Four Reasons why Female Athletes Should Avoid Sports Drinks

Fit woman sitting on bench holding energy drink

Based on their advertising claims, many athletes assume that sports drinks can help with the replacement of lost electrolytes and with speeding re-hydration.  But according to noted chemist and author John Rizotti, the ingredients found in the best-selling and most-trusted of these drinks contain little more than tap water; glucose, sucrose, or fructose syrup; citric acid; table salt; monopotassium phosphate (a type of salt that’s also used in fertilizers and fungicides); and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Look closely at the label of any sports drink and you’ll discover the first reason why you should avoid them:

1.  They are salty sugar water.

Manufacturers of sports drinks have led us to believe that their products are consistent with a healthy lifestyle, which sets them apart from sodas, but their sugar levels are just as high.

To avoid sugar, some athletes turn to artificially-sweetened beverages, particularly those being promoted as ‘energy drinks.’  But the majority of these low or no-calorie alternatives contain Aspartame (also called NutraSweet). While this chemical substance was approved by the FDA in 1983, the safety of its use remains questionable.  92 percent of all independently-funded research aimed at examining Aspartame’s safety have concluded that it’s detrimental to human health.  Splenda, which is chemically-derived from natural sugar, hasn’t fared much better.  Fatigue, depression, bi-polar disorder, premature births and autism have all been linked to the use of these no-calorie sugar substitutes.   

2.  Many sports and energy drinks contain caffeine. 

While many athletes can benefit from the short-term energy boost caffeine provides, its effects are fleeting—and not without cost. Unfortunately, the cumulative effects of caffeine can be harmful.  As a diuretic, caffeine intake can quickly lead to dehydration—a condition in which the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in.  Keep in mind that while the body is about 75% water, the loss of just a tiny fraction of it can significantly reduce an athlete’s physical performance and recovery potential.

3.  Sports drinks are very acidic.

All commercially-sweetened beverages, which include both sports drinks and sodas, feature high acidity levels which serve to extend their shelf lives.  And drinking these beverages contributes to higher acidity levels inside the body.  Numerous studies have linked over acidity to poor athletic performance, delayed recovery and the onset of a variety of chronic, health-related problems including rapid bone loss.  

Consider the following fact:  Sports drinks erode human teeth 30 times faster than water.  And according to recent studies, brushing after downing one won’t help; the citric acid they contain softens the tooth enamel so much that it becomes susceptible to being damaged by a toothbrush!

4.  Sports drinks offer empty calories.

While many popular sports drink brands try to play up the number of ‘nutrients’ they contain, the trace amounts of synthetic vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been added don’t offer any real nutrition.  

In addition, most also contain loads of processed salts, which is there to replenish the electrolytes you lose while sweating. However, unless you’re sweating profusely and for a prolonged period, that extra salt is simply unnecessary, and possibly harmful.  Additionally, because this salt intake typically increases your thirst, drinking most sports drinks will not quench your thirst while you exercise. It will instead make you want to drink more.

If you exercise for less than 45-60 minutes a day, at a moderate intensity, you won’t even need to consider the use of a high-sodium, high-sugar drink. In this case, water is the best thing to help you stay hydrated. But please protect the environment and limit your exposure to plasticizers by using water filtered at-home and kept in a glass or BPA free metal bottle.

It’s only when you’ve been exercising for longer periods (60 minutes or more), at an extremely high intensity, or in harsh conditions (such as on a very hot day) that you may need something more than water to re-stock and rehydrate.

One alternative is fresh coconut water. It’s one of the best natural electrolyte sources around. After longer and/or more intense work outs, add a pinch or two of mineral-rich sea salt, some nutrient-dense honey and/or blackstrap molasses and you can provide your body with all the energy it needs to recover.

Have another DIY sports drink recipe? I hope you’ll share it in the comments section below!

jackie cohenComment