What’s Wrong with Processed Sports Drinks (and Recipe for a Real Food Alternative!)

As we’re approaching the height of the summer heat and humidity, over-exertion and dehydration tend to appear.  If you have performance goals, work outside, or have kids that are constantly on the go, maintaining that intensity without the risk of injury or overheating can be tricky.

For this, the food industry tells us that sports drinks are they way to keep ourselves hydrated and safe.

But wait a minute, is there something wrong with Gatorade, Powerade, or any of the other sports drinks that promise superior nutrition conveniently out of a vending machine?  According this this Deadspin article, a lot (<– Warning, it’s a great article, but there is some swearing).  It calls to question the entire notion of dehydration, electrolytes, and cramping.  
I don’t think that replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrates (salt and sugar, by the way) is a bad thing.  In fact, feeding your body some glucose (sugar) immediately following physical exertion can help your body start to repair damaged tissues.  The only caveat here is if you have fat loss goals, it could be detrimental to your goals.  But more on that another time.    

What I’m more concerned about is the ingredient list.  Let’s break down common ingredients found on one of these labels:

Water- This is good.  Drink enough of this in general.

Sugar-  Pretty straight forward.  This is what will help you replenish your glucose stores, as mentioned above.

Dextrose- This is the name given to sugar produced from corn.  Reading between the lines here- High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Despite the marketing efforts by the Corn Industry, there are plenty of reasons why you do not want to ingest this.

Citric Acid- For the purposes of manufacturing a sports drink, it is fermented sugar to use as a flavoring agent.

Natural Flavor-  This is a gnarly one.  A search on the inter-webs will send you down a rabbit hole that this can be a chemical that resembles perfume, MSG, Aspartame, or even bugs.  The official FDA definition is published in the Code of Federal Regulations (21CFR101.22).  Basically the label “Natural Food” means the flavoring can be derived, distilled, or extracted from either plants or animal matter directly or via roasting, heating or fermenting.  There is no direction on the quality of the source of the flavoring- factory farmed cows and genetically modified soy beans are fair game.  Point being that this a very vague food label that is not highly regulated.

Sodium Citrate-  This is a common food additive for flavor and preservatives, but in it’s most basic form, it’s salt.

Monopotassium Phosphate- This is water soluble salt, and a source of phosphorus and potassium.  My thought would be that this is where the electrolytes in sports drinks come from.

Modified Food Starch-  This is an ingredient that will aid in attaining the desired texture or gel of the food.  The nutritional value of this food is a wash, but you should note that unless otherwise stated on the labeling this can be made from corn or wheat from varying quality sources.  So if you have an allergy to gluten or are trying to avoid GMO sources, avoiding Modified Food Starch would be a good first step.

Glycerol ester of Rosin-  This is another ingredient that aids in mix and texture.  It’s pretty common in fruit juices to keep oils and water from separating.  Officially there are no heath risks associated with this and it is the “best and most natural option for achieving stability in beverages,” however it is advised that pregnant women consult their doctors prior to consuming beverages with Glycerol Ester of Rosin (ummm… what?).


In a nutshell, manufactured sports drinks are chocked full of artificial, man-made, unclear, borderline panic inducing ingredients.  

So what to do?

Well, first of all, good ol’ fashion water will probably suffice most of the time.  If you’re concerned about electrolyte loss, you can add a pinch of salt.  Only after incredibly intense workouts or spending time laboring in the heat and sun should the need for an electrolyte and glucose hit be necessary.

If you do feel you need a sports drink…. Enter the glorious coconut.  Coconut products have taken the US by storm over the past several years, from milk, to flakes, to oil, and for our purposes today… coconut water.

Think of coconut water as nature’s own miracle sports drink.  It has all the essentials without the man made ingredients, such as good sugars, sodium, potassium (more than 4 bananas per serving), and electrolytes.  As a bonus, it has dietary fiber, enzymes, vitamin C, and amino acids.

Now, for those of you who have tasted coconut water, you might cringe at the thought of using it.  No doubt- it is an acquired taste.  So how do we make one of nature’s most optimal foods better suited for consumption?

Do what the food industry does- add sugar!  But in our case, we’re going to add a natural source of sugar (and other vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers).  In other words, we’re going to add fruit.

Wholly Made Sports Drink




1 Cup Coconut Water
1 Cup Water/Ice
1/4 Cup Strawberries and Pineapple (Mango, Bananas, or any tropic fruit work great)
Blender or Muddle Tool

1. Muddle or blend the fruit fruit.  I prefer to muddle only enough to get some of the juices out, because I like the chunks of fruit during or after a workout.  If you don’t think you’ll like the fruit as chunky, then just pop it in the blender to get it to your desired consistency.

2.  Add that fruit, coconut water, and water/ice to your shaker (you can mess with the coconut/water/ice ratio depending on how palatable you find the coconut water).

If you’re going to be enjoying this immediately, then you probably don’t need ice.  If you’re going to take this with you to the gym or the soccer field, adding some ice will help keep it cool until consumed.


3. Shake it up!

4.  Leave it in the shaker and take it with you.  Or pour and enjoy immediately.


A few notes on this:
  –  You can make it ahead of time, but it will only keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days before it starts to get questionable.
  –  You’ll find this is slightly less convenient than a manufactured sports drink.  But in my opinion, it’s well worth it.
  –  Experiment with this!  Have fun, test and learn on yourself, and let me know what you think!



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