Is a Sports Drink a Requirement for a Runner?

By: Jan Dowell, MS, RD, CSSD

Water is sufficient for runs under an hour. A sports drink is a convenient way to get in the carbs, sodium and fluids if you are a heavy sweater, or if your run will exceed an hour. The carbs in a sports drink provide fuel to “top off” your carbohydrate stores, but the carbs also encourage fluid absorption. Studies show that because the carbs taste good, the runner drinks more. The sodium in a sports drink is there to encourage fluid absorption and to replace the salt lost in sweat. Try different sports drinks until you find the one you like (or tolerate) enough to drink consistently. 

There are alternate ways to get your carbs, sodium, and fluids, including drinking water when using a carbohydrate supplement (gel, bloks, sports beans, or dried fruit). However, getting enough sodium may be more difficult, especially when running in the heat. Either way, it is important to train with the sports drink or water/carb combo that you will use during your event, so find out what will be served on the course or plan to carry your own.

Jan Dowell, MS, RD, CSSD is a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and a runner. Get more nutrition and hydration training tips from Jan at