Sports drinks come in many varieties. There are fast-release energy drinks that get absorbed quickly into the bloodstream to fuel up the muscles for a workout. The effect is almost instantaneous and is ideal as energy drinks to replenish flagging energy stores in-between breaks. Because this requires fast absorption, fast-release energy beverages are usually made up of glucose and come in syrup forms.
Slow-release energy drinks that most marathoners use are made of complex carbohydrates, notably maltodextrin, that give a continuous and slow release of energy into the bloodstream to sustain a runner for long periods. These are usually taken before the start of competition so that the performance remains constant the whole time.
During a workout, a runner can replenish lost salts and minerals by taking in hydration drinks. After a run session, recovery drinks which are usually composed of milk and whey protein are taken in to help rebuild muscles traumatized during exercise. Combination-release energy drinks which both have glucose and maltodextrin are more versatile since they can provide that much-needed energy boost to jumpstart your workouts while slowly-releasing energy to sustain a run. And while not necessarily considered a sports drink, we have to mention energy gels that are packed in handy sachets that most cyclists and runners use because of its portability. These packets, however, need to be taken with about 8.5 ounces of water so as not to cause dehydration.
Now to answer the question: Are sports drinks necessary? It really depends on the type of training and workout that you are engaged in and how healthy your regular diet is. If you regularly take healthy well-balanced meals and are just doing regular runs, then hydration with water is enough. However, if you are training particularly hard to prepare yourself for competition or for a marathon, then these drinks will surely come in handy. They can easily be taken before, during or after a run to provide you with the energy you need.
There is one important thing that runners must keep in mind when using these sports drinks to supplement your workouts. They must not be used in place of regular food intake. To ensure that you stay fit and healthy for your every run, you must give your body with the necessary fuel from natural whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat should be part of your every meal so that you keep your muscles healthy and your bones strong.
One more thing: Sports drinks cost money. Maybe a bottle or two won't make such a dent in your pocket but when you use them on a regular basis, you better be prepared with a budget for it.