Is it a sport’s drinks, coconut water, or drink with added vitamins, or any other popular drink claiming to offer some sort of essential nutrient or benefit?
With so many drinks flooding the market, all claiming to have essential benefits, the truth is often blurred. With Americans spending approximately $750 million a year AND receiving 25% of their caloric intake on beverages alone, the combined statistics are disturbing.
Given the discrepancy of obesity in America coupled with huge marketing ploys by big companies, let’s break down the facts on beverages.
These companies have done an excellent job convincing us that we must consume these beverages anytime we are active. But is this really true?
Below is what you are actually receiving in a sports drink.
The 4 main ingredients in all sports drinks are water, sugar, electrolytes and vitamins. Here’s the breakdown:
- Water: plain and simple water.
- Sugar: and a LOT of it! This can be in the form of sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners.
In fact, many drinks have a whopping 35-50 grams of sugar in an entire bottle. To put this into perspective, a can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar!
On top of this, calorie counts are typically between 100 to 125 calories per 8-12 ounces, and each bottle contains between 2-2 ½ servings. A can of Coke has 140 calories so they are comparable with sodas.
Of course sugar-free options are available, but they are packed with artificial sweeteners. Recent research shows intakes of fake sweeteners have similar responses to sugar since the pancreas releases insulin in response to the diet drink or soda.
With marketing campaigns threatening muscle cramps or dehydration, is it worth the added sugar in order to gain those essential electrolytes?
- Electrolytes: Most sports drinks are limited to sodium (salt) and potassium, which are absolutely essential during exercise. However, the body easily obtains sufficient amounts of these electrolytes through a normal diet. Food such as nuts, bananas and even avocados are packed full of electrolytes, in addition to other essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Vitamins: Sports drinks typically have a small amount of some of the B vitamins and vitamin C, nutrients that are easily found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. Relying on a sports drink for your vitamins and other essential nutrients is not healthful or cost effective. If you need some insurance for obtaining your vitamins, a simple multivitamin is a much better solution.
In addition, most drinks have artificial colors, dyes, additives and preservatives.
So if sports drinks are not healthful, what about coconut water?
After all, food companies, claiming to offer all essential electrolytes without the added sugar, dubbed coconut water Mother Nature’s sports drink. A perfect solution, right?
Coconut water is NOT magical.
One does not need to drink coconut water in order to be healthy, prevent cramping, or ward off dehydration. Most coconut waters contain 15 grams of carbohydrate/sugar per 8 ounce serving which is the same amount as a slice of bread. The electrolytes found in coconut water are easily met with a normal diet. In addition, the mineral most needed with long vigorous exercise is sodium. Yet coconut water is very low in sodium.
So when do you need a sports drink?
When you are strenuously exercising for durations longer than 2 hours, an electrolyte replacement is required.
However for most people, water and simple whole foods are Mother Nature’s answer to dehydration, muscle cramping, electrolyte replacement and vitamin additions.
What is a better alternative to a sports drink?
For exercise periods longer than 2 hours or if you feel you need an electrolyte replacement, a simple solution is to make your own electrolyte drink by combining 8 ounces of water, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
So save your money and your body from unnecessary sugars, additives, and dyes. Your wallet and health will thank you!
This blog was co-written by Susan Dopart and RD Intern Victoria Sonoda.