By: Coach Travis
One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is, "Are sports drinks good for me? Will they rehydrate me better than water?"
Sports drinks were invented for the hot Florida sun. The University of Florida football coach requested that university researchers research a hydrating replacement for his physically exerted players sweating in the summer heat. And, in 1965, Gatorade was born and named after the university's mascot, the Gator. The researchers concocted a solution that provided small amounts of sugar, electrolytes (sodium, potassium and chloride) in water. The purpose: to replace lost water, replenish electrolytes and boost energy. The team went on to win their first Orange Bowl and credited the triumph to Gatorade. A star was born.
Maintaining balanced hydration is essential for your body to function. Our bodies are over half water. A loss of just 2% of your body weight in water decreases performance; a loss of more than 10% is considered a medical emergency. We can live without food for weeks sometimes even months, but go without water for even a day, in an ideal environment and your health will deteriorate. Hydration is critical.
Sports drinks are formulated to replace the lost water, replenish the excreted electrolytes, provide small amounts of glucose to your muscles for a boost of energy and encourage more consumption with the flavor. They are designed for physically exerted individuals, who work out or work at a high intensity for more than an hour in intense heat. These drinks were designed for individuals like football players, soccer players, construction workers, roofers- not sports enthusiast in the grand stand or children in front of the TV. For the average person in a normal environment, or for the fitness enthusiast working out for under an hour, drinking small amounts of water, often, will provide proper hydration. Water is cheap, readily available and no calories.
There is no nutritional value to sports drinks. With obesity rates rising faster than they are falling, and young children contracting adult diseases, is the extra sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup), sodium, preservatives, and dyes necessary for hydration? Sports drinks contain half of the sugar and calories of a soda, provide no other nutritional value, and they are expensive. Studies have shown that individuals will consume 25% more sports drink than water; children will consume 90% more. Though sports drinks target our flavorful desires, are they solving our hydration problems, or forming an unhealthy dependency?
Sports drinks do serve a function, but should not be relied upon as your primary source for hydration. If you are wanting a sports drink for performance, here is what you should look for. The drink should contain 6-8% carbohydrates. Anything more than 10% (soda pop & fruit juice) often has negative effects, such as: abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Anything less than 5% carbohydrates and the drink is not providing enough energy to improve performance. Zero calorie products (containing 0% carbohydrate) such as Propel or Powerade Zero, are considered water replacements, and not sports drinks. If you are seeking a sports drink for performance, you are seeking the energy that it provides- which is calories. Zero calorie products will not effect your energy systems.
Conclusion: Would I buy sports drinks for my family? Yes, on occasion. I don't prefer them for myself or my family regularly. Do we drink them on occasion, absolutely. But, they are a treat. A once a month or less kind of treat. Coca Cola and Pepsi have done a spectacular job marketing their products- we all know Powerade and Gatorade. But, are they really necessary? Isn't water good enough? For our family, and we are extremely active and workout daily, water is enough for most situations. But on the occasion, like when we are working outside in the yards during summer, or working out at a bootcamp in the sizzling summer heat, when our bodies are pushed to sweat a lot, and we are exerting a lot of calories, we drink sports drinks to replace the water and sodium being lost through sweat and urine. In our family, sports drinks, like everything else, are consumed in moderation.