Sports drinks do they really work?
- Rawnak Hafsa
- Friday, December 11th, 2009
By Susan Moores, R.D, contributor
When you're sweating through an intense workout, you probably reach for a sports drink to quench your thirst. Millions of hardcore athletes and casual fitness fans chug sports beverages to replenish the water, sodium and glucose the body needs to maximize muscle function and speed up post-workout recovery.
For most of us, however, sports drinks are more about convenience than necessity, says Boston dietitian Nancy Clark, author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook."
"The average person is not working out hard enough to need the rapid refueling these drinks offer," says Clark, who advises amateur and professional athletes.
Still, if plain old water isn't appealing, it's good to know which sports drink is right for you. While there are dozens of exercise drinks available, the ingredients in most of them are pretty similar - water, carbohydrates (sugar), sodium and potassium. For a look at the pros and cons of some popular brands and new ones creating a buzz, click on the Next tab above.
This category includes Gatorade, Powerade, Accelerade, PureSport and other electrolyte-spiked drinks. Whole Foods even sells a store brand of electrolyte water. Their ingredients help replace what's been lost during a strenuous workout, namely water, energy (glucose), sodium and potassium.
Go for it
Numerous studies show that traditional sports drinks can improve physical performance and increase the length of time that an athlete can perform or compete before reaching exhaustion. They supply the muscles with energy, plus water and electrolytes, which help keep muscles from cramping and dehydration at bay. These same nutrients help athletes recover more quickly after exercise or competition.
Take it easy
Some athletes find the amount of carbohydrates in these drinks too high, says Roberta Anding, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and nutritionist to the Houston Texans. "I have athletes complain of a sticky mouth when they drink sports drinks with as much carbohydrate as a Gatorade or Powerade, or they get an upset stomach. They don't tolerate the drink very well."
If you have a similar reaction, Anding suggests a lower-carbohydrate drink such as Gatorade's G2. It contains half the carbohydrates and half the calories, but the same amount of water and electrolytes.
In addition, drinks with a high-sodium content like PureSport are best for intense workouts of 60 minutes or longer. Otherwise that's just too much salt for your system.
Calories are another downside to traditional sport drinks. One cup (8 ounces) is considered one serving. Yet, the standard portion many people drink is closer to 20 ounces, the grab-and-go size sold in vending machines. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade or Powerade contains about 150 to 200 calories and 35 grams of sugar (nearly 9 teaspoons). That's not a problem if you're laying it all out on the basketball court or the biking trail, but for a casual exerciser or someone simply wishing to drink a cool beverage at lunch, the calories and sugar quickly add up.
This category is vast and growing by the minute. Vitaminwater, Lifewater, All Sport and Propel are examples of enhanced waters often marketed to the sports-minded. Some have few calories, while others might as well be called "sugar waters." Most contain a smattering of vitamins, and a few brands add in sodium and/or potassium. Check the product's nutrition facts label and ingredient list to know what you're buying.
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The drinks can be tasty, making it more enjoyable to swallow than plain water. That can help with staying hydrated during workouts.
Take it easy
Although many enhanced waters sell themselves on their vitamin content, their claims have been questioned. Simply eating a piece of fruit will give you the same nutrients plus dozens more.
If you exercise hard, long or in hot temperatures, you may need sodium, which helps the body hold on to water. Enhanced waters don't typically contain sodium. Or if they do, it's usually less than what's found in a traditional sport drink (0-30 milligrams vs. 50-120 milligrams per 8 ounces). For high intensity-type athletes, a low-sodium drink could pose a problem.
Some enhanced waters distinguish themselves with "signature" ingredients, such as ribose, found in Vitaminwater's Endurance; guarana seed extract, found in the brand's Energy drink; and taurine, found in its Power-c. There isn't much research to show these ingredients have significant value to athletic performance, yet you're paying for them. It's also unclear if there are even enough of these special ingredients in a bottle to actually deliver a performance boost.
Finally, there's the added sugar and calories. Amounts vary considerably. Propel has few calories or sugar. Vitaminwater contains 125 calories and 32.5 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons) in a 20-ounce bottle. Vitaminwater 10 cuts the calories and sugar by using stevia and other sugar substitutes. One 20-ounce bottle contains 2 ï¿½ teaspoons of sugar and 25 calories.
Note: Several Vitaminwater varieties were recently banned by the NCAA because their signature ingredients (caffeine, taurine, guarana seed extract, glucosamine, theanine, green tea extract and ECGC) are considered "impermissible or banned substances" by the association. Normal consumption of these drinks would probably not put an athlete at risk for testing positive for the substances.
