Expert Health Articles

The Truth about Sports Drinks

Martha Gonzalez RD, LD, CLC

Sports drinks are a common choice for Americans but many people don’t know what they contain or the reasons why you should drink them. Regular use may lead to unwanted weight gain and spikes in blood glucose. This knowledge may be very important for someone who is diabetic or trying to lose weight. Although sports drinks can lead to weight gain, there are appropriate times to consume them. For times that sports drinks aren’t needed, a variety of other low-calorie beverages can be consumed.

According to the nutrition facts label on two of the industry’s leading sports drinks, a 20-ounce drink contains 140 calories and 34 grams of sugar per bottle. Each gram of sugar contains four calories telling us that 97% of the total calories are coming directly from added sugars. The ingredients label lists sugars as the second ingredient, letting consumers know that it is the second most used ingredient behind water. Due to high levels of sugar, frequent consumption could result in weight gain and the development of diabetes. In addition to sugar content, a 20-ounce sport drinks also contain about 270 milligrams of sodium (salt).

While high amounts of sugar and sodium are not ideal for most people, there are times where it might be necessary. Sports drinks were first designed to fuel high performance athletes during intense workouts or athletic competitions. During physical activity, the body uses carbs as a main source of energy. The reason for high amounts of sugar present in sports drinks is because it is a carb and can be easily digested and quickly used for energy. Athletes may consume these sugary drinks to power through their intense workout or game. During physical activity, sodium is released through sweat, explaining the reason for sodium content. Because drinks of this type are made to fuel high intensity athletes they may not be ideal to drink for thirst or low to moderate intensity workouts.

If you don’t fall into the category of a high intensity athlete that’s alright, there are many other sports drink options. If you’re looking for a drink to quench your thirst, stick to water! Drinking water doesn’t have to be boring, infuse water with your favorite fruits, mint leaves and cucumber or lemon. These ideas will help to give your water flavor. Remember, water first for thirst. When looking for something other than water try drinking 100% fruit juice or tea. If you’re really craving a sport drink, another option would be choosing the low-calorie version of the drink which will drastically reduce sugar and calorie intake.