What's in sports drinks?

When to drink a sports drink

1American College of Sports Medicine, Exercise and fluid replacement: position stand, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2007;39(2):377-90.

2Baker LB, Rollo I, Stein KW, Jeukendrup AE, Acute Effects of Carbohydrate Supplementation on Intermittent Sports Performance, Nutrients, 2015 Jul 14;7(7):5733-63.

3American College of Sports Medicine, Exercise and fluid replacement: position stand, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2007;39(2):377-90.

Regulation

The definition of electrolyte drinks is governed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand [FSANZ] under Standard 2.6.2 of the Food Standards Code:

An electrolyte drink means a drink formulated and represented as suitable for the rapid replacement of fluid, carbohydrates, electrolytes and minerals.

For a product to be called an electrolyte drink, the product must have a prescribed composition under Food Standard 2.6.2.

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Technical terms

Electrolyte drink

For a product to be called an electrolyte drink, the product must have a prescribed composition under Food Standard 2.6.2.

Tonicity and Osmolality

The ability of an extracellular solution to make water move into or out of a cell by osmosis is known as its tonicity. A solution’s tonicity is related to its osmolality, which is the total concentration of all solutes in the solution.

A claim that an electrolyte drink is isotonic may only be made if the electrolyte drink has an average osmolality of 250 – 340 milliOsmol/L.

Isotonic, Hypotonic and Hypertonic

An isotonic solution contains the same solutes as cells in the body. Hypotonic solutions contain less solutes than cells in the body and hypertonic solutions contain more solutes than cells in the body.

FAQs

Who should drink sports drinks?

Choosing a sports drink depends on the individual, their needs, the type of activity and exercise intensity as well as timing of consumption (before, during or after exercise) and the environment.

For adults, the best beverage depends on a variety of factors including the amount and intensity of exercise and the environment in which the physical activity takes place.

Australia’s hot climate means exercising outdoors can result in the significant loss of fluid and salts which must be replaced.

For those looking to lose weight and reduce their kilojoule or sugar intake, an electrolyte or sports drink may not be necessary.

Children do not need to consume sports drinks. Some adolescents who are involved in competitive sport may benefit from the consumption of sports drinks, particularly electrolyte drinks, but these should only be consumed in conjunction with the advice of a professional. Adolescents who are not taking part in vigorous exercise do not need to consume sports drinks.

Are sports drinks suitable for children?

Children do not need to consume sports drinks.

How much exercise is required before I should consume a sports drink?

There isn’t a set amount of exercise as this varies from person-to-person, the type of exercise undertaken and the particular exercise goal. Generally, those exercising vigorously for 60-90 minutes or more could benefit from an electrolyte/sports drink.

Is plain water just as good as an electrolyte drink?

Water is essential for life as it is involved in several functions in the body including regulating body temperature and maintaining proper fluid balance. Water always has a place during sports and exercise when it comes to hydration.

Sweat does not just contain water, but also salts. These important salts require replacement. Water is an effective drink to replace fluid in general and when exercise is at low intensity or for a short duration. For those who exercise at high intensity or for long periods, however, drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as electrolyte drinks, are beneficial and may be more appropriate than water alone.

Will consuming a sports drink affect weight loss?

Consuming sports drinks, like any other energy (kilojoule) containing food or beverage, may affect weight loss if the energy consumed is not used. All electrolyte drinks governed by Australian food regulations must contain a certain level of carbohydrates and energy. The energy in electrolyte drinks may be unnecessary for Australians looking to lose weight or for those who do not exercise vigorously.

What are some of the other options for staying hydrated?

Electrolyte drinks offer a convenient and quick way of hydrating and replenishing the energy used and salts lost during vigorous exercise. For less vigorous exercise, rehydration may be achieved by consuming water, milk, fruit juice (with no added sugar) or other oral rehydration solutions.

Combining a meal or snack with water will help replenish both fluids and salts.

Contact

For further information about sports drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages, please visit australianbeverages.org, email info@ausbev.org or telephone +61 2 9698 1122.