Loving the BITE: Make Your Own Sports Drinks


The art of drinking the right thing at the right time on the bike can take years of practice.  We’re gonna speed that up for you.  Really, it’s simple.  It simply depends on 3 factors:

  1. Your primary goal: Are you riding mostly for health and weight loss OR for cycling performance?  This can become less clear when you’re trying to do both, but by establishing a primary goal, you’ll set the foundation for a fueling strategy.
  2. The duration and intensity of your ride.
  3. The weather conditions – temperature and humidity.  A little subjective, I consider low temps under 50 degree F, moderate at 50-70 degree F, and high at 70+ degree F (especially with high humidity).  What can I say?  I’m a cold-weather-loving cyclist.

This week, we’re going to explore some simple homebrew sports drinks and strategies for choosing the right one on different types of rides.  Proper hydration and fueling can be all the difference between Loving the Bike, and bonking in the heat and dragging yourself back home.

Take a look at the Hydration Chart I’ve created below to see what ingredients you’ll want in your drink for your ride.  Then, see the recipes that follow.   You’ll be ready to “rock” your next ride, well-hydrated!

 Click to Enlarge

Recipes of the week:  Simple Homemade Sports Drinks

Water + Electrolytes (sodium) Drink:

1)     64 oz. water + low-calorie sweetened flavoring (such as True Lemon Lemonade, lemon or lime juice + Stevia, or Crystal Light PURE – look for Stevia or sucralose-sweetened, to taste) + ¼-½ tsp. salt

Per 8 oz. serving: 0-5 calories, 0-1 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 0-12 calories, 0-3 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium

Similar Commercial Drinks (in terms of carbs and sodium): NUUN Tablets, Camelbak Elixir

Water + Diluted Carbs + Electrolytes (sodium):

1)     64 oz. water + ¼ cup sugar + flavoring (such as unsweetened lemon juice, unsweetened Kool-aid, etc.)+ ¼-½ tsp. salt

2)     56 oz. water + 8 oz. 100% juice + 2 Tbsp. sugar + ¼-½ tsp. salt

Per 8 oz. serving: 30 calories, 8 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 75 calories, 20 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium

Similar Commercial Drinks (in terms of carbs and sodium): G2, any powdered sports drink mixed to half-strength

Water + Carbs + Electrolytes (sodium):

1)     64 oz. water + ½ cup sugar + flavoring (such as unsweetened lemon juice, Kool-aid, etc.)+ ¼-½ tsp. salt

2)     48 oz. water + 16 oz. 100% juice + ¼ cup sugar + ¼-½ tsp. salt

Per 8 oz. serving: 60 calories, 15 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 150 calories, 38 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium

Similar Commercial Products (in terms of carbs and sodium): Gatorade Pro, 1st Endurance, Skratchlabs Exercise Hydration

Easy Add-ons for experimentation:

Potassium: Potassium is another important electrolyte in training, and it can be easily added from Morton’s Lite, which can be found at your grocery store next to the salt.  If you do decide to add it, try ¼ tsp. per 64 oz. fluid (44 mg Potassium per 8 oz., or 109 mg per hour with 20 oz.).

Maltodextrin: Maltodextrin is a man-made carbohydrate that has advantages over simpler sugars because 1) it provides a slightly less simple carb, which can last longer and lead to more prolonged energy, 2) it does not add a “sweet” taste, and 3) it can be absorbed in addition to fructose and glucose, rather than in place of (so you can absorb more carbs per hour).  It can be found online or in health stores…try adding 30-60 grams maltodextrin per 64 oz. fluid (in addition to other ingredients above)

L-Glutamine: L-Glutamine can reduce muscle breakdown and muscle soreness in training and recovery.  It can be found in health food, vitamin, and online stores.  Try adding 4500-6000 mg per 64 oz. fluid.


For anyone who is thinking that they’d much rather just drink water, I hear you.  I understand that good, clean water is the most refreshing drink on and off the bike, and that drinking a sugary sports drink gets old (especially one loaded with chemicals you can’t pronounce).  And, for those athletes whose primary goal is health and weight loss, or who are riding at a low or moderate intensity on a short ride, this is fine.

