Sports drinks are popular with many age groups, including teenagers and children. But do they live up to their healthy image or are they secretly harming our health?
Sports drinks are a mixture of sugar, salt and electrolytes. These are useful for athletes for replacing calories and minerals lost during training. Their use as a regular soft drink, however, is leading to a health crisis. Regular non-athlete drinkers of sports drink are at far higher risk of both dental decay and obesity.
What are sports drinks supposed to be used for?
Lucozade, the oldest form of sports drink, was originally developed in 1927 to provide a source of energy and calories to people who were unable to eat other food. It was rebranded in the 1980s as a drink to replace energy lost during sports — e.g. to replace the calories burned during exercise.
Gatorade was developed for a similar purpose. Professional footballers were becoming ill during exercise, despite drinking sufficient water. It emerged that during training they were losing sugar, salt and electrolytes. Gatorade was developed to replace these and reduce the risk of illness during training.
Sports drinks were developed for athletes and are best used to replace the minerals lost during intense exercise. Any drink with a high level of sugar and acid is dangerous to the teeth. Athletes should also be taking care of their teeth as training can cause a high level of strain upon them, leading to an increased need for dental work such as fillings, crowns or even implants.
What happens when non-athletes regularly drink sports drinks?
With 236 calories per bottle and 48 g of sugar, a bottle of Lucozade Energy will replace or exceed the amount of calories lost in a normal workout and provide nearly twice the daily recommended allowance of sugar. Sports drinks are not a healthy choice for the regular public any more than The Rock’s diet is a suitable daily diet for the average person.
Consuming sports drinks regularly as part of a normal diet will cause dental decay. This means that the person may need dental fillings, or even tooth extraction, as well as the contribution towards the risk of obesity. Many people are still under the impression that these drinks are healthy. They are often marketed in the vein of sports and self-improvement. Lucozade sponsors many sporting events and personalities including The Football Association, The Premier League, The England Rugby Football Union, The England Football Team, Parkrun, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen.
Many teenagers and adults consume sports drinks regularly without realising the implications. In the results of a recent questionnaire on sports drinks, the results were quite alarming. 90% of participants consumed sports drinks and half of the participants drank sports drinks at least twice a week, adding a large quantity of extra calories to their diet. Most of the participants listed taste as the reason they drank energy drinks, over energy and rehydration.
The British Dental Association released a quote on the topic: “Sports drinks are rarely a healthy choice and marketing them to the general population, and young people in particular, is grossly irresponsible. Elite athletes might have reason to use them, but for almost everyone else they represent a real risk to both their oral and their general health.”
Combining energy drinks with sub-par dental hygiene means that the sugar from the sports drink can have a destructive effect on the teeth, dissolving enamel and making dental work necessary.
What are the best alternatives?
In an ordinary lifestyle — getting about 150 minutes of exercise a week and following a balanced diet — sports drinks should have no place. The best liquid to drink during exercise — and in general — is water. High-sugar foods and drinks should be an occasional treat rather than a daily part of any diet.
The worst drinks to consume during exercise are energy drinks such as Monster or Red Bull. In addition to the sugar and acids listed above, they contain several other ingredients including caffeine, which can have a dangerous effect on exercise. If you feel that you are becoming dehydrated or otherwise unwell during exercise, you should speak to your GP.
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