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Should you be consuming sports drinks?

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  July 24, 2012 01:08 PM

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With the London 2012 Olympics Games about to start, it is extremely timely that the BMJ (British Medical Journal) published an article questioning the need for consumers to be gulping sports drinks in order to stay hydrated and to fuel their exercise outings.  The sales of sports drinks in the United States hover around $1.5 billion and are expected to increase to $2 billion annually by 2016.  There appears to be a lot of Americans guzzling sports drinks.

According to the BMJ article, while the public is being bombarded with messages that they should drink fluids during exercise, the research evidence is lacking that sports drinks, over plain water, are necessary to stay hydrated.  According to a commentary in the journal by Professor Timothy Noakes, Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town, “Over the past 40 years, humans have been misled—mainly by the marketing departments of companies selling sports drinks—to believe that they need to drink to stay “ahead of thirst” to be optimally hydrated.” 

According to the advice in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Sports Nutrition manual, individuals exercising less than 45 minutes, don’t need to drink sports drinks in place of water during their workout.  “The average person does not need a sports drink to stay hydrated under normal circumstances,” states Adam Korzun, the Sports Dietitian for the U.S. Olympic Ski and Snowboard Team.  “Drinking water and consuming the electrolytes found in our diet can certainly be enough.”  Electrolytes such as sodium, which are lost in sweat, are critical for muscle contraction and for maintaining fluid balance in the body. 

“Sports drinks can play a role in aiding hydration for athletes and the general population in extreme settings: high intensity/volume training where peak performance is required over an extended period, activity in environmental extremes (high heat/humidity/dryness), high altitude exercise or even altitude acclimatization, and even rapid recovery from a dehydrated state,” claims Korzun.  However, with less than 50 percent of Americans achieving the recommended minimum 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking, weekly, the average Joe and Josephine on-the-street isn’t partaking in a routine, intense training program that would likely cause dehydration.

Sports drinks can fuel the active muscles of endurance athletes.  The carbohydrates in sports drinks provide fuel in the form of added sugars.  But with over 68 percent of Americans currently overweight, our diet is clearly adequate in calories to fuel a 45-minute brisk walk daily.  We don’t need a sweetened beverage to help us make it around the block.

Since soda, sports drinks and energy drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugars in the diet, replacing these beverages with good, old fashion water may be one step towards cutting excess calories due to added sugars in our diets.  When you are sitting on the couch watching the summer Olympics over the next two weeks, reach for the water, rather than the sports drinks, to stay hydrated.

Follow Joan on Twitter at:joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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