cyclist drinking a sports drink from his water bottle

Choosing the right sports drink is tough these days. Not because you lack options; on the contrary, there are so many good options on the market, it’s tough to narrow down and make a decision.

I have tested at least 20 different brands of sports drinks. If you count all the formulas and flavors, I’ve tested more than 100 sports drinks during my career. These are the best ones.

Here are the best sports drinks for cyclists looking for energy, hydration, and electrolytes. While I have primarily tested these when cycling, these drinks are great for runners, cyclists, and all endurance athletes. Needs don’t really vary between sports. If it’s a situation that calls for a sports drink, it’s mainly about the duration and intensity of the event or workout, not about a particular sport.

Best Overall

Because there is no “one size fits all” approach to sports nutrition, it’s especially difficult to choose one single sports drink as the best one. So I went with one that is quite versatile – Skratch Labs.

They offer three formulas of their hydration drink mixes. One for during exercise, one for general rehydration use, and one to be used for hyper hydration before a big event. They also have a high-calorie version for long endurance events (4+ hours). With high-quality, natural ingredients, combined according to a scientific formula, this is a great performance drink. Consider the good taste, plentiful flavor options, and getting this all at a fair price, that’s how Skratch Labs landed at the top of the list.

Plus, their products are backed by the “Skratch Labs Guarantee” so you can’t go wrong.

Learn more about Skratch Labs at the Skratch Labs website. Ready to buy? It’s available on Amazon.

Best Tasting

In my opinion, Hammer Heed is the best tasting sports drink. I find it to be positively delicious during rides and races, and the flavor doesn’t get old

Taste is a personal preference. But Hammer Heed is enjoyed by many athletes thanks to its subtle, not-too-sweet flavor and clean aftertaste. It’s available in orange, lemon-lime, strawberry, cherry, and melon flavors. There is something for everyone! Personally, I think the melon flavor of Hammer Heed is the best tasting sports drink I have ever had.

Hammer Heed is a great drink for short workouts lasting 3 hours or less, or for longer workouts if combined with other fuel sources.

Learn more about Heed at the Hammer Nutrition website, or read my full review here.

Best for Long-Distance Events

If you’re looking for a drink that will fuel your extended rides and races, without tasting like a protein shake, reach for GU Roctane Ultra Endurance.

GU Roctane offers more calories and carbohydrates than most sports drinks, plus a blend of amino acids, and (sometimes) caffeine. But you’d never know just by drinking it. It maintains a crisp, light taste for the utmost refreshment.

The only downside is that it’s rather expensive, so it’s probably not worth it unless you are competing in ultra endurance events and/or extreme conditions.

Learn more about Roctane at the GU website, or read my full review here.

Best Nutritional Value (Most Natural Ingredients)

Sports drinks are not a healthy everyday beverage, but during exercise, you need the calories. So from the nutrition side, we’re just looking for something that uses natural ingredients. That would have to be Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration.

Osmo contains no artificial sweeteners nor artificial colors. It is naturally sweetened with cane sugar, and it is flavored with real fruit. For example, blueberry and pomegranate fruit juice powders for flavor, and beet root powder for color.

The one drawback is that Osmo is a “food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle” company, and they only offer the one main hydration drink. You’ll have to look elsewhere for higher-calorie drinks, energy gels, and energy bars.

Learn more about Osmo Active Hydration at the Osmo Nutrition website. Ready to buy? It’s available on Amazon.

Best for Sensitive Stomachs

Finding a sports drink that agrees with your digestive system is even more personal than choosing a favorite flavor. So I can’t guarantee anything here.

The previously mentioned Skratch Labs and Osmo Nutrition products are great choices for sensitive stomachs. But if I’m coaching someone that’s looking for a gentle drink, my first recommendation is DripDrop ORS. The ORS stands for “oral rehydration solution.” It uses a formula specific to rehydration, for improved absorption, and improved absorption means less chance of an upset stomach.

There is no fizz like with some effervescent tablets. There is no excess sugar.

Learn more about Drip Drop ORS at the DripDrop website, or read my full review here.

Best Sports Drink with Caffeine

Some sports drinks and energy gels offer a single flavor with a little extra caffeine. Tailwind Nutrition went the extra mile and created a caffeinated version of their popular Endurance Fuel sports drink with four unique flavors.

Aptly named Tailwind Nutrition Caffeinated Endurance Fuel, this drink meets all your calorie, hydration, and electrolyte needs just like you’d expect, plus it adds 35mg of caffeine per 100 calorie scoop.

Since you put 1-3 scoops in a standard 24 oz water bottle (depending on workout intensity and duration), caffeinated Tailwind provides 100-300 calories and 35-105 mg caffeine per bottle.

Learn more about Caffeinated Endurance Fuel at the Tailwind Nutrition website. Ready to buy? Available on Amazon.

Easiest to Find at Any Gas Station

Uh oh. What happens when you run out of your preferred sports drink, and your only option is to grab one from a gas station?

There’s really only one sports drink I expect to find at any given gas station: Gatorade. And that might do more harm than good. (Gatorade is fine if your stomach can handle it. But the sugar rush might leave you queasy, and the sticky aftertaste is annoying.)

Sometimes you will find BODYARMOR, which is positioned as a healthier sports drink. But it’s really low in sodium, which defeats the purpose.

