Making Your Own ‘Sports Drink’

When I lived in Singapore I did a lot of dragon boating. After every practice, in humid, 32 degree conditions (it’s always 32C in Singapore), the beer cooler would be rolled out and the following story would unfold:

  • I would drink a sports drink.
  • I would drink some beers (occasionally more than ‘some’).
  • I would eat a banana-leaf Indian meal (okay, this is not important to the story, but I wanted to relive that delicious bit).
  • I would go to bed and then I would wake up with a pounding headache.

Before beer.



The last event could occur even without the beer and it quickly became evident that I was becoming dehydrated and, more importantly, not re-hydrating properly. To be honest, I downloadnever really solved this problem, mainly because I like beer so much, but I did try and get more fluids into me before diving into the Moosehead. I’m still prone to these dehydration headaches, especially after 190 minutes on the indoor trainer, like yesterday. I drank enough on the bike, most likely, but it was only water. Afterwards I probably didn’t drink enough to replenish what I lost, or, more correctly, I didn’t drink the right stuff (only water again).

Haute Route could be a very hot affair (like it was last year) and we’ll be spending 4, 5, 6, or 7 hours in the saddle each day, pushing hard for much of the time. It’s probably a good idea to get this hydration thing solved before I hit the Alps.


Hot day in the Haute Route (photo:

The thing is, I don’t like the thought of ‘sports drinks’ all that much. Most aren’t made with natural ingredients and they cost too much anyway (I have the same philosophy when it comes to gels and bars now). So, I’ve started to do a little research on what it is I might need to stave off these headaches and have come up with this:

  1. Sugar
  2. Salt
  3. Water

Sugar: this is supposed to prevent a drop in performance due to less blood sugar. My feeling is that I can get this from the stuff I’m eating on the bike (dried fruits, cake, etc) though, so perhaps the real reason for sugar is to make your drink palatable.

Salt: helps the fluid you take in absorb into your body. Salt also has (some? all?) the electrolytes you lose through sweating.

Water: simply the liquid you have lost on the bike.

It’s probably a lot more complicated than this, but I’m going to start simple and make myself the following cocktail for today’s workout:

  • I liter water
  • 50 grams sugar
  • half tsp salt

When I get out to the store I will try this next one:

  • 500 ml fruit juice
  • 500 ml water
  • half tsp salt

I really don’t like to drink anything other than water on the bike, so I’ll start by alternating water-‘sports drink’-water, etc. and see how that goes.

In the meantime, I’d welcome any and all comments from those with more experience than me, especially if you make your own concoctions and would care to share your secrets.

23 thoughts on “Making Your Own ‘Sports Drink’

  1. The recipe I have been using successfully for a long time and it was via a sports scientist who was belittling the value of commercial ‘sports drinks’ is..
    Per 500ml water.
    2 tablespoonfuls granulated sugar
    1/2 teaspoon of salt
    and I usually add a drop of orange juice or Ribena
    Thats what got me up Ventoux.. 🙂 ( but 2 x 750ml bottles.. 🙂 )

    • Thanks, Brian. I was thinking that my 1/2 tsp per 1000 ml looked puny, especially when compared to the healthy amount of sugar I put it. I just finished another 3 awful hours on the trainer, by the way. The taste was fine and I think I could reduce the sugar a bit more, even.

  2. I’m anything but an expert on this, but I was under the impression that an electrolyte drink – or ‘sports drink’ – would best contain not just sodium chloride (to supply Na+ electrolyte), but other salts as well, to deliver electrolytes of calcium and potassium. A quick look at Wikipedia (search on ‘electrolyte’) tells us that physiologically, muscle contraction depends on the presence of calcium, sodium and potassium electrolytes, and ‘the maintenance of precise osmotic gradients of [these] electrolytes’ to keep those legs pumping.

    So, I would hazard that a mix of salts, rather than straight table salt (NaCl) might be better, if you could get hold of some potassium chloride too.

    Of course, it may be that the potassium from a banana, or a handful of cashews would do the trick – I really don’t know. But I do recall the shocking hazards of *carrying* a banana with me on a long ride – as I’m sure you remember!