However, for a cyclist who’s primarily trying to improve on the bike, push him/herself to new limits, and train or race with time goals in mind, I recommend a drink with water, electrolytes and carbs.  Here’s why:

  • When you’re training or competing for >60 minutes, and especially in hot or humid weather, you lose more than just fluid in your sweat.  Your body depends on the electrolytes you lose for many functions, and it’s crucial to replenish them if you want to perform at an optimal level and stay healthy.  Over-hydration can be very dangerous, but usually only occurs when fluids are replenished without electrolytes.
  • Sports drinks that contain a 4-8% carbohydrate solution leave your stomach quickest, and are therefore digested and absorbed faster than water.  Within this range, you do have to be careful to not concentrate too much, as it can lead to stomach upset.
  • Sodium actually increases the absorption rate of fluids in your large intestine, so you hydrate better when the fluid contains sodium.  I recommend sodium mixed within a drink, rather than in a high-sodium pill for this reason and to avoid the feeling of “heavy” or swollen legs and diminished energy.
  • When you replenish only fluid, but you’ve lost fluid and electrolytes, your body must work hard to reestablish the correct ratio of electrolytes to fluid in its plasma.  In order to do so, you may continue to excrete fluid in order to not cause a diluted plasma ratio of electrolytes to fluid.  End result: More dehydration.
  • Your brain operates on glucose.  Your muscles, once they’ve used up their short supply of glycogen, need a consistent source of glucose for optimal performance whether burning carbs or burning fat (in the absence of carbs, lactic acid builds up quicker).  When you give your body fluid, lytes, and carbs, you give it the nutrients it needs to work harder for a longer amount of time.  In this way, plain water without another steady source of carbohydrates falls short.
  • Dehydration and imbalanced electrolytes have a direct, detrimental impact on your performance.  Just a 3% loss of body weight due to dehydration can significantly impair your performance, muscle contractile strength, and speed.  At 5-6%, you’re bonking and can no longer regulate body temperature.

In fact, I think training with the proper fluids is every bit as important as competing with them.  When cycling, you must be able to push yourself if you want to get better, right?  So why not give yourself every advantage?  Money for sports drinks can certainly add up, especially when used 3-4 times per week.   Enter these homebrews above.  They are inexpensive and utilize simple ingredients to provide fluids, carbs, and electrolytes.  And while I would never claim that my homebrew is better than or as researched as some of the good products you can find commercially, I find it does the job for a tiny fraction of the cost and without the chemical junk.  For many athletes, it affords them the opportunity to training every day with adequate, consistent fuel.

When considering your on-the-bike fuel and hydration plan, keep in mind that your body can likely use ~60+ grams carbs (depending on the sources of carbs), 200-300 calories, 400-700 mg sodium, 100-130 mg potassium, 16-32 ounces fluid per hour of training.  If you’d like to consume these amounts,  you’ll generally need 20 oz. of the water + carbs + lytes drink PLUS ~25 grams carbs from another source.

You can make every ride count whether you want to lose weight, become a better cyclist, or both.  If you want to get better, you must train better.  Don’t waste opportunities.  Give your body the fuel it needs every time.  And then, enjoy a nice glass of ice-cold water when you’re done.

Fuel Your Ride.  Nourish Your Body.

*Thanks to Scott Thigpen from Thigpen Designs for taking Kelli’s Hydration Information and creating the chart found above.

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  7. Paul Vernon on January 29, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Hi Kelli,
    Great article. I really enjoyed listening to you on the Cycling360 podcast about nutrition, which I heard today, and checked your site out from there.
    When you mention adding flavouring, does it matter how much or is it just personal taste? Could you add cordial or squash instead?
    I’ve been using sis or high5 tablets in water but they’re expensive. I started to use soluble energy tablets, which are much cheaper but don’t think they contain enough sodium. Definitely plan to use your homebrew recipes as well as a bunch of other stuff from the site.
    Thanks so much.
    Paul (from near London, England)

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  22. Hakan on June 26, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for the list. Which one is good for kids?

    • Kelli, RD on September 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Hakan, I apologize for my delay in responding to your question. I usually use #2 (the juice + sugar option) of either the diluted carbs or full carbs when working with kid/teen athletes depending on the performance goals and duration of the workout (if >1 hour and intense, they can certainly use all the carbs). I hope this helps!

  23. Randy on April 24, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Hi Kelli,
    Any issues with using honey as opposed to regular sugar?

    • Kelli, RD on September 3, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      I am so sorry I missed your comment/question. The only issue w/ honey is that it doesn’t always mix well…otherwise, it’s a great choice!

  24. GlennS on August 9, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I’ve been experimenting with homebrew since I heard Kelli talk about it on a Cycle360 podcast. Instead of using juice, I used a 1/2c blueberries with NoSalt (all potassium, rather than Morton Lite) and mix in my blender. I’ve also tried using Emergen-C (for flavor, vitamins, and minerals). Plain water seems to quench my thirst best, but I do feel a difference in performance when using a (homemade) sport drink.

