July 2 2015 What to Drink During Your Workouts

How many times have you heard “sugary drinks are bad for you,” or “don’t drink your calories.” These statements are absolutely true, excess calories from beverages contribute to weight gain with little nutritional value. However, there is a unique place where sport drinks (for example, Gatorade, Skratch, and Powerade), can have a beneficial purpose, even for someone trying to lose weight!

Moderate to high intensity exercise requires carbohydrate to fuel the body. Carbohydrates are nutrients that come from starches and sugars. They are fuel for the body, just like gas is fuel to a car. The body stores carbohydrate in the form of glycogen (you can think of glycogen as your gas tank). When a person engages in moderate to high intensity exercise for longer than 60 minutes the body begins to burns through these fuel stores and the gas gauge starts to drop. Most people have plenty of glycogen to fuel shorter bouts of exercise. However, if you are regularly engaging in sustained exercise that lasts longer than 60 minutes you could run your tank empty and should consider adding some carbohydrate to your exercise routine, particularly if you are looking to improve performance.

30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour is the commonly recommended amount to ingest during exercise. I often tell individuals, who are doing endurance exercise and trying to lose weight, start with 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour and see how you feel. Those exercising at very high intensities or longer than 2 hours may need more than just 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour. 30 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to about 16 oz. of sport drink. Sport drink is a great fuel source for exercise lasting 1 hour or longer because it will hydrate you and provide you with carbohydrates and electrolytes.

Why choose sport drink (for example, Gatorade, Skratch, Powerade) over other sugary beverages (soda, juice, energy drinks) for your exercise?

  • Sport drinks contain a mixture of different types of carbohydrate, and are low enough in carbohydrate that it is less likely to cause an upset stomach compared to other sugary beverages.
  • Sport drinks contain electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which are lost when a person sweats.
  • Fruit juice is very high in sugar. It also has high amounts of fructose, which can cause stomach upset during exercise.
  • Soda and most energy drinks are very high in sugar and carbonated, both can cause stomach upset during exercise.

Should I be concerned about the calories in sport drinks?

  • If you are consuming sport drinks outside of exercise, yes, you should be concerned about the excess calories.
  • Most sport drinks contain about 50 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces.
  • The calories burned during exercise should outweigh the calories you consume from sport drink if you are drinking 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

Consider this example. A 180-pound person running at a 10 min/mile pace for 60 minutes would theoretically burn 800 calories running. Consuming 30 grams of carbohydrate would supply you with about 100 calories of energy-boosting carbohydrate to help you run harder and possibly longer. You can determine how many calories you burn during exercise by logging it into MyNetDiary.

If you have incorporated an exercise routine to help with weight loss, build strength, and improve mood and confidence, you are on the right track. Keep in mind that if you are exercising for long periods of time, you could get a performance-enhancing boost by adding just 30 grams of carbohydrate per hour (i.e. 100 calories of sport drink per hour) to your training routine.

To sum it up:

  • When sustaining exercise for 60 minutes or longer consider using a sport drink to replenish carbohydrates, fluids, electrolytes and avoid running your tank empty.
  • Sport drinks are low enough in calories that when used in the right amounts during exercise will have a minimal effect on weight and may in fact improve weight loss by allowing you to exercise longer and harder.

Nicole Rubenstein, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE

Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

To view additional sport nutrition handouts and access free sport nutrition webinars, use the following links:



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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Exercise/Fueling for Exercise

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