Put Down the Sports Drink

Oh the wonderful world of sports drinks. Gatorade and Powerades and other “ades” as far as the eye can see. Touted as the healthy alternative to soft drinks and juices. With enticing flavours like Mountain Berry Blast or Mango Extremo. And on top of it all, a super-scientific boost in performance.

Except maybe not.

Why Sports Drinks Matter

The sports drink industry is enormous, and growing. Unsurprisingly, sports drinks have had particular success marketing to youth. Here’s some fun facts that illustrate the trend:

  • Between 1989-2008 the number of children aged 6-11 consuming sports drinks once a day in the US rose from 2% to 12%.
  • In 2010, Gatorade was identified as a “top five most advertised product” by youth.
  • Powerade developed the Powerade Play,  a scaled-down product with the tagline “The sports drink for the young athlete.”
  • 27% of parents in the US believe sports drinks are a healthy option for kids.
  • Sports drinks were pushed as a healthy option when soft drinks were removed from US schools in 2004 – by 2006 the market share had increased 6%.

Statistics sourced from Health Eating Research.  

The typical campaign for the typical sports drink promotes an active lifestyle, physical fitness, and sport. It may go on to claim that their sports drink is key to that lifestyle, improving performance thanks to a scientifically proven formula.

But how much truth is there to this claim?

What Makes a Sports Drink

Excessive sweating during exercise (especially in intense heat or humidity) will leave any athlete dehydrated. Water replaces this fluid loss, providing muscles the necessary replenishment to continue performing at their best.

A buzz word adored by the industry, electrolytes are really just the salts lost in sweat. Ever notice a white residue inside your baseball cap or jersey? This is the salt you lost during exercise. Electrolytes aim to replenish this loss, to improve hydration and reduce muscle cramping.

More science code, this time for sugar. The idea is that adding carbohydrates will maintain glucose (energy) levels to fuel muscles during prolonged exercise.

Sports Drinks Aren’t All They Claim

I’m here to tell you: put down the sports drinks.

Sugar content can be as much as 5 teaspoons (19g). Sodium content is comparable to a serving of fries (200mg). Caloric content is identical to soft drinks (150 calories). These numbers don’t exactly depict a “healthy lifestyle alternative” do they?

That’s because sports drinks are designed for elite performance athletes recovering from long, intense workouts. And that’s pretty much it. It would take an elite triathlete 2-hours of intense cycling before benefiting from the supplements in a sports drink.

For recreational adult athletes, the recommendation is to replace Gatorade with plain ol’ water.

An average person, during a workout, you need to be drinking a lot of water. That’s what your body needs for your muscles to work really well. That’s what your blood needs to circulate really well.
Dr. Greg Wells, Human Physiology Research Unit at the University of Toronto

Check out an investigation of sports drinks by CBC’s Marketplace HERE

Sports Drinks Aren’t for Youth Athletes

So if the recommendation for adults is to skip sports drinks in favor of water, you best believe that goes double for kids.

Not only do children not sweat as much as adults, the exercise is often less intense and the events are shorter. None of these indicate a need for sports drinks.

And so with that, I will leave the last words on the subject to the experts…

For non-athletes, routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks can result in consumption of excessive calories, increasing the risks of overweight and obesity, and therefore, should be avoided.
Canadian Paediatric Society 

What are your thoughts on sports drinks and the sports drink industry? Share with us in the comments below!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANick Boon is the Coordinator of Youth Development for Canada Basketball. Nick holds degrees in Physical Education & Health and Sport Business Management, and is a long-time and overly-obsessed basketball coach, player, and fan.

2 thoughts on “Put Down the Sports Drink

  1. This article is long overdue. Organized sports should be promoting a healthy lifestyle, not drinks that put youth on the path to Type 2 diabetes which is becoming an epidemic. Now this information needs to be shared and promoted, especially within the basketball community. Thanks.


    1. Thanks, James! We certainly agree – sports drinks often do more harm than good, especially when marketed to youth athletes. Keep spreading the message!


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