Sports Drinks Are Mostly Pointless
Sports drinks seem to be healthy. Athletes approve of them, and they don’t have the same “liquid candy” reputation as Pepsi. But how useful are they for serious and ordinary people involved in sports? It turns out not really.
To be clear, we’re talking about sports drinks, not energy drinks like Rockstar and Monster . Despite similar names, they are not related. Energy drinks are super caffeinated sodas that have been added with a few clever additives to make them look special. Sports drinks, on the other hand, are drinks like Gatorade and Powerade that deliver carbohydrates and electrolytes in a typically fruity, brightly colored liquid sold in plastic bottles. In other words: energy drinks are for nightly video game marathons; sports drinks are meant for real marathons.
Sports drinks are slightly better than other sugary drinks for everyday walking
Besides sugar, sports drinks mainly contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. If you’re not in the middle of a marathon, you don’t need an extra dose of electrolytes. You get a lot from the food you eat, and perhaps for sodium, many of us are already getting too much sodium.
If you’re feeling dehydrated due to a stomach ailment or a hangover , sports drinks may help a little – not because they contain something special, but simply because water, sugar, and electrolytes are beneficial for rehydration. You can get the same benefit from a glass of water and your favorite snacks. Enjoy Powerade if you like, but don’t expect miracles.
On the ingredient list, sugar is the biggest concern. This is why these drinks taste so good and are unnecessary outside of sports. Nutritionists and nutritionists alike agree that we all drink too much sugar .
12 ounces of Gatorade contains 21 grams of sugar . But if you drink a 32-ounce bottle, one of the common sizes, you’ll get far more than what the experts recommend in a day. The new FDA limit for added sugar ( coming soon on a label near you ) is 200 calories per day, or 50 grams.
At least sports drinks are better than sodas and juices. Twelve ounces of Pepsi, a neighbor on the Gatorade shelf, contains 41 grams of sugar . The same amount of orange juice contains 33 or so . But these are actually more empty calories than we need, and remember that the rates are for the day , not the drink.
If you’re looking for a way to save calories over soda, sports drinks work, but not quite as well as switching to water, seltzer, or diet drinks. Some sports drinks are also available in a low-calorie version, like Gatorade’s G2 . With eight grams of sugar per 12 ounces, incorporating G2 calories into your diet is even easier. In short, sports drinks are bad for you, just less bad than some of the other options.
Sports drinks are not needed for most exercise
Most of us know that drinking Powerade while sitting on the couch is cheating, but it’s probably a good idea to grab a bottle on the way home from the gym. But if you’re doing a quick bodyweight workout, sweating for an hour in the gym, or running a few miles, you probably don’t need sports drinks anyway . Here are the ingredients that should help athletes:
- Water : It’s good to drink water according to your thirst , so it’s legal.
- Sugar : You have enough sugar in your body to withstand at least an hour or two of a workout. You definitely don’t need to consume them during a workout that’s less than 60 minutes long. Once you’re done, your next meal or snack will easily make up for what you’ve lost.
- Electrolytes : Your body loses sodium in the form of sweat, as well as fewer other electrolytes such as potassium. Again, we replenish them when we eat. There is no need for an emergency electrolyte infusion before, during, or after a short workout.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has concluded that sports drinks can be beneficial for intense exercise that lasts more than an hour . Gatorade-funded researchers and trainers would prefer that you consume sports drinks whenever possible, but this advice benefits them more than your body .
There is a slight benefit to consuming sugar during a workout, even a short one, but that’s not what you think. In several studies of runners and cyclists reviewed here in the Nutrition Journal , athletes who tried sugar performed better. They didn’t even need to swallow a sports drink to get this effect; flap and saliva worked just as well. Researchers are still not sure why this is happening, but if you want to experiment with it yourself, any sugar source will do.
If you need electrolytes, sports drinks are not your only option.
The classic case of a sports drink is an athlete who works out for hours, burns tons of calories to keep them going, and sweat a lot to replenish sodium. As a result, we are left with people like marathon runners who want to make sure their blood sugar stays in the optimal range throughout the race. Football players and footballers also drink this drink, since their training day on a game day totals several hours, and they will work at a fairly intense level.
It is a sports drink for athletes originally developed for the University of Florida Gators football team called Gatorade . However, many eligible athletes do not actually drink commercial sports drinks. Some of course have, especially if their team has a sponsorship deal with a sports drinks company. But many marathon runners, for example, prefer water with a separate electrolyte source (and sometimes without it).
These electrolytes can come in pouches like Ultima Replenisher or tablets like Nuun . Some athletes prefer sodium pretzels and bananas or coconut water over potassium. The advantage of this do-it-yourself approach is that you can manage your electrolytes, sugar, and water as separate factors.
Sports drinks and their alternatives are most suitable for endurance athletes. On the other hand, if you specialize in strength training, you are not throwing sugar out of your blood all the time, like a runner or cyclist who covered mile after mile. If you are exercising to gain muscle or lose weight, you are probably also watching your diet closely. Instead of spending a fraction of your daily calories on sports drinks, you are probably better off spending them on protein or other healthy foods that will help you achieve your goals.
One argument against sports drinks, even for runners, is that sugary liquids can cause digestive upset. If you’ve been drinking sports drinks throughout the marathon, don’t be surprised if you spend a lot of time in pots after the race – or, if you’re particularly unlucky, during it. ACSM recommends sports. for this reason, drinks contain less than eight percent carbohydrates; the soda and juice are too sweet. Bottled sports drinks typically contain six to eight percent carbohydrates , which is good for some athletes but not for others.
If you belong to this category of overactive machines, you probably already know this. As you prepare for a marathon, you will end up experimenting with drinks and snacks that keep you energized for years to come without disrupting your digestive system. Maybe sports drinks will become part of your routine as you get back on your feet. Maybe they’ll just be a favorite treat to cool off after a long run. And if you decide to skip sports drinks altogether, that’s a great option too.