Sport Drink and Gel Alternatives for Runners

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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Sport Drink and Gel Alternatives for Runners

You follow the same nutrition routine when working out — despite your taste bud boredom. You stick with identical products every time perhaps because of worries about gastrointestinal issues.

But for runners who tire of the standard sports drink/gel combination to get through a long run, switching up your nutrition could give you a much-needed boost during your 10+ milers.

To change out your running hydration/nutrition and avoid GI challenges, try venturing outside your normal routine with these options from the experts (just make sure you test and learn during your training runs and not during a race):

Kirsten David, RDN with EduPlated, an organization that provides personalized nutrition coaching, says to mix half orange juice with half water and a teaspoon of honey for extra fuel. “Citrus fruits [like oranges] are great for keeping hydrated because they provide electrolytes and water,” she says. “You can even try it with coconut water and a dash of lemon juice for even more electrolytes.”

Or, make your own flavored water using chopped up fruits. “Add foods such as strawberries, oranges, kiwis or cucumber slices to a water pitcher and let it soak overnight,” says Mitchell Blume, RDN, a certified diabetes educator, and physician’s assistant with EduPlated. By the next morning, “you will have healthy, flavored water ready for your workout.”

You can even try different combinations of fruits to create your own personal flavor not found in pre-packaged sports drinks.


Cut up small pieces of produce and stick them in an empty water bottle with at least a two-inch opening. (Water bottles with small tops will not work.) Then, while running, simply pull out individual pieces to eat.

Blume recommends using fruit such as watermelon, oranges, grapes or melon. “I wouldn’t recommend hydrating vegetables because they tend to contain more fiber and less sugar; so, they could potentially compromise exercise if consumed during activity,” he says.

According to the University of California Berkeley Wellness, an online source of evidence-based wellness information, the water content percentage of these fruits is as follows:

  • Watermelon: 92%
  • Strawberries: 91%
  • Melon/cantaloupe: 90%
  • Orange: 87%
  • Grapes: 80%

If you find the bounce of the fruit bothersome, try using a water belt to hold the bottle instead of running with it in your hands.

“Electrolyte tablets are easily digested so your body can absorb fluids and nutrients faster,” says Julie Harrington, RD, a culinary nutrition communications consultant.

You can simply drop the tablet into a water bottle and drink it up with a small amount of water. Then switch back to old-fashioned water.


A cheap and accessible option for additional calories and electrolytes is chocolate milk, which “provides a small amount of quick carbohydrates and protein to sustain prolonged physical activity, in addition to some sodium,” says Blume. And according to the University of California Berkeley Wellness, low-fat milk is actually 89% water.

For the lactose intolerant, Blume says to pick a lightly sweetened chocolate or vanilla dairy substitute. You should look for products like soy milk, lactose-free milk and almond milk, all of which come in chocolate and vanilla flavors. These dairy substitutes offer the same benefits as chocolate milk, he says.

Note: This works if you plan to run loops near your home and can keep the milk in your fridge or if you store it in a cooler to keep it from spoiling in the heat.


“No one wants to experience GI distress during a long run. One of the main causes of GI distress is due to dehydration,” says Harrington. Use these tips to stay energized before, during and after a run.

About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.


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