You check a cycling catalog and find half a dozen brands of sports drink. Same thing when you visit a nearby bike shop or nutrition store. It’s a bewildering assortment that isn’t helped by the various performance claims of the manufacturers. Which drink should you choose?
Marketing people would blanch at this answer but I think most sports drinks work about the same. Most have similar amounts of carbohydrate supplying about the same number of calories and potential energy. The other key ingredient is sodium to replace what’s lost as perspiration. You can always add a pinch of table salt if you sweat heavily.
Go With What Works for You
Find favorable flavors. The key is finding a drink you like to drink. Don’t force yourself to use a sports drink that tastes bad simply because you’re hooked by the marketing hype. (And make no mistake, some of the flavors out there would gag a maggot.)
The problem is easy to see: If you don’t enjoy the drink, you won’t drink enough. No matter how scientifically formulated the stuff might be, it won’t do you much good if you can’t swallow enough of it. My advice is to find a couple of drinks that taste good to you — and buy the one that’s on sale!
Be flexible. If you tour or do long, unsupported day rides, get accustomed to commonly available drinks such as Gatorade and PowerAde. When you stop at a convenience store, you’ll likely be limited to 1 or 2 choices, so your system needs to run efficiently on them. If you feel you can function well only on some exotic brand, you’ll be in trouble if you run dry while riding through Pea Green, Colorado.
This doesn’t necessarily apply, of course, if you carry your own powder to mix. Then you only need a water source. But you may end up paying almost as much for bottled water at a store as you would for a bottle of sports drink!
The same thinking applies to events when the organizers supply drinks at aid stations. If their choice doesn’t agree with you, it could be a long day. For important events, find out what’s being offered. Try it in advance so your system adjusts, or carry your own drink in powder form and mix it with water at rest stops.