Fitness fans are going cuckoo for coconut water. The clear juice from green coconuts has been rapidly gaining in popularity due to its "natural" image and healthy load of potassium and other electrolytes.
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Unlike many sports drinks which contain artificial colors and flavors, coconut water is considered a natural drink, one of its appeals. The water's delicate aroma, light taste and mouth-feel make it a refreshing drink with no upset stomach. Its nutrient content nicely complements what an athlete would want for performance and recovery, including potassium, magnesium, chloride, sodium and a small amount of natural sugar.
Take it easy
For athletes working at a high level of intensity, coconut water may not rehydrate the body as quickly as traditional sports drinks. It's light on sodium (60 milligrams per 11 ounces vs. more than 125 milligrams in sports drinks).
One study compared the ability of plain water, a sports drink and coconut water to rehydrate athletes who exercised to the point of dehydration. Coconut water bested plain water, but didn't rehydrate the athletes as well the sports drink. However, when the researchers added sodium to coconut water to equal what's found in a sports drink like Gatorade, the new coconut water rehydrated the athletes just as well. Both the plain and the sodium-enriched coconut waters caused less nausea and upset stomachs to the athletes than the sports drink or plain water.
Cherry juice is catching on, particularly as a good post-workout recovery drink. It has anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving properties.
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Cherry juice is another natural drink option - a plus for health-conscious athletes. Several studies on athletes, many funded by those in the cherry business, suggest the phytonutrients (flavonoids and anthocyanins) found in tart cherries can reduce inflammation in the body, treat and minimize muscle damage plus reduce the pain and soreness caused from high-intensity exercising. The research suggests it can help muscles recover their strength more quickly.
Take it easy
Not all cherries or cherry juices are created equal. The research and claims are for tart cherries and tart cherry juice, not sweet cherries or those vibrant red maraschinos that top an ice cream sundae. Companies process cherries differently. Some may do a great job of keeping the helpful phytonutrients intact, others may not be preserving the good stuff. Cherry juice is not suited for drinking during a workout. It's best used as a pre- and post- workout beverage.
Low-fat milk, especially low-fat chocolate milk, is increasingly being touted as an effective after-workout drink. Recent research suggests that chocolate milk's high carb and protein mix helps protect, refuel and repair muscles after a rigorous workout. Plus, it replenishes calcium, magnesium and potassium - important minerals that help you recover more quickly after an intense, sweaty session.
Go for it
Chocolate milk is a tasty, fairly inexpensive drink that can help replenish the nutrients and water lost through exercise. One study that compared milk to a sports drink and plain water found that athletes were better hydrated and experienced a quicker recovery when they drank milk following an endurance event.Research shows getting protein in after exercise helps muscles recover more quickly too. One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.
Take it easy
Chocolate milk is not necessarily a pre-exercise beverage or one you'd want to drink while exercising. Its biggest benefit comes after a workout. One cup of low-fat chocolate milk has 155 calories and 25 grams of sugar-half of that sugar is naturally-occurring in the milk, and the other half (about 3 teaspoons) is added sugar. Depending on how many glasses of milk you drank to rehydrate yourself, the numbers could add up quickly.
Then, there's H20. Being well-hydrated before, during and after exercise is at the very core of optimal athletic performance.
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Water is easy to find, easy to drink, quickly absorbed and refreshing - plus, it's inexpensive. Most of the other drinks listed here range from $1.50 to $2 or more per bottle. Unless you're exercising intensely for more than 60 minutes, water can capably meet your needs.
Take it easy
It doesn't have any sugar or electrolytes, which are important for endurance events or when exercising in hot, humid conditions. Water lacks the all-in-one convenience of many sports drinks. For elite athletes and people working out at a high intensity level for 60-plus minutes, water alone may not be enough.
In reality, some kids and adults will drink more fluids if there's a flavor to them, so water alone may be too blah. A sports drink or enhanced water may ensure they drink enough to avoid dehydration.
So, which is best?
It depends on which drink suits you most. The best drink, say Clark and Anding, is the one an athlete will drink, tolerate and feel good about having. In theory, water is the best drink unless you are working out competitively for an extended time. For marathoners, triathletes and kids playing a sport, particularly in hot weather, but unable to eat before exercising, sports drinks can provide energy to keep them going. Choose one that supplies 50 to 70 calories per cup (8 ounces) and approximately 100 milligrams of sodium.
Source: Susan Moores, R.D. MSNBC.com
SOURCE: MSNBC Health