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Difference Between Sport Drinks & Energy Drinks

By Jackie Lohrey

There is a vast difference between sports drinks and energy drinks in their ingredients, purpose and audience. Despite this, the fact that they both provide a source of energy causes some confusion, especially among athletes, as to which is the more appropriate beverage. However, once you understand the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks, you will see that even this single trait-in-common is not as similar as it may appear.

Sports Drinks Ingredients of Importance

The ingredients of importance in sports drinks are carbohydrates and electrolytes. Common carbohydrate ingredients include glucose, glucose polymers, sucrose and fructose in concentrations that range from 4 to 8 percent. While each ingredient performs a specific function, together they determine the rate at which the beverage absorbs from your small intestine. In general, the greater the percent of carbohydrates present in the sports drink, the slower the absorption rate. Electrolyte ingredients include sodium, in a concentration of about 10 to 25 millimoles per liter, potassium and sometimes magnesium. Electrolytes assist in absorption and help maintain the sodium-potassium balance in body fluids.

Energy Drinks Ingredients of Importance

The main ingredient of importance in an energy drink is usually caffeine. While the caffeine concentration in an 8- to 12-oz. bottle is about 72 to 150 mg, the University of California Davis reports that larger-size bottles can contain as much as 294 mg. Common ingredients you usually see in lesser concentrations include guarana, which also contains caffeine and ginseng, which enhances the effect of caffeine and sugar.

Effect on Energy

While each has an effect on energy levels, sports and energy drinks provide this energy in different ways. Carbohydrates in sports drinks feed your muscles, while electrolytes supply essential chemicals you lose by sweating. This is the type of energy enables you to sustain physical activity for longer periods. In contrast, caffeine affects your central nervous system and therefore your brain. In this way, caffeine provides a type of short-term pseudo-energy, as your mind tells your body to go whether or not you have the physical capability to do so. When the effects of the energy drink begin to wear off, so does your energy level.


Sports organizations such the Olympics have strong opinions on the use of both sports and energy drinks. While Olympic.org extols the benefits of sports drinks, calling them both safe and effective, energy drinks do not fare as well. Of particular concern, according to Olympic.org, is the effect energy drinks may have on your body if you combine them with alcohol. As of 2010 caffeine is not on any banned substance list, but the World Anti-Doping Agency includes caffeine in its monitoring program and is evaluating its potential as a performance enhancing substance.

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