Athletes from all over the world can pick up sports drinks to replenish their energy and quench their thirst.
But, do these drinks really work?
Can sports and energy drinks enhance performance or do they add on to empty calories?
Introduction to The Myth
The mostly entertaining and quite slick advertisements as well as celebrity athlete spokespersons tend to give people an impression that all these drinks are healthy and essential when and after working out, citing their role in replenishing the lost carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluids.
While simple carbohydrates are essential for athletes that engage in high intensity training and exercises, does this make sports drinks appropriate, or even effective for an average gym member?
Energy drinks became widely popular in the U.S following the introduction of Red Bull ®, which is a carbonated energy drink from Austria, containing 80mg of caffeine a serving, the amount you would find in a standard cup of coffee.
In comparison, Coca Cola ® contains 23mg, while Mountain Dew ® contains 37mg caffeine.
Some other energy drink brands can contain as much as twice the caffeine content in a Red Bull, besides other questionable ingredients.
In a recent study, the researchers prepared some beverages that contained maltodextrin, glucose, or neither, making sure they all tasted identical and offered them to athletes.
The athletes rinsed these drinks around their mouths, and later spit them out during exercise.
Although they didn’t reap the full energizing benefits of the carbohydrates contained in the drinks, rinsing the simple sugars around the mouth was shown to reduce the time required to finish the cycle time trial significantly.
The placebo drink produced no such effect.
The researchers concluded that much of the energizing effects from carbohydrates contained in energy drinks are produced by direct signals from the mouth to the brain, instead of providing energy directly to the working muscles.
Do I Need Energy Drinks If I Exercise A Lot?
Researchers at the University of New Mexico assert that unless a person is exercising for at least 90 minutes, then consuming carbohydrates will be more self-defeating.
Although sports drinks that contain carbohydrates can help your body absorb more water, no evidence supports the notion that the body will retain water more effectively compared to if you drank water alone.
In this case, they really are not more effective when it comes to battling dehydration. Most of the leading brands in the market basically have more than 2/3 of the sugar contained in sodas, and have even more sodium.
They also have high content for artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, and food coloring, none of which is healthy or needed in the body.
A Rule of Thumb
A a general rule of thumb, if you are not exercising for 90 minutes or more at a time, then sports drinks are generally unnecessary.
You only need something more than plain water to replenish your body when you have been exercising at an extreme intensity (such as at a full exertion level or during a hot day), or for very long period of time (90 minutes or more).
In fact, less than 1% of the people who use sports drinks actually benefit from them.
Workouts lasting less than an hour won’t lead to a significant amount of fluid loss that can justify the use of high sugar, high sodium drinks.
Instead, drink more water, and stay slim and lean!
Are Energy Drinks Bad For Your Teeth?
According to another study, citric acid, which is commonly found in many sport drinks, eats away the enamel coating of teeth.
The result of this is that the drinks can easily enter the bone-like material underneath, leading to a weaker and softer tooth, and eventually result into severe tooth damage or loss of tooth when left untreated.
Oral health is also connected with other health issues which makes this fact even more serious.
In some cases, sports drinks are up to 30 times more erosive to the teeth compared to water.
And as a recent study pointed out, brushing will not help because the citric acid contained in sport drinks actually softens the tooth enamel so much so that brushing it could damage it.
Therefore, sport drinks contribute to poor oral health.
What Are Some Energy Drink Alternatives?
If you work out in the heat for more than an hour, you can consider using healthier alternatives such as a pure 100% natural coconut water, rather than the processed sugar drinks.
The coconut water is actually more delicious, and contain as much as 1000 mg potassium in a 20 oz. drink.
It has some carbohydrates with generally less sugar than energy drinks; plus, it’s naturally occurring.
9 Reasons to Use Coconut Oil Daily!
For those exercising to lose weight or get into shape, keep in mind that energy and sports drinks can actually lead to weight gain, just like drinking soda.
It’s quite a sad irony that a lot of people will work hard to shed off weight, only to gain it back by drinking sports drinks.
While these drinks are often called energy drinks, the sugar contained in them will in many cases do the opposite.
Sugar Crash Leads To Food Cravings
Having a quick explosion of energy in your body will be followed by a low blood sugar levels, as more insulin is produced to balance out the blood sugar level.
For this reason, the quick energy you receive from the sugar will quickly become less energy as the level of your blood sugar drops.
What follows this? Well, hunger cravings unfortunately and hunger cravings usually lead to the dark side…
What Kind Of Sugar Is In Energy Drinks?
Moreover, since the fructose contained in the high fructose corn syrup (the common sweetener for most energy drinks) is metabolized in the liver, it does not let the pancreas to release insulin as it is supposed to.
Also, fructose converts into fat faster than any other sugar, and raises the triglycerides more significantly.
To completely convert fructose into glucose, your body requires it to rob the ATP energy stores located in the liver.
ATP is primarily the fuel that supplies your muscles energy, especially when you are exercising.
Therefore, if you will be robbing energy stores from your muscles, the sports drink will actually decrease your athletic performance. And you will be generally weaker and tired from drinking the sport drinks.
What About If I Only Drink Sugar Free Sports Drinks?
For those sports drinks that are sugar free or are low calorie, they are likely to contain artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for you compared to sugar or the high fructose corn syrup.
Don’t even for a minute think that just because a sports drinks claims to be no- or low-calorie, it won’t contribute to weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners are generally a big culprit when it comes to weight gain, just as corn syrup and sugar.
An overabundance of any kind of energy source can be very damaging to your body, which is why we recommend the Total Wellness Cleanse Detox Program to help to flush away certain toxins from your body.
Is The Salt In Sports Drinks Bad For You?
For the purpose of replenishing electrolytes, energy drinks generally contain a large quantity of salt.
Unless you sweat profusely for long periods, the extra salt is unnecessary, and can actually be harmful. The concentrated electrolytes might actually throw off the delicate electrolyte balance of your body.
Check out how to make your own here! (But make sure to come back).
The result of this is that you will be thirstier, and want to drink more, while at the same time making you retain water, feel heavier and even look bloated.
You might think that you are doing your body good but drinking sports drinks are ideally no better than taking a soda after working out.
Are Energy Drinks Bad for Your Heart?
While the calories in these drinks actually provide you with energy, their ingredients like Guarana, caffeine, and taurine will turn up your feeling of alertness and could produce some upsetting side effects like irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, and indigestion.
Such side effects are more likely to occur with energy drinks compared to coffee, which is often drunk slower than the chilled energy drinks.
The energy drinks are also associated with dehydration, as caffeine actually promotes urination; leading to electrolyte and water loss.
Dehydration will not only reduce performance during athletic activities drastically, but also lead to painful muscle cramping.