Sports Drinks: Necessary Evil or Just Evil?

Go to any youth sporting event, and you’ll be blinded by the display of brightly-colored sports drinks. You can usually see a similar array at your local gym and, increasingly, in your office vending machine. But are these drinks really appropriate for an office setting?

In the United States, the sports drink industry was born at the University of Florida (UF) in 1965. The Gator football coach noticed that many of the team’s players lost weight, suffered from heat stroke, and didn’t urinate during games and practices. The director of the UF College of Medicine’s renal and electrolyte division knew that when the players perspired during practice, they were losing not just fluids, but also valuable electrolytes: minerals in the body that regulate important functions like hydration, muscle function, and pH level. The doctors and coaches teamed up to create a substance that would replace the fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes that the players lost on the field. They started with a simple solution of water, sugar, and salt, but it apparently tasted so bad that it was undrinkable. According to legend, the wife of the lead doctor recommended adding lemon juice to the concoction, and Gatorade was born.

Since Gatorade’s humble beginnings on a UF football field, sports drinks have grown into a billion-dollar industry. Nationally, people are getting the message that soda, both diet and regular, is very unhealthy. Soft drink sales continue to decline, but the consumption of sports drinks continues to rise every year. In 2014, per-capita sports drink consumption was 4.5 gallons in the United States!

However, replacing soft drinks with sports drinks does not provide a healthier alternative despite the marketing of sports drinks as being part of an active lifestyle. What many people fail to realize is that sports drinks are formulated specifically for people exercising for more than an hour and/or people exercising in extremely hot weather. Otherwise, there is no need to fill the body with the extra sugars and salt of sports drinks. In fact, the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) warns that the added sugars of beverages account for almost half (47%) of all added sugars consumed by the U.S. population. When in doubt, reach for a water: your body will thank you.

 

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