Sports drinks often play an important role in cyclists’ training plans. That’s because, as a review article published in Nutrients in 2021 explains, rehydration during endurance exercise can affect an athlete’s overall performance, with moderate to severe dehydration hindering aerobic exercise and increasing physiological strain or making your body work harder. (The researchers also point out that overhydration is a concern too, so they suggest consuming less than 700 mL of fluid per hour.) Researchers recommend going into your rides with a hydration plan, rather than going off thirst.

While a prepackaged sports drink is convenient for maintaining hydration, homemade sports drinks can be tastier and more cost effective. Plus, it leaves you with no plastic bottles to put in the recycling bin!

A homemade sports drink needs to include three ingredients to help replace the minerals lost in sweat and the carbohydrates burned during exercise that you need to keep moving: sugar, salt, and water. While commercially-made drinks include electrolytes, it is easy enough to add them at home too, Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., a sports nutritionist at Pittsburgh-based company Active Eating Advice and co-author of Bike Your Butt Off tells Bicycling.

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“The carbohydrate is the cheapest part of the sports drink,” she says. “We pay for the bottle, added flavors, and any number of added ingredients. Sugar water is not fancy but can be as effective, and if you add a couple of shakes of salt you have a drink that’s comparable to a sports drink at a fraction of the cost.”

Why You Need Sugar in a Homemade Sports Drink

Table sugar a.k.a. sucrose is probably the number-one ingredient to add to a homemade sports drink if you want to maintain your energy on a ride. “Sucrose can provide the necessary carbohydrate during exercise to prevent a drop in blood glucose, which is really the reason you’re taking in fuel for prolonged activity,” Bonci explains.

“A mix of carbohydrates, like sucrose, which is actually two sugars—glucose plus fructose—may be more efficiently used by your muscles during exercise than a single source such as glucose,” Bonci says. That’s because each sugar has specific transporters in the intestines, and once one type’s transporters become saturated, you can’t absorb any more of that type until they become available again, and they can only absorb so much per hour.

How Salt Can Give Your Homemade Sports Drink a Boost

Replacing the salt lost in sweat is important for endurance athletes, particularly if you’re a salty sweater or riding in a hot environment, as it helps you absorb and retain fluids. According to the researchers of the Nutrients study mentioned, if you have white salt deposits on your shirt, jersey, or shorts, that’s an indicator that you have a high sweat rate and high levels of sodium in that sweat.

Keep in mind, you don’t need a ton of salt to help replenish or maintain sodium levels. Let the recipes below guide you to those necessary sodium numbers.

Shake-and-Go Homemade Sports Drink Recipes

These recipes below offer the easiest and quickest mixes. Just fill up your bottle with water, add the ingredients, shake well, and go! Feel free to adjust the sweetness and saltiness for your preferences. When you like the taste of something, you’re more likely to drink what you need to stay hydrated.

1. Short & Sweet

The most basic of the bunch, you can use this recipe on its own or as a base to get creative with your own concoction.

  • bottle of water
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

2. Lemon-Lime Delight

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

With a minute of preparation the night before, you can have a tasty sports drink base ready to roll when you are, says Bonci. “Infuse water with any fruit flavor you prefer by slicing the fruit into a pitcher of water and letting it sit overnight,” she says. Citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, provide a refreshing flavor boost for any season.

  • Bottle of lemon-and-lime infused water
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

3. Tropical Blend

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup coconut water (good for extra potassium)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Makes about 30 ounces

4. Taste of Honey

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge
  • 3 ½ cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice

Makes about 30 ounces

5. Maple Sports Drink

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

This easy-to-make, maple syrup-flavored recipe is delicious and settles well because it is not acidic, says recipe developer and author Nancy Clark, R.D whose office is in Newton Highlands, MA. “When you are working out for more than an hour, enjoy this all-natural sports beverage to energize your workouts,” Clark says.

  • 3 ¾ cups cold water
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Makes about 32 ounces

Pro Tip: Maple syrup is also a tasty alternative to energy gels. Put some in a small flask and take nips during extended exercise.

More Flavor-Packed Homemade Sports Drink Recipes

These recipes are a little more time-intensive, but they’re well worth the effort.

1. “Greaterade”

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

When the Golden State Warriors decided to ban commercial sports drinks and started making their own with Himalayan sea salt, John Mitzewich (also known as Chef John) of FoodWishes in California's Bay Area, was inspired to try his own—with less sugar. “You can tweak this recipe to create your perfect formula,” Mitzewich says.

  • 8 cups fresh cold water
  • 3 tablespoons honey or another sweetener to taste
  • ½ teaspoon fine Himalayan pink salt, sea salt (or any pure salt)
  • ¾ teaspoon calcium magnesium powder (like NOW Foods Cal-Mag Citrate)
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • ¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 2 limes

1. Pour 1 cup of water into a large pot.
2. Add honey, salt, calcium-magnesium powder, and cayenne.
3. Place pot over low heat and whisk until ingredients have dissolved.
4. Remove from heat and allow to return to room temperature.
5. Add juices to room temperature mixture in pot.
6. Pour in remaining 7 cups water and whisk until well blended.

Makes about 9 cups

2. Workout Punch

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

This tangy, sweet punch courtesy of the former Rodale’s Organic Life has just enough carbs to keep you fueled, while the water-sodium combination enhances hydration.

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • ¼ cup orange juice (not concentrate)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 ½ cups cold water

1. Dissolve sugar and salt in the bottom of a pitcher of hot water.
2. Add juices and remaining water.
3. Chill for 30 minutes.

Makes about 32 ounces

3. Watermelon-Mint Slushy

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

Research shows that cooling your core with an ice-cold slushy before exerting yourself in the heat can make hard rides in high temperatures more comfortable and help prevent overheating. As a bonus, the star player in this fruity slushy is watermelon—which is brimming with the antioxidant, lycopene to protect your skin from UV damage, as well as anthocyanins to help tame inflammation.

  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup seltzer or flat water
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
  • Juice of ½ lemon

1. In a blender, pulse the ice to the size of pebbles.
2. Add the water, watermelon, mint, agave, and lemon juice.
3. Pulse a few times until slushy.

Makes about 32 ounces

4. Iced Green-Ginger-Mint Tea

homemade sports drink
Thomas Hengge

Sometimes a ride is just a ride, not a workout. We like this zingy green tea for just that occasion. It’s naturally loaded with flavor and high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories while being low in calories. Mint has also been shown to provide mental energy during exercise. You can add as much or as little honey as you’d like.

  • 3 cups cold water
  • 3 bags green tea
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and mashed
  • 2 sprigs of mint
  • Dash of honey simple syrup (2 to 3 tablespoons honey mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons boiling water)

1. Add everything to your pitcher, pour in cold water, and let sit for a few hours. (Sun is great, but not necessary, while it steeps.)
2. Pour over ice or refrigerate until chilled.

Makes about 24 ounces

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Selene Yeager
“The Fit Chick”
Selene Yeager is a top-selling professional health and fitness writer who lives what she writes as a NASM certified personal trainer, USA Cycling certified coach, Pn1 certified nutrition coach, pro licensed off road racer, and All-American Ironman triathlete.