When you’re in need of some fast fuel before or during a tough training session there’s no better source of energy than a sports drink. The carbs and electrolytes they contain will hit your system quickly to replenish your body’s reserves so you can keep on keeping on, and it’s generally more enjoyable to gulp down a sports drink than to take a gloopy energy gel during training.
You need to be a little wary of using sports drinks willy-nilly, however. They’re designed to provide a lot of energy, so the carb and sugar count is high. If you’re only going out for a 30-minute easy run you probably don’t need that kind of energy hit, especially if you’re running to lose weight.
Along with carbs, a good sports drink will also contain electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat during a workout. This is especially important during sessions that last more than 90 minutes, when just rehydrating with water won’t get the job done.
You can obviously buy sports drinks like Lucozade ready-made, but picking up a powder to mix with water yourself is often more portable, especially if it’s a single-serve sachet you can take with you to mix up just before a workout.
We’ve tried a lot of sports drinks and powders and chosen the best to include below. The ones which really stood out have been awarded our recommended badge.
Maurten Drink Mix
We’ve used these to fuel the last three marathons we’ve run and the most important training sessions leading up to the race, and we rate them as the best available. You don’t have to take our word for it either: Maurten was also used by Eliud Kipchoge when he ran the first sub-2hr marathon in history, and many other elites use it too.
Crucial to the success of Maurten’s mix is that it forms a hydrogel when it hits the stomach, which means it’s absorbed more slowly. This makes the high-carb drink easier for the body to take in without causing gastrointestinal distress. The 320 mix contains a substantial 80g of carbs for a 500ml drink, and it’s ideal for longer events like the marathon, while the 160 contains 40g of carbs in a 500ml drink and will help fuel shorter events and short training sessions. The Drink Mix 320 CAF 100 is the latest addition to the range, adding 100mg of caffeine to the 80g of carbs for an extra boost during your exercise.
All the powders have a neutral, faintly sweet taste, which is unlikely to either delight or disappoint – just get it down you and enjoy the results, we say. The only downside is that Maurten products are comparatively expensive, so be prepared to use them sparingly.
Buy Drink Mix 320 CAF 100 from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £51.60 for 14 80g sachets
Buy Drink Mix 320 from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £43 for 14 80g sachets
Buy Drink Mix 160 from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £37 for 18 40g sachets
SiS Beta Fuel
Like Maurten, SiS’s Beta Fuel drink provides a mammoth 80g of carbs per serving and it even comes in a similar-looking black sachet. However, the new, revamped Beta Fuel has a key difference from both Maurten and the original product, and that is the ratio of maltodextrin to fructose. The first Beta Fuel drink stuck with the standard 2:1 ratio you’ll find in many products, but this has now been tweaked to 1:0.8. According to SiS, this results in more of the carbohydrates being used or “oxidised” by your muscles, taking the percentage up from 62% to 74% compared with a 2:1 ratio drink. Even if all that sounds a little too elite and marginal gains-y to you, the Beta Fuel drink is a great way to get all the carbs you need during endurance activities, and we’ve found it’s easy on the stomach even when running.
Buy from SiS (opens in new tab) | £37.50 for 15 sachets
Extremely high-carb drinks like Maurten’s mixes and SiS’s Beta Fuel can be a game-changer for endurance athletes, but they cost a pretty penny so you might not want to use them regularly during training. Bulk’s Vitargo is the first alternative we’ve come across that provides similar benefits without breaking the bank.
Each 75g serving contains 69.8g of carbs, in the form of Bulk’s patented Vitargo S2, which is formulated from barley starch. The drink created is unflavoured, and the absence of taste makes it extremely odd to consume without adding some kind of flavouring (we used squash), but if you want a whole load of fuel for a long run or ride it gets the job done, and we haven’t had any gastric distress using it. You can pick up a kilo (just over 13 servings) of Vitargo for £17.99, which is substantially less than the £40-£50 you'll pay for 14 sachets of Maurten.
Buy from Bulk (opens in new tab) | £17.99 for 1kg
Torq Energy Drink
We always appreciate it when a brand works in round numbers, because it helps when working out how to reach a macro target. Each 500ml serving of Torq’s powder provides 30g of carbs, 10g of which are sugars, and 120 calories, in a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin (glucose) to fructose that allows you to absorb as many carbs per hour as possible. There are also five electrolytes thrown into the mix to help replace those you’ll lose in sweat during hard training. The range of flavours includes all the usual fruity options as well as an unflavoured powder; but our favourite is the delightfully sharp Pink Grapefruit, which makes a welcome change to the predominantly very sweet sports products.
Bulk Complete Hydration
Each 40g serving of this drink contains over 35g of carbs, from mixed sources to improve uptake, and it also contains a range of electrolytes including sodium to ensure you’re well hydrated for your workout. It’s also a great-value powder, working out to 55p per serving, and both the flavours available – mixed berry and orange – are pretty tasty. It’s one to stock up on ahead of a busy training plan, while perhaps saving more carb-rich options like Maurten’s mix or SIS’s Beta Fuel for one or two key training sessions and race day.
£11.99 (£2.40 / 100 g)
It’s sold everywhere, usually available in some kind of deal, and comes in a range of tasty flavours, so if you’re in need of a sports drink at short notice there’s nothing better than a trusty bottle of Lucozade Sport. There are 32g of carbs in each 500ml bottle, with 18g of sugars, plus sodium to top up your reserves after a sweaty session. You’ll be glugging down 130-140 calories depending on the flavour, of which raspberry is the best. No need to debate us on that.
£15.99 (£2.66 / l)
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Veloforte Electrolyte Powders
These folks lose a little credit for championing the use of Himalayan pink salt in the electrolyte powders, since it has no real benefits compared with standard salt, but that credit is clawed back by an impressively unusual range of refreshing flavours for its drink mixes – Wild Strawberry and Basil being the tastiest in our book. Each of the trio offers different sporting benefits: Attivo, which is the Wild Strawberry and Basil flavour, contains electrolytes, 22g of carbohydrates and 75mg of caffeine, while Vivo (Peach, Raspberry and Rosehip) packs in electrolytes and carbs, and Solo (Golden Apricot and Sage) is just electrolytes. All the sachets are small enough to slip into a running belt so you can make your drinks on the move.
Buy from Veloforte (opens in new tab) | £5.25 for mixed pack of three sachets
One Pro Hydro Energy Drink Mix
Each sachet of this drink mix contains around 32g of carbs, with a low-GI source used alongside the standard maltodextrin to supply both slow- and fast-release carbs. A whole load of vitamins and minerals have also been thrown into the mix, and coconut water extract is used to provide electrolytes. The mix is designed to be as natural as possible, with no artificial sweeteners or polyols used. We’re not against artificial sweeteners, but they do sometimes pose a problem by increasing the risk of stomach problems on the run. The mix comes in two flavours – pineapple and coconut, and berry, with the latter also containing caffeine.
Buy from One Pro (opens in new tab) | £20.39 for 10 sachets
Tailwind Endurance Fuel
£18.95 (£43.87 / kg)
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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