The most refreshing thing after a grueling workout is the taste of an ice-cold beverage. Countless Gatorade commercials have indoctrinated us to believe that we need products like theirs in order to replenish electrolytes lost from sweating. Electrolytes are substances that dissociate into ions in solution and possess the ability to generate action potentials needed to contract muscles. It is true that sports drinks, such as Gatorade, are filled with necessary electrolytes to reestablish our body’s homeostasis, or “normalcy”. However, along with all the good, comes an excess of sugar which essentially “undoes” all the good of the electrolytes.
Sports drinks are mainly composed of carbohydrates — glucose, to be exact. They also include small amounts of electrolytes (mainly sodium, potassium, and chloride) in order to increase the ion concentration in the bloodstream and reestablish the fluid and electrolyte balance. Over the past decade, more and more glucose has being added to sports drinks in order to improve the taste without drastically affecting the composition of the fluid.
The excess of sugar that comes from sports drinks can cause adverse health outcomes. The “Growing Up Today” study followed approximately 7500 male and female adolescents across the United States for a period of 7 years. Data was collected through self-reporting beverage-frequency questionnaires in odd years. The researchers found that among adolescent females, each sports drink consumed predicted an increase of approximately 0.30 BMI units than their non-drinking counterparts during puberty. Almost identically, adolescent males saw a 0.33 BMI unit increase. Both genders who began consuming sports drinks in adolescence were also regular consumers of energy drinks through their young adult years, which lead to other health disparities later in life.
Sports drinks are not the only way to replenish lost electrolytes. Other drinks, such as coconut water, or even foods like bananas and raisins, are capable of reestablishing ion balances without an excess of processed sugar. With this in mind, next time you think about reaching for that sweet tasting beverage, think again.
Coombes, Jeff S., and Karyn L. Hamilton. “The effectiveness of commercially available sports drinks.” Sports Medicine 29.3 (2000): 181-209.
Field, Alison E., et al. “Association of sports drinks with weight gain among adolescents and young adults.” Obesity 22.10 (2014): 2238-2243.