Sports Drinks
Dr. L. Lee Coyne
Dr. L. Lee Coyne

Review of Sport Drinks

By L. Lee Coyne, Ph.D.

Products labeled as “Sport Drinks” fall into two main categories.


  • a supply of electrolytes for replacement of electrolytes lost through perspiration during heavy prolonged exercise or during high ambient temperature exercise.
  • to promote hydration and re-hydration during and after prolonged exercise
  • to provide “fuel” in the form of simple carbohydrates to ensure adequate glucose and glycogen for energy expenditure during prolonged (more than one hour) exercise and for glycogen replacement following prolonged exercise.

New Generation:

The second type of sport drink is primarily designed to optimize muscle glycogen and Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) recovery following intense and/or prolonged exercise.

This type of drink is usually a combination of simple carbohydrates combined with some easily digested protein.

Research by Dr. John Ivy at the University of Texas has shown that optimum glycogen recovery occurs when the carbohydrate to protein ratio is 3:1 and the drink is consumed within one hour of exercise completion. The optimum protein in this mixture should be a whey protein “Isolate” because of the BCAA profile.

Consumer guidelines for selecting a “traditional” sport drink, based on research, suggest that one look for an 8% Carbohydrate solution (approximately 26 gm per 250 ml of water). The primary carbohydrate (sugar) should be maltodextrin due to its ability to leave the gut quickly and not upset digestion. The second carbohydrate should be fructose in small amounts (too much fructose causes gastric upset because it leaves the gut slowly) because it goes directly to the liver to enhance liver glycogen.

The sodium to potassium ratio should be approximately 2:1. Some drinks are excessive in the sodium ratio in an attempt increase the sense of thirst and thus to drink more. However if the balance is too far away from 2:1 there is an inhibition of fluid absorption.

The best drinks include six electrolytes: Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium and phosphorous.

RED FLAG Ingredients:

For many reasons I suggest the avoidance of the following

  • protein “concentrate” of any kind. These are the lowest quality proteins.
  • Sucralose - artificial sweetener (chlorinated sugar)
  • Aspartame - artificial sweetener
  • Acesulfame K - artificial sweetener
  • Artificial food colour Red dye #5 & #40, Yellow dye #5 & #6
  • Xylitol
  • Sugar (sucrose or table sugar)

Comments on specific drinks tested:

Only 2 products contained six electrolytes - Performance and Ultima.

However “Ultima” is a little low in sodium with a sodium to potassium ratio of 0.5:1. Ultima is also low in carbohydrates – only 9 gm / serving whereas Performance (8% solution) has 26 gm / serving.

Hammer contains an 8% carbohydrate solution and five electrolytes although is does not say how much chloride is present and contains no phosphorous (on the label). The sodium to potassium ratio is 5:1 – a little high. The highest among the test group.

Accelerade and Performance provide published peer review research supporting their efficacy. Accelerade contains 5 gm pf protein per serving which is a new approach to prolonged exercise drinks and the authors of their research have not yet been able to explain why it works. Accelerade contains 20 gm of sucrose, whey protein concentrate and yellow dye #5 & #6.

Two of the products tested – World Famous Protein and Protein Ice are primarily protein drinks. Both tend to be high in protein (45 and 40 gm per serving respectfully) considering that most sport nutritionists agree that we have difficulty using more than 30 –35 gm per meal. The World Famous Protein contains milk protein concentrate (low quality protein source), artificial flavour, acesulfame K and sucralose. The Protein Ice contains artificial flavours, sucralose, acesulfame K and red dye #40.

These two protein drinks would be more useful in recovery but of questionable value as fuel during exercise.

Flash 5, Sisu Hydrade and Ulitima all tend to be too low in sodium for optimum electrolyte replacement.

My rank order for electrolyte and hydration fuel product quality based on ingredients and Nutrition profile are:

  1. Performance
  2. Ultima & Hammer
  3. Accelerade
  4. Sisu Hydrade
  5. Gatorade
  6. Flash 5

The other 2 are primarily protein products.


Lee Coyne, Ph.D. is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of Fat Won't Make You Fat and the Lean Seekers coaching program. He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail

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