We see advertisements of sports drink all over billboards, commercials, the gym, and grocery stores. They are advertised as a drink which helps athletes replenish with electrolytes and water after exercising or playing sports. The question is, are sports drinks really a good choice for you in the long-run?
Back in 8th grade, I was on the varsity track team. I would run a two-mile and one-mile race in every meet. During practice, we would be running and training vigorously for a few hours after school. One of my teammates had a tradition at every track meet, to munch half a bag of jelly beans before she runs. While I was keen for my health, I was evidently not yet educated in my profession. However, even as a middle schooled student, I felt that something was wrong with this notion. When I asked her why she did this, she claimed that it helps her run faster. I must mention, she ran short distance. I began to observe and recognized that yes, when she gobbled those jelly beans she was up in the air and “energized.” As soon as she’d finish running though, she’d flush those jelly beans down with a bright blue sports drink. Give it a few minutes, and she was exhausted on the grass. She’d lay down and be tired until the end of the meet. I had a feeling it had to do with all the sugar from the candy and drink.
Yes, sports drinks are full of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, lots of it too. If the kind you buy is labeled as “sugar-free,” then you’re most likely consuming an artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are man-made in a lab, and are pure chemicals. They have been proven to cause cancer, obesity, and surprisingly to many, more cravings. Atop that, sports drinks are full of food coloring. I just don’t comprehend how something bright red, green, orange, and blue can be advertised as a health food. Along with many food dyes, sports drinks contain natural and artificial flavorings, which explains the dozens of flavors you’ll find on the market. Some sports drinks have more than 4 teaspoons of sugar in just half a cup. The problem is, the majority don’t stop drinking them at half a cup, they consume the entire bottle! What can you do to optimize your energy after playing sports or working out?
Try something more natural, like coconut water. Look for unpasteurized kinds, otherwise the majority of the benefits are already depleted. Coconut water contains electrolytes which will aid you in replenishing your cells and quenching your thirst after vigorous physical activity. Try adding coconut water to homemade smoothies, and drink that instead of sports drinks full of refined sweeteners. If you’re not a fan of coconut, search for a grass-fed organic whey protein powder which will help aid in muscle recovery after a workout. As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, unfortunately, the majority of protein powders are full of junk. Artificial sweeteners, natural flavorings, and even hydrogenated oil can be found in many brands. If you’re unable to find an organic alternative, try whole food meals post workouts or physical activity instead. Eating organic pasture-raised eggs, fish, or other high protein whole foods is a wise choice. Opt for water along with this meal, and you’ll feel more energized than if you drank the sports drink to begin with. Best of all, you won’t have a blood sugar crash after an hour.
Be more aware of what’s in your food and drinks, and don’t consume something because it’s popularly advertised all over the place. Opt for whole foods whenever possible, and read your labels carefully to recognize unwanted ingredients. Next time you play sports or workout, try skipping the sports drinks and going for something more health promoting.
Editor’s Note: Noor Salem is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and is CEO of her own wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition, LLC. Noor specialized in women’s health, weight loss, and food intolerance versus allergies. She offers individual and group health coaching programs, and is a speaker on the topic of holistic health at workshops and seminars. The views expressed here are her own.