Sports Drinks versus Energy Drinks

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

Getting back to the gym or picking up a new sport may be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions. With TV commercials showcasing professional athletes drinking sports or energy drinks, do you need these drinks if you are active?

Sports Drinks Vs. Energy Drinks

  • Sports drinks contain fewer calories. Energy means calories. A can of energy drink means a can of drink loaded with calories – i.e., sugar. As a group, energy drinks are notorious offenders in this department, with some containing more than 60 g of sugar (that’s 15 teaspoons) in one can!
  • Sports drinks contain combo-sugar. A combination of sugar “allows better uptake and absorption, making it ideal for use during a workout for rapid refuel,” explains sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of the renowned Sports Nutrition Guidebook (4th edition).
  • Sports drinks contain no caffeine. Energy drinks, however, do contain caffeine – and sometimes too much. A bottle of Fixx Energy contains over 500 mg of caffeine!
  • Sports drinks contain sodium, an important electrolyte to replenish if you sweat in an extended workout. Energy drinks however, usually contain a random selection of ingredients, from amino acids such as taurine and glutamine to herbs like guarana and ginseng. These ingredients so far have not demonstrated any health benefits when consumed from a can.
  • Some sports drinks contain protein and may be marketed as recovery sports drinks. Clark suggests that these drinks can be used when your activity lasts longer than 6 hours, such as a triathlon or whole-day practice camp.

The Bottom Line

Energy drinks should have no place in our diet, but sports drinks may. Sports drinks can not only quench your thirst, but also replenish fuel and electrolyte loss. However, you do not need to purchase commercial sports drinks! Why not make your own?

Here is Clark’s homemade sports drink recipe:

Yield: 1 litre

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (not concentrate) plus 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 1/2 cup cold water

Dissolve sugar and salt in hot water. Add in juice and remaining cold water. Chill and serve cold.

Nutrition Facts per 8 oz: 50 calories / 12 g carbohydrate / 110 mg sodium.

Recipe with permission from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook 2008.


athletes, beverages, sports nutrition


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