known for its energy gels line, says its Roctane energy drink is formulated for ultra-long distances and high-performance efforts. That’s why GU packed this mix with 320mg of sodium per serving.

GU Roctane has also filled with plenty of other energy-boosting and electrolyte replacing goodies, including high doses of carbohydrates, amino acids, taurine, and beta-alanine. It also throws in 35mg of caffeine for an extra kick.

GU Roctane comes in various flavors, including lemon berry, summit tea, grape, and tropical fruit.

Cycling Drinks Buying Guide & Tips

This section will go in-depth into both energy and hydration drinks by identifying the ingredients that go into each and discussing how each impacts performance.

We’ll also explore how best to use these supplements to maximize results.

Energy vs Hydration Drinks

Let’s start with the basics.

There are two main types of sports drinks you’ll find on the market.

  • Energy drinks
  • Hydration drink

What each does is fairly obvious. What’s in each isn’t.

The goal of energy drinks is to refresh your body’s energy stores through carbohydrates.

Energy drinks offer some of the quickest energy sources you can use as they’re generally absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream and are easier to consume while riding than say energy bars, which must be unwrapped and chewed. In addition to burning energy while cycling, you also lose a lot of water.

And since our bodies are made up of up to 60% water, that’s a significant issue. But, as you well know, when you’re sweating, there’s more than just water coming out of your pores. You’re also losing minerals, including sodium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which are vital to keeping your body functioning at peak performance.

These minerals are commonly referred to as electrolytes.

When you run low on electrolytes, performance issues arise, the most common of which are muscle cramps. As such, the goal of hydration drinks is to replace the water and electrolytes you lose when you sweat.

That’s why drink mixes such as Nun Sport and Skratch Labs include such high levels of electrolytes.

Composition of Sports Drinks

Scanning the list of ingredients on your energy drink can be a bit confusing.

The first thing you’re likely to see are sugars. These come in the form of sucrose, glucose, and fructose.

  • Sucrose is the one we’re most familiar with as it’s essentially the scientific name for table sugar. It is basically a combination of glucose and fructose. Its presence is basically for flavor as it is sweeter than glucose but not as syrupy sweet as fructose.
  • Glucose is the sugar you want as it serves as your body’s optimal form of carbohydrate. Glucose raises your blood sugar and is quickly absorbed into your body where it can be immediately used to create energy.
  • Fructose raises your blood sugar much more slowly than glucose as your liver must convert fructose into glucose before it can be used to provide energy. Because of this, fructose can put undue strain on your liver. As we will discuss a bit later, fructose can be a very beneficial ingredient in sports drinks.

The biggest difference you’ll notice between energy drinks and hydration drinks is the amount of sugar vs. sodium.

Hydration drinks focus on replacing your electrolytes, so expect to find a high sodium content of around 250mg or more with additional minerals including potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Nuun Sport’s tablets, for example, offer a whopping 300mg of sodium in its drink tablets.

Energy drinks, on the other hand, provide large doses of carbs through the inclusion of sugar. Energy drinks will have at least 25g of carbs per serving. Science in Sport’s Go energy drink includes 36g of carbohydrates for every 40g serving.

Many energy drinks, including Gatorade Endurance and GU Roctane, provide you with both electrolyte replacement and a carb boost. Because these drinks pack so much in, it’s a challenge to make these drinks palatable and easy on the stomach.

Do You Need to Use Sports Drink during Rides?

If you plan on going out on a ride for more than an hour or so, then it’s time to fill that water bottle with more than just water. After a moderate to intense 60-minute ride, your body needs to replace calories.

Carbohydrates from energy drinks are one of the best ways to do that.

It’s also easier to take intermittent sips on an energy drink, providing a steady refill of energy throughout a ride, than it is to nibble on an energy bar.

Given the fact that so much of your body is made up of water, you’re going to suffer if you lose too much and don’t replace it. Dehydration will result in both mental and physical fatigue. It’s essential to replace that water.

While straight water certainly helps, you need to also replace the electrolytes you’re losing from sweat. This is why hydration drinks such as Skratch Labs and SaltStick Caps, both of which are loaded with electrolytes, are so essential.

How to Use Sports Drinks Effectively?

The key to making sports drinks work for you is by drinking the right amount for your ride.

If you’re planning on riding for more than an hour, you need to consume between 30 and 60g of carbohydrates per hour to replace the carbs you’re burning.

Where does this rate come from?

Research shows that the body can absorb about 1g per minute or 60g per hour. Ingesting carbs at a rate higher than that can flood your body with carbs, which can lead to an upset stomach.

Fail to take in enough carbs, and you’ll more than likely suffer a sudden loss of energy, which cyclists refer to as the dreaded bonk.

To achieve the gram per minute rate, you need to drink about one liter of energy drink per hour. That can feel like quite a lot on your stomach, so make sure to take frequent sips as opposed to infrequent gulps.

If that’s not enough for you, you could take it to the next level and choose an energy drink that combines fructose with glucose, which combined can increase your carb absorption rate to 1.5g per minute. That does mean two water bottles an hour, which can be a real challenge to gulp down.

Rehydration is largely dependent on your ride conditions.

Experts generally recommend that you consume one 16oz bottle per hour in cool weather. That amount increases as the mercury in the thermometer goes up. On scorching days, you might need to consume as many as four 16oz bottles per hour.