Natural alternative to Sports drinks?

Hi there!

I'm doing the Lon Marathon in April and training is going well! Just one thing I was looking for advice on was the sports drinks. Does anybody know if there is a natural alternative to the refuelling sports drinks and sports gels? Or...can you successfully make up your own one (salts, sugars etc)? I have tried doing a bit of internet searching bu can't seem to find much!

If I can't find suitable alternatives, I will have the gels etc, but my reason for wanting an alternative is that I am very anti the artificial sweeteners (aspartame mainly) Personal opinion, so please don't shoot me down! Just wondered if anyone had advice....?

Thanks, Alison x



  • Watered down fruit juice and salt works for me.
  • Thanks for your reply! How much salt?
  • I put a good pinch of salt into "1.5 glasses water, 1.5 glasses orange juice".  very scientific image

     If you're happy to buy non-aspartame, then try Taut - it's everything free and way less sugary than Lucozade.  Available in the supermarket (well I've found it in Waitrose and Sainsbury, haven't tried Asda or Tesco).

    (I have no connection to Taut, just like it...when I remember to buy it!)

  • Another fan of watered down fruit juice with a pinch of salt.  That's pretty much all that Taut is anyway.
  • Yeah, just a good pinch will do the trick.
  • The general recipe is 50% fruit juice, 50% water with a pinch of salt.  However, some recent research said the salt has no effect unitl you stop exercising so you might as well take it then.  If you like the tast of it and have a juicer why not juice a stick of celery instead of adding table salt - much better for you!

  • Thank you so much for all your replies! Most helpful!! image
  • You could try the WHO home made oral rehydration salts (ORS) recipe, basically:

    1 litre water
    1 level tsp salt
    8 level tsps sugar

    Not a great taste, admittedly, but well balanced.
  • I can't take aspartame, makes me feel very dizzy.

     This is what it says about Aspartame in the Bill Statham guide to food additives "prepared from phenylalanine and aspartic acid; breaks down to methanol then formaldehyde inthe body". 

    nasty stuff.  On the gel side, could you add gelatine or agar agar etc to the mix?

  • joybird wrote

     This is what it says about Aspartame in the Bill Statham guide to food additives "prepared from phenylalanine and aspartic acid; breaks down to methanol then formaldehyde inthe body". 

    nasty stuff.  On the gel side, could you add gelatine or agar agar etc to the mix?

    Hi Joybird! This is exactly my reasons for not wanting to have anything with aspartame in it...have been on this mission for some years now and really didn't want to have to have it if I could avoid I am so grateful for all these responses of alternatives!

    I have ordered some Taut drinks and will def try all the above recommendations too!

    Thanks Ian for the rehydration formula too!


  • Joybird, please could you tell me why aspartame breaking down into methanol then formaldehyde is a bad thing or why it makes aspartame "nasty stuff"?
  • Hi M.ister W,  I used the guide to food additives published by Bill Stathamin 2007, who evaluates aspartame as "hazardous", and lists recorded potential bad effects. 
  • Quite right too joybird. Steer clear of chemical cocktails. The body will normally make what chemicals it requires and in the appropriate amounts. 
  • Wow someone else who thinks the same as me image I got laughed out of a running shop for asking such a thing!

     I ran Dublin Marathon back in Oct and trained with diluted fruit juice - up to 20 mies was fine but during the marathon i felt like i needed something to keep me going but didnt want to risk having one of the gels they were giving out as I'd not had one before.(Permission to think I am really dumb now....) I did also bring an Organic Flapjack but was later told that my body would have taken ages to release the energy from that! But it's all so complicated...who would've thought you'd need a science degree to understand long distance running image

     Am really getting into this now so if anyone knows what your body actually needs during running then please reply!? Is juice and a pinch of salt enough to get you round a marathon or could I do a better time if I drank all these chemicals!? Ta muchly x

  • My vague memories of organic chemistry at A level is that any derivative of phenol is pretty damn nasty stuff.   Formaldehyde being used by Damien Hirst to pickle cows and Methanol is sheer brute alcohol.  Water, sugar, salt ..... good stuff.
  • Perhaps I'm being thick, but why do sports drinks/gels have sweetener in them anyway?  Isn't the idea to take in carbohydrate in the form of sugar/glucose when on runs?  And isn't that sweet enough?


  • KeirKeir ✭✭✭
    amywales wrote (see)

     Is juice and a pinch of salt enough to get you round a marathon or could I do a better time if I drank all these chemicals!? Ta muchly x

    I don't think juice, liquid and salt would give you enough carbs to get round. In laymans terms, hitting the wall is due to the body running out of carbs and using fat. The point of gels is that they are easily digested, like fluid, so the body does not have to use energy on digesting them, unlike more solid food. Your digestive system does not work as well when under stress such as exercise, so solid food takes longer to digest than normal.

    However gels are pretty new. It might be worth digging out a running book from the 1980s to see what during-race nutrition they advise. Failing that, would have thought a very ripe banana of two (easier to digest and more sugar) early in the race and more sugary foods such as jelly babies later on would be best. (Avoid choclate. It melts!) However do try this in training beforehand.

