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TIPS FROM THE TRAINER: The 411 on sports drinks

TIPS FROM THE TRAINER: The 411 on sports drinks

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When deciding on what to drink during your workout, there are so many options, and more are being added every day.

Should you go for Gatorade, Powerade, BODYARMOR, Vitamin Water, Propel Fitness Water, Pedialyte, BioSteel, SmartWater or just basic tap water? What are the differences between the various sport drink options, and do they actually enhance one’s workout?

As an athletic trainer, I get asked this question on a regular basis.

To answer these questions, it is important to first understand what a sports drink is and what is in most sports drinks. A sports drink is a beverage designed or marketed for drinking while playing sports or exercising. Often, these companies market their beverages in a way that makes it seem as though they will enhance your workout or performance. These beverages usually contain electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride, plus a high percentage of carbohydrates (sugar) with the goal of helping to restore energy to the body and enhance hydration levels.

Now to answer the burning questions. …

What are the differences between the various sports drinks on the market? The primary difference between drinks are the proportions of each of the primary ingredients they contain. For example, original Gatorade “Thirst Quencher” drink and the original Powerade have the same amount of sugar and both contain electrolytes, but the types of sugar and electrolytes are different. Gatorade uses sucrose (table sugar) as its main sugar, whereas Powerade’s primary sugar is fructose. Additionally, Gatorade has more potassium and sodium than Powerade, though Powerade has B vitamins and Gatorade does not.

Will a sports drink help me perform better during my sporting activity or workout? It depends on the type and duration of activity. Generally, drinking a sports drink is no better than drinking water. When doing physical activity for less than 1 hour and/or performing a low intensity activity, such as running a 5K, weight lifting or playing softball, drinking a sports drink is not any more beneficial than water. This is the group that most recreational athletes and gym-goers fall into. For activities lasting longer than an hour and/or are very high in intensity, such as long-distance running or playing in a multi-match tennis tournament, consuming a beverage, such as a sports drink, that has additional carbohydrates and electrolytes in it can help. These beverages aid in delaying the onset of fatigue, assist in keeping you adequately hydrated, and can help improve overall endurance performance.

Are there any potential detrimental effects of sports drinks? The biggest downside of the sports drinks on the market is the added sugar. While some sugars are needed to provide energy restoring effects, most sports drinks currently on the market have more sugars than are needed. This added sugar makes the beverage taste good and increases its appeal to customers. Added sugars equal added calories. So, when consumed in excessive amounts or when consumed outside of long-duration/high intensity exercise, sports drinks can lead to weight gain and water retention. For example, Vitamin Water advertises itself as a beverage that is better than regular water because it has added vitamins. When adding these vitamins, however, additional calories and sugar are also added. Some brands have developed low calorie/zero sugar varieties of their sports drinks, such as Gatorade Zero Sugar, which you can consider if calorie count is important to you, but they also are not perfect. These varieties get their sweetness and taste from artificial sweeteners.

What should I look for when deciding which sports drink is best for me? When assessing your options, look for a sports drink with some sugar, but not an excessive amount, and contains sodium and potassium. Also, be aware of the calorie count and the size of the container. Many sports drinks come in bottles that contain multiple servings. So, if you drink the entire bottle in one session, you need to multiply the numbers on the nutrition label by the number of servings in the bottle to determine how much of each nutrient, vitamin and/or mineral you have consumed. If you are not participating in long-duration, high intensity exercise, then you don’t need a sports drink. The bottom line is, most people fall in this latter category.

While sports drinks taste good, they are not necessary or beneficial to the average person’s workout. For the majority of us, water is the best option. If you are a high-intensity exerciser, there are numerous options out there to choose from. Be a savvy shopper and look at the label to get all the details.


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