How to make your own super-duper sports drink

If you've read my posting about the risks and benefits of sports drinks, you will know that I believe in drinking moderate-"glycemic load" sports drinks during my workout rides and races, instead of the typical high-GL sports drinks. Accelerade is my favorite, and seems to leave me feeling much better during long, hard rides. But you can make your own sports drink and save a bit of money. It's easy!

The list of ingredients in Accelerade in descending order:

  1. Sucrose
  2. Whey protein concentrate
  3. Trehalose (Ascend™)
  4. Citric acid
  5. Natural flavor
  6. Fructose
  7. Lecitihin
  8. Magnesium carbonate
  9. Salt
  10. Maltodextrin
  11. Monopotassium phosphate
  12. Ascorbic acid
  13. Vitamin E acetate
  14. FD&C yellow 5
  15. FD&C yellow 6
Easy, huh! ;-) Actually, it is easy, especially if you aren't a slave to following this exactly. You just have to know why they add these ingredients to their sports drink and where you can get them.

Sucrose: Ordinary sugar. This is where the energy to power your muscles comes from, and it's lower-GI than many other sugars so your blood-sugar won't spike as high. Look in your kitchen, or go to any grocery store. Cheap too.

Whey protein concentrate: Also easy to find, in many grocery stores and in health-food stores (I no longer use the isolate version for this recipe as it seems slightly harder to digest). This reduces the GL of the sports drink and improves your performance and muscle repair.

Trehalose: Uh, well, not sure where to buy this, but since it's just a complex sugar I don't feel I'm missing out by not adding this to my sports drink. Though it is also an antioxidant which is great for limiting the damage caused by hard exercise; but we can get that from other sources.

Citric acid: They probably add this for taste and also for its natural preservative effect (and I believe it also helps your body absorb certain minerals, e.g. iron). You can just add some lemon or lime juice to get the same effect.

Natural flavor: Whatever.

Fructose: More sugar, and also something you can buy in better grocery stores and health-food stores. I don't feel the need to add this though.

Lecitihin: I think they must add this for the choline content, which is neat because it helps you burn fat. Not essential if you eat well-balanced meals (vegans beware!), but if you stumble upon some at the store, why not grab it. I haven't (I eat eggs which are a great source of choline).

Magnesium carbonate: Chalk! Magnesium is an important mineral and helps with muscle function. Scrape a stick of chalk, or find an antacid that contains this. I get enough magnesium from eating healthy fruits, vegetables and nuts so I don't bother.

Salt: A good idea, especially on very hot days, to prevent hyponatremia.

Maltodextrin: Another sugar (AKA maltose). Sigh. It's very high-GI, so I would rather avoid it. Might be good for short, high-intensity races I guess.

Monopotassium phosphate: I think they add this for the important electrolyte potassium (phosphorous is extremely plentiful in foods, so I doubt that's needed in a sports drink). Potassium can also be obtained from many foods, including bananas, avocados and potatoes, and even salt substitutes.

Ascorbic acid: AKA vitamin C, also an antioxidant. A good idea to ensure basic health, and acts as a natural preservative. (Strange fact: Almost all animals can make ascorbic acid in their livers, but we can't because of a "genetic defect.")

Vitamin E: Another nice vitamin with antioxidant properties.

FD&C yellow: If you like unnatural colors.

OK, are you ready to make your own sports drink? Here's my recipe:

Quick, lazy version:
  • Water (16-24 fl. oz. typically)
  • 2 tablespoons (tbsp) sugar
  • Whey protein concentrate (about 5 grams; may require careful measuring... it's usually about 1 heaping tbsp)
  • Pinch (about 1/16 teaspoon (tsp)) salt substitute (for potassium)
  • Pinch (1/16 tsp) salt (optional; recommended for long rides on very hot days)
Got more time? Add this too:
  • 1/2 tsp lime or lemon juice, or to taste
  • Vitamin pill, crushed (for vitamins C and E)
  • Antacid, preferably with magnesium
  • Flavoring (liquid stevia sweetener, peppermint extract, KoolAid, whatever you like)
  • You can also substitute some of the ordinary table sugar with maltose or fructose, if you want
This provides 125 calories, 28 grams carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 179 mg sodium, 192 mg potassium, 0 fat. Nearly identical to Accelerade, though higher in carbs (using fructose would lower the carbs for starters).

[First test: I did my usual intense six "L5" 6-minute intervals ride with my teammates and brought two water bottles: one with Accelerade, one with my home-brew. Both worked well, though my home-brew did seem to take a bit longer to digest. This intense workout is a great test, so I would say even as I make it now my home-brew would be fine for longer intervals. Might be an issue for some people during shorter intervals though. I am thinking Accelerade's higher-GI sugars may be of more benefit to the stomach's ability to absorb it than I thought, so I may be trying to add some maltodextrin to my home-brew soon... or maybe it just needs the magnesium carbonate to help calm the digestion down. I will update this posting when I get a chance to try that.]

[Second test: I bought some whey protein concentrate, some magnesium-based antacid and have now gone through several more batches of my sports drink. The biggest tests have been the tough Saturday rides I do with my team. My home-brew sports drink has stood up to every challenge. I have revised the recipe above to reflect my latest tweaks. By the way, I had a bucket of Cytomax lying around, so I've been using that instead of sugar some of the time. Works about the same, so I wouldn't bother otherwise. Enjoy!]

Enjoy your sports drink, and the money you save!


Steven Zwerink said…

Nice article! I am also very fond of adding fast working proteins to my sportsdrink, PeptoPro is a very good example!