With constant ads running on TV for products such as Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water, etc; it’s no surprise that sports drinks are a billion dollar industry. When we see our sports heroes score that winning goal, make that slam dunk, or run it in for touchdown, and follow it with a big gulp of whatever liquid beverage they are promoting, it’s no wonder why the success of these companies is so monumental. We naturally associate Eli Manning's mind-blowing touchdown with his TV pitch. And think that, if I drink the same thing, I can be like "that guy" or to achieve similar results. Even if we don't think we think it...we do think it. We unconsciously assume that these products contain what our bodies need to achieve optimum health, recovery, and physical performance, when the reality is, that this could not be farther from the truth.
So what makes these sports drinks bad? There are three main ingredients found in all of them: Water, Salt, and High Fructose Corn Syrup. The concern with these drinks is the choice of ingredients used by the manufacturers. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), in particular, is a serious problem. It can be found in almost everything we buy today - especially sodas and sports drinks. It is the number one source of calories in the US and has been linked to the nationwide increase in obesity. HFCS is especially bad for you as a fighter because the amount of weight and type of weight you carry is critical to how you perform in the ring. HFCS produces the worst kind of fat there is because, since it is synthetic or unnatural, your body does not know how to process it, so it cannot break it down and utilize it as readily as natural sugars. As a result, your body will produce a specific type of fat called Adipose Fat, which sits on your abdomen, your core and key areas of your body where fat builds up as dead weight,
Some companies are catching on to the risk of HFCS and are now making their products with alternative sweeteners and touting them as "natural" or "healthy". For example, Vitamin Water has done a great job of promoting their products as "the healthy sports drink". But how healthy is it really? Your typical Vitamin Water contains 2 different types of sugar, Crystalline Fructose and Cane Sugar. Are these as highly processed and dangerous as HFCS? No. In fact they are a much better option. However they are still just a big bottle of sugar and empty calories. Again, if you look at a typical Vitamin Water, it contains 13 grams of sugar per serving...and it has 2.5 servings a bottle. So if you are like the average person, who buys a drink and consumes it all, you are getting 32.5 grams of sugar. That’s almost as much as an average can of soda. How is that "healthy"?
What can we drink before or after workouts that will give us more energy, keep us hydrated, and replenish lost electrolytes? Although it is always important to make sure you are getting plenty of pure water, another great option is Coconut Water. Coconut water is about as natural as you can get and comes with a whole host of health benefits. It is a natural sports drink and contains electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, sodium and calcium. It is loaded with potassium, low in sugar, and contains no preservatives, artificial ingredients, or flavors. And coconut water goes straight into your blood stream, making it extremely hydrating. When purchasing coconut water, it’s important to make sure you’re buying a quality product. We're going for natural here, so as close to nature as possible. Something with no added sugars or flavors.
Going the healthy route may not always be the easiest, but it is definitely worth it in the long run. The good news is that products like these are becoming more prevalent as the demand for healthy alternatives grow. So always remember to check the label of the drinks you buy. Look for those that have clear benefits and toss the ones that don't. The best choices may not come with the face of a superstar athlete on the label, but stick to what's good for you, and someday that face might be yours.
Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.