Public health advocates are pushing for a ban on the sale of sports drinks and flavored waters in schools, warning that drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas, and more than three times the sodium.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has introduced a bill that would let the government decide, and set nutritional standards for all foods and drinks sold in schools. The issue of whether sports drinks and vitamin waters should be considered “healthy alternatives,” or “junk food,” has now brought this bill to the forefront in congress.
The trade group representing bottlers like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are vehemently countering the bill, stating sports drinks are lower in calories, “appropriate” for high school students, and “essential” to young athletes.
But a report from the University of California at Berkeley warns that students who drink one 20-ounce sports drink every day for a year may gain about 13 pounds. This is no surprise to some nutritionists, who note that when you look at the ingredients, it’s water, high-fructose corn syrup, and salt.
According to Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “For years we’ve been programmed to believe that sports drinks are healthy and you need to replenish those electrolytes after you go out and walk your dog. They don’t want any official sanctioning of the idea that sports drinks are associated with obesity.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized the food industry actually outspends the drug industry in seeking to brainwash you, and manipulate the truth so you will increase their profits, usually at the expense of your long-term health.
The fact is that the food industry spends about $40 billion a year on advertising, brainwashing you to believe that junk food is somehow good for you and your kids. And the beverage industry is part of that pack.
Sports drinks hit $7.5 billion in sales last year alone, and according to the trade journal Beverage Digest, sports drinks were the third fastest growing beverage category in the United States in 2006, after energy drinks and bottled water. Of course they want you to believe sports drinks are healthy!
But when you look at the main ingredients: water, high-fructose corn syrup, and salt, how healthy is that really?
The Problem with Sports Drinks
There are situations where use of sports drinks is an option, but after mild exercise, or no physical exertion, it’s just not a wise choice. Unfortunately, less than one percent of those who use sports drinks actually need them.
The only time you should resort to these drinks is after vigorous exercise, such as cardiovascular aerobic activity, for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour, and you’re sweating profusely as a result of that activity.
Anything less than 45 minutes will simply not result in a large enough fluid loss to justify using these high-sodium, high-sugar drinks. And, even if you’re exercising for more than an hour, I still believe there are far better options to rehydrate yourself.
There are many reasons why you should stay away from sports drinks in all instances. For example, they’ve been found to corrode your teeth. As it turns out, ironically, drinking sports drinks when you exercise is particularly problematic because your mouth is dry, which means you don't have enough saliva in your mouth to combat the drink's acidity.
But that’s just for starters. The real problem lies in their choice of ingredients – the use of high-fructose corn syrup in particular – which should be your first tip-off that this stuff is bad news.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the number one source of calories in the US. It is the most prevalent sweetener used in foods and beverages today, and has been clearly linked to the rise in obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Just like other sugars it disrupts your insulin levels, and elevated insulin levels are going to of nearly every chronic disease known to man, including:
- Heart disease
- Premature aging
- Arthritis and osteoporosis
You name it, and you will find elevated insulin levels as a primary factor.
There’s also new evidence that HFCS increases your triglyceride levels and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Part of what makes HFCS such an unhealthy product is that it will tend to raise your blood sugar levels and cause sugar to attach to many of your body’s proteins, thus causing permanent damage to them. Because most fructose is consumed in liquid form, these negative metabolic effects are significantly magnified.
Although these drinks are often referred to as “energy” drinks, in the long run, sugar does just the opposite. It acts like an H-bomb – a quick explosion of energy followed by a plummeting disaster, as your pancreas and other glands do all they can to balance out the toxic stimulation to blood sugar. Any kinesiologist or chiropractor will show you how sugar dramatically reduces strength!
Your Best Alternatives to Sports Drinks
It is, however, important to replace the water you’ve lost during exercise. But the question is: are sports drinks really as “essential” to young school athletes for this purpose as the manufacturers would like you to believe? Are they the best alternative for your children?
Well, no. They’re not. (After all, these trade group representatives are paid to say whatever their clients want them to say. They’re not nutritional experts.) Neither are “energy” drinks like Red Bull and many others, which are high in caffeine – a natural diuretic – which will actually dehydrate your body further.
Your best bet for your primary fluid replacement is , fresh water.
If your child is going to be involved in a long game or match, drinking simple carbs (sugar, corn syrup, and so on), will give him or her a quick spike in blood sugar followed by a fall, causing sluggishness and hampering overall performance. Pure water is a far better alternative to rehydrate.
If your child is involved in athletics, I highly recommend you review my related article, Energy Rules, for great tips on how to optimize your child’s energy levels and physical performance through correct nutrition.