    • Nigel, I wondered the same thing when I found that recipe for normal salt. Perhaps, like you said, the other stuff will be supplied via food (there are always bananas at food stations, for example). It’s a good question, though.

      And yeah, I remember your over-cooked banana well, bro!

  3. One word: Skratch. Dr Allan Kim, guru to the pro cycling peloton invented a replacement drink in his kitchen from (pardon the pun) scratch and gave it to many of the riders in the pro peloton. He studied the contents of sweat and replicated it. He shared his drink with any pro rider that asked for it and they called it “the secret” because they would replace their sponsors stuff that caused all kinds of GI issues with “the secret”. It’s basically sweat with a hint of natural flavor. I started using it in the 40C Arizona desert heat with great success and have been using it ever since, even on those long 4 hour indoor winter rides in preparation for Haute Route. It’s the best stuff I’ve used in over 30 years for riding and racing. And remember what Dr Kim says, “Eat your carbs and drink your electrolytes”. Check it out at:

    PS: Beer is a terrible recovery drink, it’s know to cause headaches when a person is dehydrated.

    • Thanks, Rob. I actually tried to order some Skratch last month and all was going fine till we got to the ‘shipping’ field in the purchase process. The cost to send it to France was stupid, so I gave up.

      I like the simple wisdom of Dr Kim’s ‘eat your carbs and drink your electrolytes’. I’ll do a bit more research on how to get those electrolytes into my jungle juice.

  4. I’ll try and find some recepies for energy drink from a great book on endurance cycling. I can’t remember the full details but try and use fructose rather than glucose as the latter causes big surges in blood sugar levels. For long periods some will cause gastro-intertribal issues. Potassium salts rather than table salt (sodium chloride). I made up my own when I did some 12 hour charity Spinning event Last year. It’s good to feel you know a product and also save a lot of money at the same time.

    • I saw some recipes that recommended baking soda, along with salt, and maybe something about potassium as well. I shouldn’t have closed all those tabs! I completely agree with you about knowing what goes into this stuff. I eat only ‘real’ food at meals, so I might as well do the same thing on the bike.

      • I think the ideal option is a mix of glucose and fructose (table sugar aka sucrose is the 2 combined) to get both different systems giving you maximum sugar at the same time. If you are exercising, I think you want big surges of glucose but you want it maintained- so keep drinking small and often. Fructose may cause problems due to its narrow method of being metabolised in the body and many people have malabsorption problems. Gastro issues are always a problem and be careful if the sugar concentrations are too high(perhaps try with the trainer first!). The more I know, the more confusing it seems. Do like the idea of maple syrup below, much better than that horrible grape flavour.

        • Thanks, Laurie. I think adding some electrolytes is essential for dehydration, too, as far as I can see. I don’t really want the drink for energy, to be honest, because I’d like to eat things for that bit. Small amounts of sugar to keep the mixture drinkable seems to be the best way to go for me.

  5. I have always gone with a homemade concoction extremely similar to yours….water and juice, mixed always by eye so no scientific measurement, and then a dump of salt, again not measured but not too much. So far it seems to have served me well but then I’ve not been climbing Ventoux….mores the pity!

    • Ventoux might require a little extra ‘kick’! I’ve only ever drunk water when climbing it though. I’m glad to see there’s someone else out there who’s going the homemade route.

  6. Always gone the home-made route. fifty-fifty water and apple-juice and a pinch of sea salt. That said I do no more than bimble about on the bike – none of your hairy-chested man or lady of action stuff.

  7. Hey Gerry,

    Totally unscientific, but water, maple syrup (we make our own) lemon juice, salt. In proportions to make a drink very barely sweet, salty or lemony. Just slightly more than water flavor.

  8. That’s my home-made ‘sports drink’:
    1 liter water
    1 half tsp salt
    6 tsp sugar
    6 tsp instant lemon flavour tea plus
    a bit of lemon juice
    And beer (some beer) after training helps speeding glycogen reload… always keep an eye on your body’s demands (even of alcoholic drinks)!

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