Sports drinks are sweetened and flavoured drinks containing water, carbohydrates, salts and colourants as main ingredients. Sports drinks are also available in powder format for the user to reconstitute in water.
However, sports drinks in ready-to-drink are the more popular format and are sold in most grocery stores.
Sports drinks are not to be confused with energy drinks which are basically similar in formulation, but contain added caffeine.
While sports drinks were designed for individuals participating in physical activity of prolonged duration, they are now commonly consumed by youths worldwide, as a daily drink.
The health consequences of using sports drinks outside of a sports context can be significant.
Why are Sports Drinks so popular?
Sports drinks are commonly consumed by non-athletes mainly for quenching thirst, as a substitute for carbonated soda drinks and as an energy source.
Sports drinks are also believed to be healthier than carbonated soda drinks because of the way they are marketed and the use of sportspeople in marketing campaigns. Sports drinks also contain slightly lower amounts of sugar (7-8% sugar) than carbonated soda drinks (10%).
Manufacturers also target adolescents in their marketing by using product names that appeal to that consumer group, athletes that the latter look up to or social media influencers. For instance, Gatorade regraded their drink as “G-Series” as the name is more attractive to teens.
Dangers of Using Sports Drinks as a “Thirst Quencher Drink”.
Excessive Sugar intake: Sports drinks contain about 8% carbohydrates which means that a typical 250ml bottle packs about 20g of sugar (5 teaspoons).
The sugars in sports drinks can lead to excessive caloric intake, which can increase children’s and adolescents’ risk for becoming overweight and obese. It is easier to overconsume sugar in the form of drinks compared to, say, fruits.
Dental health: citric acid used in sports drinks can cause dental enamel erosion when consumed excessively (see guidelines below). The sugars in the drinks are also acted upon by oral bacteria, leading to dental caries.
Nutrient imbalances: sports drinks typically contain about 200mg of Sodium per serving. Excessive Sodium intake increases the risk of high blood pressure. Sports drinks are typically devoid of micronutrients like vitamins and have been found to be negatively associated with milk and Calcium, Vitamin D, Folate and Iron, etc. (ref)
Unhealthy additives: sports drinks tend to contain potentially harmful additives like artificial food colourants and preservatives
Sports drinks have an important, specific role in the diet of young athletes who are engaged in prolonged vigorous sports activity—primarily to rehydrate and replenish carbohydrate, electrolytes, and water lost during exercise.
● Sports drinks are recommended for physical activities lasting more than 1 hour. Common examples include: rugby training, marathon training and races, competitive soccer and tennis matches, and long cycling races.
● For any activity lasting less than 1 hour, especially in normal weather conditions, sports drinks are not recommended. Water can do the job very well.
● A pre-exercise meal or shake can serve to load up on energy before exercise lasting less than 1 hour.
● For daily hydration, water or milk fit the bill perfectly.
Veeraj Goyaram, MSc (Med) Exer. Sci (UCT) cum laude, BSc (Hons) Biology with Human Nutrition research project
Veeraj’s is passionate about the research and development of nutritional products for optimal health and performance, with a particular interest in sports, child and diabetic nutrition products. Veeraj was previously a graduate student at the University of Cape Town, where he conducted lab research on the effect of exercise and nutrition on the function of genes in muscle. His research was published in renowned scientific journals and medical textbooks on Diabetes and Exercise (PubMed listing). Veeraj keeps fit by regularly lifting weights and taking daily walks.