Food for Thought – The Truth about Sports Drinks
As the intense heat of the summer hits Yokohama, worries about dehydration and taking in enough fluids are upmost on people’s minds. In an effort to remain hydrated and quench their thirsts, many of our students are reaching for isotonic sports drinks such as Pocari Sweat, Aquarius and Gatorade. These drinks are becoming increasing popular on the sports fields, fitness centers and the playground, and drinks machines are fully stocked with the latest brand, some even including ‘Diet’ versions. Claims from the manufacturers of these particular drinks, state that they enhance endurance performance and aid replacement of water and electrolytes lost to sweat, giving you the ‘edge’ over your opponent. Supporting these positive claims is some sound research. The need for supplementation in intense sport is becoming well known, and in order to optimize training and performance, many athletes are turning to artificial nutrition to raise the amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Looking simply at some of the science and nutrition behind performance, individuals engaged in a general fitness program require 3-5 grams of carbohydrate, per kg of body weight, a day. A normal healthy balanced diet provides this and there is absolutely no need for any further supplementation. However, athletes involved in intense physical activity (3-6 hours a day) five to six times a week, would require around 8/10 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight a day (Kreider et. al, 2004). This is the equivalent to eating 2kg of spaghetti and it is physically difficult to consume this amount through regular meals. Therefore, these athletes are turning to sports drinks to gain the extra energy needed and optimize performance, and to this end, sports drinks could be described as being effective.
On the surface, this research and others supporting optimized performance due to supplementation, would suggest, reaching for a sports drink is very beneficial. And, this is where the drinks manufacturers have focused their marketing strategies. Through glossy magazine advertisements, TV commercials and athlete endorsement. Casual athletes, fitness participants and consequently children, are being motivated, enthused and ultimately persuaded that sports drinks are a healthy option and will have some positive effect on their performance. Data of sports drink consumption would support this claim and it has been found that from 1998-2008, the percentage of American children aged 6 to 11 consuming sports drinks has increased significantly from 2 percent to 12 percent. In 2006, sports drinks were the third fastest selling beverage category in the U.S. (Story and Klein, 2012). Furthermore, it is also the fastest growing sector in the UK soft drinks sector with sales of around £260m per year (Cohen, 2012). In short, non-elite and adolescent athletes/individuals are being encouraged to consume much higher levels of carbohydrate through sugar sweetened beverages, than the body requires for energy. Depending on the brand of sports drink, some contain as much as 19grams of added sugar and 200 milligrams of sodium (Story and Klein, 2012). This is the equivalent of 8 spoons of sugar in one drink. The downside to this consumption of excess carbohydrate, is that it is stored in the body, leading to excess weight gain, displacement of healthy nutrients, and a higher risk of obesity and diabetes (Story and Klein, 2012), as well as exposing children to the propensity of dental erosions (Cohen, 2012).
So what does this all mean to the recreational participants and parents of young athletes, who might select an Aquarius or Pocari Sweat from the vending machine? There can be no doubting the necessity to keep hydrated during exercise. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to function correctly. Your body needs to maintain its temperature, remove waste and lubricate joints. However, water is the optimum fluid for hydration and best done by drinking water before, during and after exercise. The use of sports drinks can be beneficial in prolonged, intense activity but the necessity to understand the potential risks of consuming sports drinks and excess carbohydrates regularly, must be clear to parents, teachers, coaches and children.
For further information on this topic, parents are directed to a very interesting panorama documentary by the BBC, The Truth about Sports Drinks posted on YouTube.