Sports Drinks Vs Water

Lucozade, Powerade, Gatorade…

In the 21st century – advertisements for energy drinks are everywhere. You can no longer switch on the television or flick open a magazine without seeing an advert for these glorified potions. It seems that these drinks are taking over the fitness world, and you only have to wander down to your local gym to see just how popular they are.

So what actually are these so called “sports drinks”, and what do they proclaim to do?

A sports drink is a beverage designed to increase energy levels, replace electrolytes and and keep you hydrated. So let’s look at how they claim to do this:

Increase Energy Levels

Sports Drinks are full of sugar – A 500ml bottle of Lucozade energy contains 21 teaspoons of sugar! To put that into perspective, a can of coke contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. When these sports drinks are consumed, our body converts all the sugar into glucose which is released into our blood stream. This glucose provides our bodies with energy – which is what gives us that “alert” feeling.

The problem is – glucose is a very short lived energy source and has detrimental effects on the body. When we drink sports drinks, our bodies have to produce large amounts of insulin to help our cells absorb the glucose from our blood stream. Any excess glucose is then converted to fat in our livers and deposited into our cells. Insulin also inhibits the breakdown of fat within our bodies. Both these factors encourage the accumulation of fat, and are counter productive when you consider the reason people are at the gym!

The counter argument to this is that the sports drinks provide you with the energy you require to perform an intense workout – which provides benefits that far exceed the negative impacts of the sports drink. Well I say that is a terrible argument, and here’s why..

The average person that visits the gym performs moderate intensity exercise for around 30 minutes. Let’s imagine their chosen exercise is running – in which case they will burn around 250-400 calories in their session. Now let’s imagine they consume a 500ml bottle of Lucozade Sport, which contains 140 calories. That is around half the total calories that they are burning by being at the gym, just from consuming an energy drink. So for every 10 minutes they run, they are only burning 5 minutes worth of calories…

What makes matters worse is the sugar in the sports drink – which is bad for two reasons.

1. As explained earlier – consuming sugar causes a surge in insulin levels, which promotes the accumulation of fat within our bodies.

2. When glucose is readily available in our bloodstream, our cells will use this as their primary source of energy. As a result, the energy we require to perform exercise will come from the glucose in our blood. If we didn’t drink the sports drink then our cells would not have access to that glucose – which means they would have to get energy from breaking down our fat.

As you can see – sports drinks are a counter-productive method for someone who want’s to lose fat. However, those in support of sports drinks will still argue that they provide you with the energy that you require to perform exercise. However again, that is a flawed argument..

The average gym visitor has access to more than enough energy to perform 30 minutes of exercise. They are likely to have glucose in their bloodstream from their meals that day, and if they run out of glucose, they can breakdown fat reserves to power their bodies. The only time when sports drinks are beneficial is for ultra endurance athletes – the kind that are performing intense exercise for hours on end. But even then, there are far better sources of energy – what’s wrong with a good old banana? Not only is this far better for your body than sports drinks, but it is broken down far slower so provides sustained energy over a long period of time – as opposed to a short spike that is supplied by glucose. In short – sports drinks are just as bad for us as sweets, and there are far better ways to provide our bodies with the energy required for exercise.

Replacing Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals that can be found in blood and cells, and help to regulate bodily fluids. The most well known of these are Sodium and Chloride.

During exercise – the body’s electrolyte balance can begin to shift – and as the body loses electrolytes through sweat, the imbalance can result in symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue and nausea. Sports drinks capitalise on this by promising that they can replace the electrolytes in our bodies and prevent these symptoms Whilst there may be an element of truth in this – it is irrelevant to the average gym visitor. Our bodies lose electrolytes relatively slowly, so unless you are exercising for over an hour, your body will be able to address its electrolyte imbalance without the need for sports drinks.

Hydration

The final promise of the “sports drinks” is that they keep you hydrated. Keeping hydrated is an important part of any exercise routine, as the body loses water far quicker than it loses electrolytes. A lack of water can lead to dehydration which results in fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches, dizziness and poor concentration.

However – do you want to know the best way to keep your body hydrated? WATER

There is absolutely no better way to hydrate your body than to drink water – and plenty of it. What’s more – it’s free, contains no calories and has a multitude of benefits to your body.

The other trouble will sports drinks is that they encourage you to drink before you feel thirsty. They claim the reason for this is that once you feel thirsty – it is too late – and dehydration has already kicked in. This is absolute nonsense, and there is simply no scientific research to back up this claim. Our bodies are extremely complex machines that have evolved over thousands of years. Considering water is the single most important element for our survival, I’m sure our bodies have developed the ability to warn us when we need to drink (before we get dehydrated). And how does it do that? It’s called being thirsty!

The fact of the matter is, we do not need to drink water until we feel thirsty, as this is our bodies way of letting us know we need to drink. The danger of drinking before we feel thirsty is that it can result in over hydration – which is very dangerous. People very rarely die of dehydration, but it is very common for people to die of over hydration.

So there you have it..

Sports Drinks are completely unnecessary for the average gym visitor:

– They contain a massive amount of sugar.
– They are rich in calories
– They promote fat accumulation in your body.
– They are a short term energy source.
– They are useless in regards to replacing electrolytes unless exercising for 1 hour+
– They are an expensive form of hydration – water is free and more effective.