Seems these days that everyone who takes a walk around the block “needs” fluid, sugar, and electrolytes…and they need it now! Maybe even before the walk, maybe a bit after the walk, and of course during the walk. Really? Gatorade, Powerade, and all the other “ades” out there are over-marketed, and WAY over-consumed. They benefit certain hard-charging, long-enduring athletes, but slow down the efforts of many users that don’t fit the originally-intended user profile. Granted, especially in this heat, a walk around the block probably warrants extra fluid intake – but do you need a “sports drink?” What if you ran around three blocks? Congrats, but your body can give you a lot more effort than that before it needs help from high-fructose corn syrup, red #40, and a multi-billion dollar corporation. Let’s look at why these are overrated for most people:
Reason #1 : Sports drinks like Gatorade are useful when they aid the liver in increasing blood glucose supplied to the muscle. Your muscles rely on glucose from the liver, through the blood, after they run out of stored glycogen. Endurance athletes call this point “hitting the wall,” as it slows one down every time. However, your muscles store over 2 hours worth of glucose in the form of glycogen, more ready to use than anything in your blood. The only people who deplete these stores are those exercising intensely for more than 2 hours. Even then, depending on the person and how “loaded” those muscles are, they may not run out for about 3 hours. Most people do not exercise intensely (burning 600-900 calories/ hour for example) for more than 2 hours at a time, and never come close to “hitting the wall” or relying on glucose making it’s way through the blood from the liver. Furthermore, endurance athletes can use a technique called “carb loading” to almost double the amount of glycogen that the muscles can hold – very beneficial for delaying the “wall hit” and improving times.
Reason #2 : Sports drinks are liquid sugar (granted, with a few electrolytes). Most people are exercising for weight loss rather than performance. If you are trying to burn fat stores and extra calories, why drink more calories at the same time? That’s like trying to put out a fire while you throw lit matches at it. It “don’t make sense.” What about the low calorie versions? This cracks me up. Remember the purpose of such a sports drink? To replenish blood glucose when the muscles run out. If you start removing the glucose, you remove the original purpose. So why remove the glucose? To sell more to people trying to lose weight. Save your money. Drink water. Take your multivitamin twice a day, every day (the good ones will require multiple pills), and get your 5 handfuls of fruits and veggies. You’ll have plenty of electrolytes to fuel those workouts. And since you are eating every 3 hours, you’ll have a nice recovery meal inevitably planned post-workout.
Reason #3 : Most sports drinks are made to look pretty on the shelf, taste really good, and sell really well. Enter artificial colors and flavors, food dyes, and sweeteners like aspartame and splenda (sucralose) – often combined with acelsulfame K and others. These have no place in the human body anyway, and certainly provide zero performance benefit. In fact, take in aspartame consistently and risk building up formaldehyde (yes, embalming fluid) in your tissues. (aspartame breaks down to aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. This wood alcohol, or better known as paint thinner, is eventually converted to formaldehyde, which can accumulate in tissue). Does THAT make you go faster? (maybe: with an emphasis on “go”) Note: I cannot say enough bad about aspartame and the history of it’s creators, the dark cloud that hovers over it’s FDA approval, and the money/politics that drive this poison into mainstream consumption. By the way, the story gets worse when aspartame is exposed to high heat (when many people use the stuff!). If you disagree with my position, I understand. [you probably love drinking the stuff.] I get it – I used to as well, and stayed in denial for years. Then I dug deeper, read more, and uncovered more facts and research. Hence my current stance on the substance.
So what if you are exercising intensely long enough to drain your muscles of glycogen, and sweating enough in these high-heat conditions to dangerously lower electrolytes? Is there any way to maintain peak exercise performance while staying hydrated, and avoid harmful synthetic ingredients? You bet.
So now you realize that for most, sports drinks are unnecessary. But if you fit the category of hard-charging, long-enduring athlete, congrats! You can and should enjoy the benefits of a beverage filled with water, electrolytes, carbs, and even a bit of protein during your exercise.
This is especially true in the high heat of Texas summers that drains electrolytes and water even quicker. If, I say if, you are an endurance athlete, or participating in endurance athletics.
The question is: Is Gatorade the best? Powerade? What exactly SHOULD I be drinking to:
1. Avoid the dangers of dehydration, or the coma at the end of hyponatremia (a condition of being too-low on extracellular sodium due to excessive sodium loss through sweat combined with additional water intake)
2. Optimize performance through proper mid-exercise nutrition and hydration
Here are some good options and why:
Research has shown that adding amino-acids to carb/water sports drinks helps to retain water in the blood longer, delaying the emptying by the kidneys. Furthermore, in some studies drinks with a small amount of protein have helped athletes out-perform those using carb-only type solutions. This particular one uses the herb stevia to help sweeten the flavor, instead of any artificial flavors.
Nutrition Facts per 8oz:75 calories 42 potassium 135 sodium 16 carb 9 sugar 1,200mg branched chain amino acids
2) Gatorade Natural
This natural version of Gatorade omits the artificial flavors and colors found in standard Gatorade drinks. This is a much cleaner option than other Gatorades, but still lacks substantial potassium.
Nutrition per 8oz:50 Calories 110 mg sodium 30mg potassium 14 carbs 14 sugar
3) Coconut Water
Termed “nature’s sports drink,” this powerful fluid packs 324 potassium in every 8oz serving, in addition to the sodium needed to avoid low hyponatremia during prolonged intense exercise. With less sugar than most sports drinks, this may be a good option for those who feel other drinks are too sugary/sticky to enjoy in the heat.
Nutrition per 8oz:34 calories 91 sodium 324 potassium 7 carb 7 sugar
4) Home-Made Grape or Apple Sports Drink
Simply mix grape or apple juice with water (50/50) and add a level 1/8 teaspoon of salt to every 20oz of liquid. With this combo, you get all the benefits of Gatorade plus a substantial increase in potassium (which pulls water into the muscles and aids in reducing cramps). It’s both better and cheaper than Gatorade or Powerade, and void of artificial colors, flavors, and dyes. Plus, you can add your own teaspoon of liquid branched-chain amino acids – make sure they are either naturally or non-sweetened.
Your own Apple Sports Drink50% apple juice 50% water 1/8 teaspoon sea salt per 20oz liquid
Nutrition per 8oz:55 calories 120 potassium 145 sodium 13 carb 13 sugar (1500 mg branched-chain amino acids if added) tiny amount of trace minerals from sea salt
Your own Grape Sports Drink50% grape juice 50% water 1/8 teaspoon sea salt per 20oz liquid
Nutrition per 8oz:70 calories 148 sodium 105 potassium 19 carbs 18 sugar (1500 mg branched-chain amino acids if added) tiny amount of trace minerals from sea salt