Are sports drinks effective?


Fact Box

  • A sports drink is a beverage 'that consists mainly of water, electrolytes (such as sodium or potassium), and carbohydrates (such as sucrose or fructose) and that is designed to replenish those substances in the body during or after usually strenuous exercise.'
  • In 1965, Dr. James Robert Cade, a professor of renal medicine at the University of Florida, was the lead inventor of what would later become the sports drink Gatorade, conceived of after a football player posed the question to him, 'Why don't football players ever urinate during a game?' 
  • Statista reports that the popular sports drink Gatorade Power had sales of over $3 billion in the US in 2016. 
  • As of 2018, the average American drank over 5 gallons of sports drinks per year. 

Jay (Yes)

Sports drinks, when appropriately used, are effective in both rehydrating the body and replacing electrolytes, sodium, and potassium that is lost through sweat, respiration, and other bodily functions.

When evaluating sports drink efficacy, it needs to be stipulated that a sports drink, regardless of brand, is composed primarily of water, with only smaller trace amounts of sucrose, potassium, citric acid, and food coloring. When a sports beverage is consumed, you're drinking mostly water anyway.

The difference is the added ingredients that replenish your body's reserves of vital minerals, and in fact, sports drinks actually increase the body's ability to absorb water efficiently and helps the body upload available stores of carbohydrates while at the same time replenishing carbohydrates burned during exercise. Sweating depletes the body of water and electrolytes. Sports drinks restock these stores and help with physical performance and mental function during intense exercise or competition. In sports such as competitive cycling, making a mental error can be catastrophic. That's why riders in the Tour de France, for example, are constantly drinking sports beverages to keep all of their electrolyte and other vital mineral levels topped off.

Drinking water only hydrates the body (which is good), but it does nothing to replace the minerals you lose through sweat. Sports drinks contain sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates that can help fuel the body during competition and help with recovery, especially after intense physical exertion.

This is backed by a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports which suggests that 'sports drinks enhance endurance performance'. Sports drinks work for what they were designed to do, replenish vital minerals and electrolytes during and after intense physical exertion.

Ray (No)

In the past fifty years, a 22 billion dollar market has been cultivated for the so-called sports drinks. What exactly are these sports drinks? They are flavored beverages that are high in sugars and minerals like potassium and sodium. These minerals are marketed as electrolytes. Additives like red and yellow dyes have known links to cancer. Toxins like polyethylene glycol, a waxy solid that stays in the intestines, are sometimes used as a colon cleanser before surgery. A 32-ounce sports drink may contain up to 75 grams of sugar. Those extra calories and excess sodium contribute to weight gain, tooth decay, and high blood pressure.

If the added toxins aren't bad enough, studies also show most people consuming sports drinks haven't exercised sufficiently to require replenishment of electrolytes. Sports drinks have little to no effect on those exercising for less than 60 to 90 minutes. Most people consuming sports drinks are exercising at a low intensity for only a few hours per week. Many studies showing the benefits of sports drinks are sponsored by the manufactures and are done on endurance athletes. 

Medical professionals recommend choosing water over sports drinks. Dr. Andrew Nish declares, 'Water, water, and water should be the beverage of choice for hydration….' Endocrinologist Vanessa Curtis warns against sports drinks for children saying, 'Water should be the first choice for rehydration for most activity.' Harvard Health Blog says sports drinks are a waste of calories and money. Choose water instead. While these drinks may benefit endurance sports like cycling, the average active person should steer clear of sports drinks.

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