    I would like to add that I am not a nutirtion expert (I can't even spell the word!) but that was the food I ate in cycle races. I managed over 260 miles in a 12 hour race with this food, although I admit I did also top up with some powerbars, gels and energy drinks. Hope this helps.

  • Ok gang... It doesn't take much research to find how bad Aspartame can be. I read a bad report in The Guardian over 20 years ago, and have attempted to avoid it since.. I say attempted, because more often than not it's in pub lemonade when you order a pint of shandy...

    But look here:

    I have been running for a mere 16 years, and completed 10 Marathons, and the only sports drinks I have used are my own made up Vimto, from the 'original' dilutable juice - the low sugar version is yet another victim to the aspartame devil. I also occasionally use mini jelly babies, or Asda's mini teddy bears for later sustinence. About 8 years back there was a feature in RW about making your own isotonic drinks, but my first attempt made me throw up after a tough 18 mile training run, so I reverted to the Vimto... all natural ingredients, and you make it as strong as you like... It gets the back of your throat if you make it too strong though. I have occasionally used gels in tubes... squeezy, I think... no aspartame, whichever one it was....

    I tried pure orange juice, but couldn't deal with it. I usually have a ripe banana about 20 or 30 mins before a race start too.

    Hope my experience has been some help.
  • Cheers guys...I'll try some of the things suggested. As for Aspartame I can't believe the stuff is actually legal!x
  • If you want a cheap, natural isotonic drink then 50/50 juice with water and a pinch of salt is ideal. It's good to use "Lo-Salt" rather than normal table salt, as it contains potassium as well.

    There's a difference between isotonic drinks (designed mainly to hydrate you quicker than plain water) and gels etc. which are designed to give you energy. In a marathon you'll probably need both.

  • Thanks for all the tips folks- Nice to able to train with less expensive alternatives too!

    D2D- good to see you & hope your running is still going well- missing your posts on my last run.... 

  • I'm loving the scare stories image


    Your body quite happily processes formaldehyde in the quanities you get from the aspartame in off the shelf drinks.  That's a good thing as your body also has to deal with the formaldehyde produced when you drink a glass of red wine (red wine contains methanol which your body breaks down into a number of things, including formaldehyde).  You will get loads more formaldehyde in your body from a couple of glasses of red wine than from a couple of bottles of sports drink.  That's one of the reasons red wine gives you a hangover.

    How do I know this stuff?  Because I spent 5 minutes doing some research on the internet.  The information is out there if you want to find it, instead of basing your diet on a book that was written to scare you.

    Extensive studies have shown that aspartame is completely safe as a food additive.  By all means try and avoid it if it gives you headaches or you don't like the taste but there is absolutely no reason to avoid it on health grounds.

  • I should add that if you're going to research the subject on the internet it's better to use websites that are reliable and have no axe to grind.  That means avoid any sites that use titles like "natural health", "Organic is best" or "Toxic diets".  Stick to sites that give unbiased information such as scientific trials and case studies. is also a good source of information about food scares.  i

    Interestingly, they have an article about aspartame.

  • Nick LNick L ✭✭✭

    Coconut WATER (not milk) is marketed as 'Nature's Sports Drink'. Lots of potassium in it.

    You can get it at holland and barrett - and sometimes in ethnic supermarkets. It is quite pleasant tasting, and I will use it when doing hot races...which are some way off at present.

  • I can only go up to Half Marathon on juice/water etc alone. I also add a pinch of salt to it if its hot. Anything longer than that and I need something more solid to keep me going. Everyone is different though, and I reckon its more about time on feet/how much you sweat etc than distance.

    I avoid sports drinks because they go right through me during long runs. Not because of any scare stories though, I always treat those sceptically!

    I've heard good things about Coconut Water Nick, and have been meaning to try it so thanks for the reminder!

  • M.ister W wrote (see)

    I should add that if you're going to research the subject on the internet it's better to use websites that are reliable and have no axe to grind. 

    I think you can find research to support most arguments! I also don't believe that sites supporting organic etc have 'an axe to grind'...after all growing food organically is nothing new!

    A friend of mine used to work in research and left because he was sick of big companies giving him the results they wanted him to find! I'm not entirely sure there is such a thing as independent research. In the past people were also told that Sheep Dip and Organophosphates were't at all the end the only way we will know the effect is to see what happens in a few decades...and then someone will tell us, hopefully! I personally try to eat as healthily and naturally as I can and ignore all the media scares about what you should and shouldn't eat. But...each to their own image

  • Nick that Coconut water sounds good...I'll be trying that too!

    Louis - I'm glad it's not only me that struggles to do anything further than a half on juice and water image

  • I just put organic food into Google and on the list was a site with a report on how people how eat organically are 8 times more likely to contract a killer type of Ecoli.

    I'm not suggesting eating organically is bad, rather that as amywales says, the internet will give you the ammunition to prove anything you want!

  • x-post, sorry!

    I cramp up, which is the main problem (along with running out of energy) but find it very difficult to stomach anything either. Worst of both worlds that is!

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