  25. deathby2 on July 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    The drink that I have found works the best for me, both before and after hard rides is regular V8.

    • Kelli Jennings on July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      Hello and thanks for the comment. After doing this for awhile, I definitely respect that individual preference can prevail as long as the basic nutrients are being taken care of. Before a ride, you may want additional carbs depending on your goals and duration of the ride. The V8 works well for fluids, sodium, and potassium. Afterwards, if you’ve cycled for more than 60 minutes, I’d recommend carbs and protein along with your V8 for recovery. Of course, the recipes above are mostly for “during training,” but they too can be used as part of pre-ride and post-ride nutrition. All the best and thanks again!

  26. Brian Stephens on July 28, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Kelli, this is great info. It’s funny, when people say “homebrew” I automatically think beer, probably because I do that at my home. Well, that’s why I ride…so I can drink my beer later. But now I can drink homebrew sports drink on my rides. I’ve always wondered what it took to make my own, what combinations, etc. Thanks for the in depth info. I can see that you would have to restrain yourself from going too deep into the topic. I think you hit a good balance.

    • Kelli Jennings on July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Brian, Thanks for your comment! Yes, I think homebrew more accurately describes beer, but we’ll have to save that one for another LovingTheBite. Hope you enjoy these recipes…let us know what you think. Take care!

  27. Tim on July 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I’ve been looking to make my own sports / energy drinks. That’s a great starting guide, Thanks!

    • Kelli Myers Jennings on July 27, 2012 at 9:42 am

      You’re very welcome Tim, let us know how you like them!

  28. C Grade Cyclist on July 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Does it matter what type of salt you use in these mixes? In my pantry at home, I have sea salt, and iodised table salt… Should I use one of those in particular, or some other type? Thanks!

    • Tom Krawietz on July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      Use iodized salt to support a healthy thyroid. Regular table salt (NaCl) is fine and inexpensive. Sodium citrate is a higher end sodium source that is not “salty” tasting and you go higher on the sodium content (>400 mg/liter) and it will still taste fine, but a bit sour… and it leaves your body alkaline. (cycnut.com)

    • Kelli Myers Jennings on July 27, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Hi C Grade, Thanks for you question… I think all of what Tom stated below is fine. My primary concern is that it mixes well. I tend to use plain iodized salt (table salt) for these drinks. The “salty” taste is generally welcome when you’re out there sweating. Enjoy!

      • chrispictures on August 4, 2013 at 3:50 am

        I have read on a site by a doctor of sports nutrition(sorry cant remember the site) that if you can taste the salt then you are using to much. Fresh fruit juice for the pottassium (orrange is about the best) and a 1/4 teaspoon salt per litre of water.

  29. Jamie on July 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I’m definitely not getting enough water on my rides. I also like the idea of making my own drinks.

    • Kelli Myers Jennings on July 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      It will make a difference to you to feel well-hydrated, for sure. Especially this time of year. I like the homebrews, too (I’ve been riding on them for 10+ years). I know what ingredients are in it, and it’s as frugal as you can get!

  30. Dean on July 26, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Wow. It might take me a bit to process all of this but what great information. The chart will be very helpful.

    • Kelli Myers Jennings on July 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thanks for your comment, Dean – I’m thrilled that it will be helpful to you. I struggled with keeping this info concise, and hopefully it proves to help and clarify rather than overwhelm! Please let us know if you have any questions as you go through it.

  31. @SawyerNS on July 26, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Thank you – this was helpful. I suffered dehydration once, not long ago after a 70 k practice training ride. i never want that to happen again. After reading your blog I realize it was probably partially due to my salt restricted snacks due to my high blood pressure. Now I allow myself salted nuts and drink hydration drinks in the amount you recommend, along the way. Since I’ve been cycling regularly my blood pressure has actually gone down in general and I’m not so concerned about salt intake in general. Win – Win – win!!!!

    • Kelli Myers Jennings on July 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Yay! That’s awesome, Sawyer. I’ve never really seen a negative effect to high blood pressure with sodium intake during moderate to high intensity training. And yes, as you’re able to push yourself, you health will improve, including blood pressure:) Great job!


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Sugar Alternatives for Energy and Hydration

Question: I am using the homebrew sugar formulations (sometimes added to green tea).  I am also trying to wean myself off 1/2 dose adrenalean “lip tonic delivery system” (biorhythm brand- caffeine, hoodia g, synephrine, yohimbe) capsule for energy.

My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

Sports Drink Homebrew

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

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