So what I would do is look to see if they carry some sort of coconut water. Some call it nature’s sports drink. It’s a great choice because it will probably have more electrolytes and less sugar. And a lighter flavor.

You might not find my favorites like Amy & Brian or Harmless Harvest, but Vita Coco is pretty common nowadays. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it at a gas station or convenience store.

Alternative solution: Carry some single-serving packs of your favorite drink mix powder in your seat bag. Many of the drinks listed here are available in single-serving pouches. This way, you just need to find a water source, which is pretty simple.

Honorable Mentions

There are countless lackluster sports drinks out there, but there are still A LOT of great products that just didn’t quite make the cut. Here’s that list:

CLIF Hydration Electrolyte Drink Mix
This is a great mix with one great flavor (cranberry razz). And the ingredients are top notch. I really like it. It just narrowly missed out, mainly because it seems CLIF is way more focused on their bars.

Flow Formulas
This is a relatively new company (formed in 2017) but they are really making a name for themselves. They have an allergen-free, science-backed product with some great success stories. Learn more at FlowFormulas.com.

Hammer Perpetuem
This is a high-calorie endurance fuel. The flavor is pretty good, but it’s kinda thick, rather than light and crisp. It used to be my first choice for long events, but there are newer products that have surpassed it, offering the equivalent quality with better taste.

Maurten 160
The Maurten Drink Mix 160 is a very intriguing idea. It mixes into a liquid sports drink in your bottle, but the “hydrogel technology” means that once it enters the acidic environment of your stomach, it instantly converts to hydrogel to enable a smooth transportation of the drink through the stomach to the intestine where the water, salt, and carbohydrates are absorbed. Learn more at Maurten.com.

Nuun Endurance
You’re probably familiar with the Nuun Sport tablets that provide electrolytes for hydration. But Nuun also has a higher-calorie sports drink powder made to fuel your workouts.

Science in Sport Beta Fuel
Beta Fuel is a PH-neutral isotonic solution, or what Science in Sport calls “a breakthrough in endurance nutrition.” It allows for 90 grams of carbs per bottle, while still being easy to digest. This was recently developed and released in 2018, so I haven’t done much testing, but I’m very excited by it. Learn more at ScienceInSport.com.

Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
The caffeinated version made the list, but the original Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel is no slouch. It combines calories/fuel and hydration for an all-in-one during-ride nutrition solution. It’s very popular with ultra runners but should work equally well for cyclists. Learn more at TailwindNutrition.com.

How to Choose a Sports Drink That’s Right for You

There is a sports drink out there that’s right for you. You just have to find it.

Here is some criteria on what to look for. This should help you narrow down the list, so you can make your own decision based on your unique needs.

Ability to drink it and digest it

There are two things that have to happen for a sports drink to work:

1. You have to drink it.
2. You have to digest it.

It needs to be palatable. It doesn’t have to be delicious, but if you don’t enjoy drinking it, you probably won’t drink it. And then it definitely won’t work.

It also needs to agree with your digestive system. If it causes you any gastric distress or upset stomach, it’s going to ruin your ride or race.

Similarly, always read the ingredients list to be sure it is free of allergens.

Calories

The calorie content is very important, because you need the drink to work for whatever type of workouts or events you are doing.

If your workouts are usually in the 1-3 hour range, most sports drinks will work fine. But for longer events, especially at high intensity or in extreme weather, you’ll need a higher-calorie drink that fits in with your overall fueling strategy. (Or one that works well when combined with your other food.)

Quality of ingredients

All else being equal, I prefer natural ingredients in my sports drinks. Natural sweeteners, natural flavors, natural colors, etc.

You might want a drink that’s certified organic.

You might prefer to avoid all instances of artificial sweeteners like sucralose.

Flavor

There’s no way around it. Flavor is important. Whatever you choose, you should enjoy drinking it!

You want to find a sports drink that you like. And you want to make sure that you like it during exercise. Your palate is often more sensitive during exercise, so light, subtle flavors at rest can be potent and rather strong during your rides and races.

Also important is the number of flavors available. This way you have options and you’re less likely to get sick of it because you had to drink the exact same flavor every single day. It can also be nice and switch things up if you’re doing really long endurance events that last longer than eight hours.

Don’t forget the aftertaste. If you’re doing some taste testing for yourself, take note of the aftertaste. Ideally, the beverage has no aftertaste, and leaves your mouth feeling clean. A bad aftertaste is really annoying when you need to perform at your best.

Price

The price per serving is important because you could be drinking this every ride. Maybe 3+ servings per day.

On average, you’re probably looking at $1 per serving. So the cost is going to add up.

It’s not a huge expense, especially compared to the extreme importance of getting your nutrition right. But there are so many things to spend money on, make sure nutrition is in your budget.

Why trust Coach Levi?

I’ve been using sports drinks since the 90’s, when my only choices were Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport. Which were all owned by large soft drink manufacturers! Since then, I have watched the industry grow and improve. I’ve consumed countless bottles full of so many different sports drinks, in a wide variety of conditions.

Unlike some “reviewers” that create these lists, I’m actually out there breaking a sweat and burning calories to where I really need a sports drink to make sure I’m properly hydrated. And I’m taste testing each and every flavor.

I’m also a certified nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition Level 1) so I like to combine my practical experience with scientific evidence.

Crafting Your Own Sports Nutrition Plan

A proper fueling strategy is more than choosing the best sports drink. You need to eat properly before your rides and during your rides. And stay hydrated.


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