Each year many sports drink companies compete for their share in a multi-billion dollar market. Brands are strategically advertised using famous athletes to communicate the message about the benefits of sports drinks as it relates to athletic performance. It’s no question that nutrient replacement and hydration is an important factor when it comes to exercise recovery, but before you pick up your dose of hydration in the form of a sports drink, consider the benefits. The first question you should ask your self is, do you really need a sports drink or do you just want one?
The first official sports drink was developed in the mid 1960’s when a team of researchers at the University of Florida investigated the concern of a football coach who had notice that his team’s performance was suffering. The researchers concluded that the decreased performance was directly related to increased time and intensity. Investigation revealed that the athletes’ performance suffered due to significant decreases in electrolytes, fluid and depleted glycogen stores. They created a drink that would help replenish lost stores of these nutrients. The beverage consisted of a mixture of water, sodium, sugar, potassium, phosphate and lemon juice, and was quite successful. Since then, sports drinks have become increasingly popular. Today, many active adults and children of all ages are consuming sports drinks during their workouts to reap the benefit that these products have to offer, but who really benefits?
Let’s consider what these beverages have to offer
Generally speaking, sports drinks replace the fluid and electrolytes (mineral salts) that you lose in sweat and provide energy in the form of carbohydrate for active muscles and the brain for activities lasting more than 60 minutes or prolonged competitive games that demand repetitive intermittent activity. Because excessive sweat loss generally occurs in those with very high sweat rates (1L/hour or more), those who exercise either very hard or for a long time (i.e. endurance and team sport athletes), those who exercise in hot and humid conditions or while wearing protective sports equipment (such as with hockey and football), this population would greatly benefit from the added nutrients found in sports drinks.
Q: So, what does that mean for the remaining population that consume these beverages?
In addition to the benefits that sports drinks have to offer, most sports drinks are designed to taste good. Manufacturers reason that if a drink taste good people will drink more, thereby ensuring hydration. Although in many cases plain water is sufficient enough to provide hydration. Fluids that are flavoured, sweetened and cool can further stimulate fluid intake and decrease the risk of dehydration. So, If you simply enjoy sports drinks for the flavour, it’s ok to drink them when you are working out but do realize that this is more of a desire than a necessity. Ask yourself is it worth the cost?
It is also important to consider the effects these beverages will have on your long term goals. A general 12 oz sports drink is known to contain enough carbohydrate that is equivalent to approximately 14 tablespoons of sugar (56 grams). If you are trying to lose weight, consuming these extra calories during exercise can be counterproductive. In this case a low calorie sports drink would be a better option.
Q: How safe are sports drinks for the general population?
The electrolyte levels found in this drinks are usually safe for the general healthy population but be sure to always check with your health care provider if you have hypertension or any other health condition that is sensitive to sodium or potassium.
Remember that it’s always important to stay well hydrated during exercise. When it comes to sports nutrition being aware of what your body needs will allow you to make more informed decisions to help you to maximize results and stay healthy
Mandy is a Counseling Dietitian and Personal Trainer at GoodLife Fitness in Nova Scotia. She has a BSc in Applied Human Nutrition (Dietetics), and is the regional delegate for the Canadian Diabetes Association for 2012.