Sports Drinks: The Good, The Bad, and The Alternatives

July 21, 2016

 

This is an exciting article for us since we are home to where the first Sports Drink in the U.S. was born. So, first, a little history...

 

In 1965, University of Florida (UF) football coach Dwayne Douglas was looking for a remedy for his football players who were losing an unhealthy amount of weight after games due to dehydration despite drinking copious amounts of water. A collaborative effort ensued between Dr. Robert Cade (kidney disease specialist) and UF's College of Medicine to develop the perfect nectar for the athletes. They needed a drink that would replenish their lost carbohydrates (sugar), salt and electrolytes.

 

Electrolytes are a set of minerals that your body needs to maintain healthy fluid levels, the acidity of your blood, and regulate its muscle function [source: MedlinePlus]. A year later they had their first Gatorade recipe: a mix of salt, sugar, and lemon juice. The UF players' issues were nearly resolved and they went on to have an incredible season since they no longer had to fight dehydration and exhaustion from playing and practicing in the brutal Florida heat. [source: How Stuff Works]

 

Decades later and now Sports Drinks are super cool, colorful and widely accessible. Sports Drinks these days have come a long way from the simplified original recipe from the 60's. So it's important to look at why we should consider drinking these (if at all)  and whether they really are the best for replenishment.

 

The Good - Why Sports Drinks?

 

Strenuous exercise depletes your electrolyte reserves that can affect your exercise performance as well as energy levels. Professional athletes and those who exercise intensely for over an hour should consider replacing the water, salt, and electrolytes lost during their workouts. However, it is important to note most people that exercise on a day-to-day basis, Capoeiristas and other Martial Artists included, can do well with plain water to ensure proper hydration and energy levels.

 

The Bad - What's Actually in Them?

 

If you consume Sports Drinks regularly while exercising an hour or less in air conditioning you can quickly sabotage your fitness efforts due to these facts:

  • You can tack on a considerable amount of sugar (artificial or refined), carbohydrates, and processed ingredients to your diet.

  • The majority of Sports Drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has been associated with weight gain, obesity, diabetes and a range of other diseases.

  • Conventional Sports Drinks also include additives (color and flavor) which are risky to consume on a regular basis.

  • The acid content of these soft drinks is also a big hazard for your teeth because it can eat away your enamel causing permanent tooth damage.

The Alternatives - What Should You Drink?

 

What should you do if you find yourself outside playing in a Capoeira roda on a brutally hot day and you know you need something more than water? These healthy alternatives give you the best of both worlds - the added nutrition without no added chemicals nor refined sugar.

 

Coconut Water - Coconut water contains a unique blend of electrolytes that helps prevent dehydration after a rough work out. It also contains many protective cytokines, chemicals that fight and prevent cancer. It is important to read labels because many brands add refined or artificial sugar to sweeten it.

 

Milk - This is a surprising one, but recent studies including men, women and children concluded that milk is great for hydrating and replacing sodium lost through sweat. Milk provides high quality protein, carbohydrates, sugar, and electrolytes. Milk proved to be more effective than water or Sport Drinks for hydration especially after exercise out in the heat. [sources: Science Daily, Time, Nutra) What is great about this option is milk is just as accessible as Sports Drinks so it's a convenient replacement.

 

Watermelon Water - Watermelons are a staple of hot summers, and did you know watermelon water has six times the electrolytes of your standard Sports Drink? It is packed with benefits including L-Citrulline, Vitamin C, lycopene and antioxidants. The electrolyte minerals in watermelons include thiamin, robflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, cholin, lycopene and betaine [source: OneGreenPlanet] That's a win for sure!


Aloe Water - Aloe Water contains awesome amounts of vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, E); folic acid; and choline. Add to that the fact that it has over twenty different minerals including calcium, sodium, potassium, selenium, and iron.  It also contains fatty acids and eight essential amino acids. You can't go wrong with this alternative.

 

Seltzer Water - It is simply water which has been pressurized by dissolving carbon dioxide into it. This gives the drink a fizzy, satisfying taste, much liked by both adults and kids. The drink serves to greatly hydrate the body. It also shows to have digestive benefits which are an added plus. Consider mixing seltzer water with fruit juice to give you a tasty drink with half the sugar and all the hydrating power.

 

Fruit Juices - Try out lemon and orange juices which are high in Vitamin C which has numerous health benefits in addition to hydration effects. Plus, they have all the natural sugar content which helps you avoid the drastic effects (sugar spikes) of the standard sports drink.

 

Water - The best alternative for the majority of us is pure drinking water. It may seem rather simple, but filtered water goes a long way. What better beverage to quench your thirst than the crystal goodness of this sugar-free drink? Adults, kids, professionals or amateurs, there is no replacing the re-hydrating and satisfying properties of pure water.

 

Sports Drinks do hold a number of benefits for those who undergo intense training in Martial Arts, Capoeira, or other endurance sports, but for most people, it is far better to drink water or seltzer water for hydration. When you find yourself in need of something more, consider using healthier alternatives than filling your stomach with drinks whose benefits are outweighed by the cons. Try nature's goodies. There is no substituting the countless benefits!

 

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