There are a lot of seductive ads circulating these days encouraging folks who exercise to partake of them. However, I learned early on that there is a basic threshold for using sports drinks. And that is, how much are you exercising? If you are a weekend warrior and go to the health club mainly to socialize and walk on the treadmill or elliptical machine for a half hour while you watch one of the TVs or read, you likely don’t need to use a sports drink and you may be doing yourself some harm if you are.
Sports drinks contain sodium which your body needs to replenish if you have been exercising at least moderately heavily and working up a sweat. In that case, you can be using a sports drink to bring your body’s electrolytes back into balance.
If you have been sweating a lot, getting sodium into your system is a good thing. But, if you haven’t, it isn’t necessarily.
Caitlin Howe, MS, MPH, of the American Heart Association Sodium Reduction Initiative says, “When it comes to winter physical activity, some people feel the need to consume energy and sports drinks during an afternoon walking in the cold air or skating on the lake. Sports drinks were initially designed for elite athletes, so most people can enjoy a winter workout without needing to replenish electrolytes or energy stores.
“One of the main electrolytes found in sports drinks is sodium, or salt, which can hide in foods even if they do not taste salty. About three-quarters of the sodium Americans eat (and drink) comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods. With an average daily intake of more than 3,500 mg of sodium, American adults’ sodium intake is more than recommended. In fact, Americans’ sodium intake is more than 1000 mg more than what is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2,300 mg) and double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association for ideal heart health￼ (1,500-2,300mg).”
Salt isn’t the only potential offender in sports drinks. Ms. Howe says, “Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sports drinks, sodas and fruit-flavored drinks, are the largest single source of added sugars in the American diet for both children 2+ years of age and adults. Children today are consuming as much as ten times the maximum amount of sugary drinks recommended by the American Heart Association.
“Even when a food or drink doesn’t taste salty, it can contain sodium. A 20-ounce sports drink can contain more than 200 milligrams of sodium and more than 30 grams of sugar. (To clarify, one teaspoonful of sugar is 4 grams, so a drink with 30 grams of sugar has more than 7 teaspoons of sugar.) And, some 16-ounce energy drinks can contain as much caffeine as a 2 cups of coffee. While these ingredients are designed to quickly replenish nutrient stores of athletes who have undergone intense exercise, the typical American can maintain optimal levels of these nutrients through a healthy eating pattern and choosing water to drink.”
Instead of reaching for a sports drink after exercise, she suggests:
1 Jazz up plain water. Slices of citrus, sprigs of mint or basil, or even frozen berries can add color and flavor to plain water without added sugar or sodium.
2 Energize with fruits and veggies. Pack portable, easy-to-eat fruits and veggies. Snacking on fruits and veggies￼ provides a lot of nutrients without too many calories.
3 Leave it to the label. Read food labels to help make healthier choices. Compare the nutrition labels of similar products and choose the one with the lowest sodium.
4 Feel effervescent. Plain seltzer water can add fun and texture without the added sugar or sodium. And, a bubbly water can be quite thirst-quenching!