I'll be taking a few weeks off to spend time with my family and travel, and will write infrequently during this time. Meantime, I'll be reposting some of the more popular posts I’ve written over the past years so that new readers have a chance to catch up. Happy Summer!
I have three athletic kids, and have many opportunities to watch practices and games.
I have been noticing lots of sports drinks.
Engaging in any sport is now almost synonymous with drinking a sport drink.
I’m not discussing performance athletes here, or regimens that involve endurance and extreme conditions. I am talking about kids playing basketball, tennis or soccer for an hour or so, in comfortable situations, with plenty of breaks, and many times hardly breaking a sweat.
Sports drinks: A history
Sports drinks were initially designed for athletes. Dr. J. Robert Cade, University of Florida professor of medicine and physiology is credited with creating the first sports drink in 1965.
Before Dr. Cade’s invention the players would practice all day in Florida’s humid heat, with hydration not part of the routine. It is hard to believe, but at that time athletes were discouraged from drinking even water for fear it would cause nausea and abdominal cramps. Many players suffered heat exhaustion at those times, and deaths were not uncommon among football players.
Dr. Cade was asked by the then-assistant Gator football coach Dwayne Douglas the question that launched an industry: Why do players loose so much weight during games, yet hardly urinate? Cade's researchers determined a football player could lose as much as 18 pounds, 90 to 95 percent of it water during the three hours it takes to play a game. Players sweated away sodium and chloride and lost lots of water.
Using their findings the researchers mixed water with electrolytes and sugar for players to drink while playing football. It tasted horrible, but after adding more sugar and lemon juice it was quite palatable, and did prove to benefit the athletes. The Gators enjoyed a winning record and were known as a "second-half team" by outlasting opponents.
After the success story of sports drinks for athletes these drinks were marketed to sporty and health-conscious general consumers. The marketing success has been so great, that, in the belief that this drink will “enhance performance”, “improve recovery” provide “quick rehydration” or “prevent hyponatremia”
they now go hand in hand with exercise -- any exercise.
What in a sports drink?
Is it better to rehydrate with a sports drink after a casual exercise regimen?
This is a typical ingredient list:
- Sugars- 6% to 9% carbohydrate (glucose, fructose, sucrose, or synthetic polymer maltodextrins)
- Electrolytes- including sodium, potassium, and chloride
- Other stuff- flavors, colors, acids (for flavor and preservation), preservatives and vitamins in some.
For a recreational athlete, the only good ingredient is the water. Our body's glucose and glycogen reserves are not depleted by an hour of exercise and do not need replenishment, minerals are plentiful in food (electrolytes are basically salt), and despite marketing claims, sport drinks show little benefit over water in preventing dehydration in these situations.
Sports drinks' disadvantages
The downside of consuming sports drinks regularly are the calories from sugars, getting into the habit of expecting a drink to be sweet, and the potential damage to teeth by constant contact with these drinks. The damage to teeth is from the sugars and the acidity of the drink, which can cause caries and tooth erosion.
Sports medicine has come a long way. Certain nutrition regimens do give athletes an edge, but this does not mean kids should be consuming sports drinks on a regular basis while engaging in routine childhood activity
An interesting idea is the power of suggestion sports drinks have. If you believe the drink will make you better, it will!
Ron Friedman and Andrew Elliot published a study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise that demonstrated across three experiments that just showing a sports drink -- as opposed to showing spring water -- led to greater persistence on physical tasks, consistent with the well-known perceived association between sports drinks and endurance.
I can see uses for that.
How about Happy Water -- marketing genius will convince you that just having it at home makes you happy -- or Peace Water -- shipping it around the world will finally bring world peace.
Let’s drink to that!
Full disclosure: I’m vice president of product development for Herbal Water, where we make organic herb-infused waters that have zero calories and no sugar or artificial ingredients. I’m also a pediatrician and have been promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyle for many years.