About Sports Drinks


From an early age we’re told that sports drinks are crucial to our success in the sports we play, and that sports drinks will speed our recovery by replenishing the minerals and nutrients we lose with exertion. But are these statements truthful? And are these drinks good for us? According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, one of the world’s foremost authorities on natural health topics, we should avoid sports drinks for several reasons, including their caffeine content and the inclusion of high-fructose corn syrup as a principle ingredient.


Dr. Stephen Cohen, a physician and member of the American College of Sports Medicine, states that sports drinks fall into three main categories based on their composition (i.e. the concentration of minerals and nutrients in the drink): isotonic, hypertonic and hypotonic. Isotonic drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, possess salts and sugar in a concentration that’s comparable to that in our bodies, and are touted to work well for longer exertional bouts. Hypertonic drinks, such as fruit juice, possess salts and sugar in a concentration that’s higher than that in our bodies, and are thought to be best consumed after exercise, to help replenish glycogen stores. Hypotonic drinks, such as water, which lack electrolytes, are the drink of choice for rapid rehydration.


The premise behind sports drinks, according to Dr. Cohen, is to help athletes rehydrate during and after a bout of exercise. Sports drinks are also intended to replenish our stores of electrolytes, carbohydrates and other nutrients after a prolonged period of training or competition. Because carbohydrates are the main fuel our bodies burn during intense exercise and because carbohydrate levels are important to the performance of high-intensity exercise, it’s important that we consume beverages with contents that will be rapidly absorbed by the gut during activity. But are sports drinks the answer?


According to Dr. Mercola, the main ingredient in sports drinks is high-fructose corn syrup—the top source of calories consumed in the U.S. and a substance that’s been linked to a rise in obesity and metabolic syndrome. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that excessive fructose intake is a possible cause of chronic health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Mercola notes that energy drinks—which are not regulated by the FDA—are loaded with caffeine, containing as much as 300 milligrams in one serving (the per-serving FDA caffeine allowance in regulated food and beverages is 65 milligrams).


Alternatives to conventional sports drinks exist and are easily prepared. One healthful option is fresh coconut water, which provides our bodies with a very high source of electrolytes and none of the unhealthy ingredients of commercial sports drinks. Coconut water—which can be purchased at your local health food store and comes in a number of palette-pleasing flavors—can be combined with water in equal or unequal proportions. A study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science concludes that ingesting fresh, young coconut water is an effective way to rehydrate our bodies after exercise.


Now that you’ve prepared your healthy sports drink and you’re ready to exercise, how are you going to cart your drink around? One option is to put your drink in a phthalate-free bottle, such as a SIGG bottle, and carry it with you in a small backpack. You could purchase a waist pack that accommodates two or more slender bottles. A waist pack is unobtrusive, comfortable and allows you to carry food and beverages without the postural burden of a conventional backpack.

About this Author

Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician and freelance writer based out of Durham, N.C. He has traveled extensively throughout North America and Asia and writes about health, fitness, diet, lifestyle, travel and outdoor pursuits. He earned his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.