For many people, sports drinks are just part of working out or competing – it’s simply a feature of the fitness landscape. But what’s really going on in those ever-present bottles? How necessary are sports drinks, really? And what should you look for when you do decide to use them?
The Usual Suspects
If you take a look past the clever marketing and focus on the ingredients of the standard sports drink, you’ll likely be surprised at what’s crammed into that supposedly healthy drink – and it won’t be a pleasant surprise.
For one thing, they contain fairly large amounts of sugar – in quantities that rival many sodas. We’ll talk more about this and it’s full impact a little later on. But, for now, it’s worth mentioning that studies have also found that many sports drinks contain just as many chemical additives – for color, flavor and shelf-life – as sodas as well.
But, of course, you’re probably wondering about the electrolytes. After all, isn’t that what sports drinks are for? Don’t those micronutrients help keep you hydrated and performing your best? Yes, it is true that many sports drink contain electrolytes and these are vital for both general health and athletic performance. Just to be clear, electrolytes are a specific class of minerals that carry electric charges and help to support nerve conduction as well as many other biological functions. The most common electrolytes are: Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Sodium.
The truth, though, is that there are much better ways to get the electrolytes you need without the potential negative impacts of the other ingredients in most sports drinks. Okay, now let’s talk more about some of those “negative impacts.”
The Side Effects
Frankly, we don’t have enough room here to discuss all the problems that have been linked with the dyes, preservatives and flavorings that you might see in the average sports drink. What we will focus on, however, is the added sugar.
On paper, this actually makes sense. After all, sugar – and all carbohydrates – are converted into glucose and used as fuel for your muscles. But, when you’ve been exercising for a while, you’re body burns up all the glucose that it had stored (as glycogen). So, don’t you need to replenish it?
Yes. But, here’s where sports drinks lead people astray. You’re body can store enough glycogen to get you through 90 minutes of exercise. Even at high intensities, the average person can manage about 60 minutes. For the average person, then, this really just means extra calories. The added sugar has a deeper impact, though. Thanks to the sweet stuff, that sports drink will cause a huge spike in your insulin levels, leading to a blood sugar crash that could actually sap you of energy.
If you do need some help with hydration, go for a product that contains all the electrolytes you need with no added sugar for a very low impact on your blood sugar. Plus, all the flavorings and everything else are natural – which no harmful additives.