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Are Sports Drinks Worth it

If you’re a sports fan, the scene is familiar. The final seconds of the championship game are ticking down and the cameras begin to pan the players on the winner’s sideline.

Everybody is back-slapping and high- fiving. Two of the players are slyly sneaking behind the rest of the team and have a large container with the familiar “Gatorade” logo on the side. Right on cue, the entire container of liquid is dumped on the head of the team’s coach.

He acts surprised and starts laughing like the good sport he is. The camera flashes from the drenched coach to that now empty container and millions of fans break into a smile without realizing their role in this iconic brand recognition.”

The message is powerful and ubiquitous: Winners drink Gatorade!

Sport drinks like Gatorade, Powerade and All Sport have done a brilliant job of creating a product category that accounts for billions of dollars in sales. Unfortunately, most sports medicine experts feel that they do a better job promoting themselves than they do in helping athletes.

In spite of the claims made in advertising, the composition of all sports drinks are amazingly similar. Basically, they are made up of water, sugar, minerals such as potassium, sodium and artificial flavoring.

They make claims that “electrolytes” are replenished, but the secret sauce is carbohydrates. Experts from the “Sports Medicine” journal note that sugar and energy compounds help to feed the muscles and delay fatigue, but the muscles convert ingested carbohydrates to glycogen which is their primary fuel.

Unless you are competing in a triathlon or endurance cycling competition taking four hours or more, your re-hydration is probably just as well served by drinking water. You don’t need the extra sugar, potassium and sodium of a sports drink.

Most of us are not competing in the Tour de France or an Iron Man competition. We exercise to lose weight or maintain strength. Adding more carbs and sugar is not a great weight loss strategy.

In a comparison of the three, best known sport drinks, the biggest difference is their labels.

The main ingredients of a 20 fluid ounce bottle of Gatorade are water and sucrose syrup. There are 60 calories, 14 grams of sugar, 110 mg. of sodium, 30 mg. of potassium and no other vitamins or minerals. The large amount of sodium found in Gatorade (twice as much as the other sport drinks) is used to stimulate thirst.

In the case of a 32 ounce Powerade bottle, the main ingredients are water, high fructose corn syrup and natural flavors of kiwi, melon and pineapple. There are 70 calories, 15 grams of sugar, 4 grams of other carbohydrates, 55 mg of sodium and 30 mg of potassium.

All Sport comes in a 24 ounce bottle and its main ingredients are water and high-fructose corn syrup. There are 70 calories, 19 grams of sugar, 1 gram of other carbohydrates, 55 mg. of sodium, 50 mg. of potassium along with thiamine, niacin, vitamin B-12 and pantothenic acid.

If you are a serious endurance athlete, you might be interested in a recent report that was published in the July issue of the “Journal of Applied Physiology.” Researchers found that glycogen, the muscle’s primary fuel source during exercise, is replenished more rapidly when both carbohydrates and caffeine are ingested following exhaustive exercise.

Researchers found that four hours after intense exercise, athletes that combined caffeine with carbs, had 66% more glycogen than they had with carbs alone. The amount of caffeine ingested in this study was the equivalent to drinking five to six cups of strong coffee.

The primary problem of sports drinks is the extra sugar. This has been shown as a cause of childhood obesity and kids idolize athletes.

The only real advantage that sports drinks give athletes is probably psychological. However, to paraphrase Yogi Berra: “Sport is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”