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Water vs. Sports Drink

by Editor


Joe Friel has trained endurance athletes since 1980. His clients are elite amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes, and duathletes. They come from all corners of the globe and include American and foreign national champions, world championship competitors, and an Olympian.

He is the author of ten books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified Elite-level coach, and is a founder and past Chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission.

Joe conducts seminars around the world on training and racing for cyclists, multi-sport athletes, and coaches, and provides consulting services for corporations in the fitness industry.

He has also been active in business as a founder of Training Peaks (, a web-based software company, and TrainingBible Coaching (

Joe lives and trains in the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, overlooking the Valley of the Sun.

This article is reprinted from
By Joe Friel
Effective marketing has lead most weekend warrior athletes to believe that they must drink a sports drink to recover or hydrate. In most cases, this is simply not true!

I had a recreational rider ask me today what he should drink while riding. My answer wasn’t what he expected.

Basically, I believe recreational athletes don’t need nearly as much sugar while working out as they have been led to believe. Their biggest problem is not fading or bonking while on a workout, but rather trying to lose excess weight (VT: or to get in better shape for Motocross). All of that sugar is not helping. They need to train their bodies to use more fat for fuel. Pouring down sugar from the start of a workout doesn’t help that at all.

I told him what he should use depended on two things: how long and how intense the workout is. For workouts of an hour or less regardless of how hard they are water is all that is needed for even moderately fit people. For very fit athletes that may be extended to 90 minutes or even two hours. Beyond these durations, as the workout intensity increases, the need for sugar also increases.

For these long and intense workouts how much sugar you need depends once again on how fit you are. Some people, especially those who eat a diet composed largely of high-glycemic-load and high-glycemic-index carbohydrates (this is mainly starch) will need more sugar than the athlete who eats a diet that is more vegetable, fruit and protein focused. I see this every winter when we test the athletes I coach. Some are obviously sugar burners while others are fat burners. The fat burners have a definite advantage when it comes to endurance in long events.

He also wanted to know what he should take in right after a workout. If it was an hour or so easy nothing out of the ordinary is needed. If it was long or highly intense and there is another important workout coming up soon then some sugar and perhaps some protein may prove beneficial. But this doesn’t have to be anything complicated or expensive. Real food will work quite nicely. I drink some fruit juice cut with ice tea, a couple of handfuls of crackers, a banana and perhaps leftovers from a recent meal.

I’m afraid we have been led to believe that we must use exotic food and drink products because we’re athletes. That may be good for the manufacturers’ bottom line, but it really isn’t necessary for most athletes’ training and performance.

Of course, I also told him that if he was training like pro endurance athletes (VT: or on a Pro level for Motocross) and putting in 20 to 35 hours of training a week including lots of high intensity he’d need a lot more sugar coming in at all times of the day including during workouts, post-workout and until the next workout. But he rides about 8 hours per week, in a good week. All of this expensive stuff he’s been led to believe he needs really will have no positive effect on his riding or his fitness. In fact, I think it might prove a hindrance.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Erik July 09, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Great Article. Good for us, bad for the sports drink market... HA!

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 12, 2010 at 6:17 am

    For sure. I just wanted everyone to know that you don't HAVE to have a sports drink to do the right thing. I still drink Gatorade, but only b/c I tend to drink more fluid with a little flavor. Glad you liked the article!

  3. Gravatar
    Bill July 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    A good way to at least cut back a bit is by cutting the sport drink 50/50 with water or seltzer and/or limiting usage to only post workout.

  4. Gravatar
    Informed July 18, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Joe is not the most sophisticated physiologist i know, so take this w/ a grain of salt... Pun intended... There is a guy that SHOULD be consulted here re: hydration, but isn't, for whatever reason... He forgot more about sports nutrition/hydration than anyone i know !

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Informed - Please elaborate by emailing ( or calling me at 407-748-4663. I would be very interested in the person who you think should be consulted.

  6. Gravatar
    Eddie Casillas July 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Contact these guys,
    You should also take the time to thoroughly read all of their data. ALL OF IT not just skim it. Make sure you break out your exercise phys book to brush up on some of the big words.

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