Kevin admitted today that the last time he had a sports or energy drink was about 10 years ago in college. But wait, I thought sports stars are all over those specialty hydration beverages? Nope, not so much.
The irony of sport drinks is that they are touted as beneficial to your health and performance while in reality they are downright dangerous. We will outline a few of the MAJOR shortcomings in the most popular sport beverages on the market.
One of the biggest problems with these drinks is that they are actually marketed by the industry as healthy for everyone. In reality, they are really only intended for athletes exercising at least one hour a day five days a week.
The contents are meant to replenish the electrolytes and energy lost during intense sweat sessions under extreme conditions. Most of the consumers of these beverages are not that active, which means they are getting loads more sugar and sodium than necessary for their more sedentary level of exertion. For the lion’s share of people, just plain old water is still the number one form of hydration.
A lot of sports drinks also contain funky artificial coloring and a number of unnecessary additives that are unnecessary and unhealthy.
What irks me is that the entire sport drink industry is geared towards marketing these products with a healthy vibe. In reality the nutritional content of many sport beverages show they are worse for you than a can of soda. The names of these products don’t help either (vitamin water anyone?), they sound healthy and harmless when often they are anything but.
Additionally, some of the most popular sport beverage products are endorsed by MAJOR sports superstars. Children are a prime target of many ads, in spite of the fact that research has shown young kids should largely stay away from these products altogether.
The reason the sports drinks taste so good is that they are loaded with sugars or artificial sweeteners. Sugar has an inflammatory effect on the body so it can contribute to aches, pains and injuries. Sugar also makes you gain weight, rots your teeth, and can also cause you to experience an energy crash as your body metabolizes it.
While athletes engaging in physical activity do have some need for sugar to replace energy, most of us probably are not working hard enough to warrant a massive sugar consumption regularly. Sugar offers energy but no nutritional benefits. Studies suggest sugar replenishment is really only necessary for athletes engaging in two or more hours of strenuous physical activity.
Sports drinks that have NO sugars are also not totally innocuous. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to health concerns as well. For years people have speculated about correlations between artificial sweeteners and cancer. Studies have shown that consumption of diet beverages is tied to a 36% increase in risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67% increase in risk of type 2 diabetes. There are also concerns that consumption of artificial sweeteners makes the body crave more sweets, and can even be addictive!
While sodium does play an important role in electrolyte replenishment and hydration, what we often lose sight of is the fact that many of us are already over-consuming salt on a daily basis just through our regular diets. That’s why it’s so alarming when a single sports drink contains nearly 30% of your daily recommended sodium consumption. It’s not so much a problem that the products contain sodium at all, but more a problem that they contain so much. For the average individual who is not losing a lot of electrolytes through sweat, this level of sodium is complete overkill. A side effect of all that sodium is that these products, designed to quench thirst, can actually make you thirstier!
For most people, myself included, the hydration option of choice should still be plain old boring water. At the end of the day, if you find water hard to drink, try fruit infusions or a squeeze of lemon and lime to make it more palatable. There are also tablets you can add to your water which I really like. Nuun All Day adds tasty flavors, vitamins and electrolytes with only a small amount of sodium; I find this product makes it easier to keep up my liquid consumption and stay hydrated.
Now, while I just warned you about all the dangers of sport drinks, serious athletes or those of us exerting ourselves for over an hour of sweaty activities will need some hydration replenishment beyond just plain old water. For those individuals finding the right sports drink is really important.
On court, Kevin likes to use EFS (Electrolyte Fuel System) by 1st Endurance. He also still drinks plain water simultaneously.
Another option for those in the upper level of exertion are the Nuun Active tablets containing various vitamins and minerals. They replace electrolytes without any added carbohydrates or sugars, so you get to choose how you wish to replace your energy. The Nuun products are a favorite of cyclists and many other endurance athletes.
Finally, if you are really feeling industrious, make your own electrolyte replenishment beverage! It is really easy to create your own healthy sports drink with ingredients you probably have lying around your kitchen already (think water, orange juice, honey, and salt). Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner offers a few great suggestions here.
Smoothies are also a great natural way to replace lost sugars, nutrients and energy; click here for a few of our favorites.
I think the biggest takeaway is to actually understand what exactly you are consuming with respect to sport beverages. It is important to make an educated decision about what your own hydration needs are, and choose the product or beverage that’s right for you.
While you are here, have a look at some of our classes. If you are looking to maximize your tennis performance on a consistent basis, we likely have some in depth insight on how to make the most of your game. Start learning from the pros now.