Sports drinks are everywhere. The bright coloured and well marketed drinks are seen on the benches of most professional teams and the coaches even get a Gatorade shower after a big win. The commercials promote better performance and endurance with every sip. Here is a look at the good and the bad of sports drinks:
Our body looses fluid throughout the day and we need to keep hydrated. The average intake of fluid for an adult women is 2.7 liters/day and 3.7 liters/day for the average adult male. This of course changes with the amount of activity one is doing and how hot vs cold it is. Everyone has to keep hydrated and when we are perspiring we obviously need more fluids, but we also need electrolytes. Electrolytes are composed of the essential nutrients that we need to keep hydrated, they help our nervous system function, help repair damaged cells, and to have our body in Ph balance. We normally get these electrolytes from food but when we endure strenuous exercise and sweat them out, we need to supplement these. Sports drinks are mainly made up water and also include electrolytes (mainly Potassium and Sodium), carbohydrates and sometimes vitamins. They are essential for athletes who are enduring long periods of exercise that causes a lot of fluid loss. Sport drinks can also help the body better recover after strenuous exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than one hour. When exercising for longer than one hour, they recommend 3-8 fluid ounces of a carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage every 15-20 minutes. They note the need for a sports drink increases with increased duration workouts.
Research shows that sport drinks do help performance and endurance compared to just drinking water when athletes are performing strenuous long duration type exercises. A lot of these studies are performed on professional athletes that compete in endurance type sports like running or cycling. An example of this is Currell, & Jeukendrup in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that when cyclist ingested multiple transportable carbohydrates (found in sports drinks) they where 18% faster in a 120 minute time trial.
A 32-ounce sports drink contains between 56 and 76 grams of sugar – equal to about 14 to 19 teaspoons – and four to six times the recommended daily amount for kids and teenagers. The higher sugar content can be easily taken up as fuel for the athlete that has been exercising for over an hour and sweating a lot. The body will not use up these carbohydrates if you are simply drinking a sports drink to "keep hydrated". For this reason the American Pediatric Society does not recommend kids consume sports drinks unless they are doing strenuous exercising over an hour. Sports drinks have a little over half the sugar as soft drinks but are still a source of extra sugar in our diet. Excess sugar intake is linked to many health problems including: diabetes, obesity, mental health issues, and cardiovascular disease. Some sports drinks are marketed to be sugar free but contain artificial sweeteners which have also been linked to weight gain and health problems.
Another problem is when athletes ingest too many electrolytes from sports drinks it cause excess water to be absorbed into the gut and diarrhea and/or gut irritation occurs.
Some sports drinks are also marketed to have caffeine in them that will help with performance. This can be a dangerous thing, especially for children. Excess caffeine can cause an increased heart rate, anxiety, high blood pressure, diarrhea, and headaches.
Research shows that the average athlete does not need to use sports drinks. A good rule of thumb is that a sports drink is a good option if you are doing intense exercise for over an hour. If you are doing less intense exercises or a short duration of exercise, water is a much better option. Sports drinks are also not appropriate for children to take in most cases unless they are performing at a high level and sweating a lot during their sport. Stay away from caffeinated sports drinks.
Activity fact:- you can easily loose one liter of fluid with an hour of high intensity exercise!