The truth behind Sports Drinks – Why you don’t need them.

I used to belong to a gym back home in NJ where the changing rooms were equipped coolers.  There were no water in these coolers, however, only Gatorade, a different flavor every day to keep the hard working people hydrated.  I never really thought much about it, I was only excited to get a yummy drink into me, a bit happy to avoid the tap water from the fountain on the main floor of the gym.  Gatorade, and other sports drinks were good for you!  The commercials told me so.  I never even thought to question why.  I never even stopped to think, “What the hell is an electrolyte anyway?”

I am now much more educated on the subject, and while sports drinks do indeed replace electrolytes, they are by far NOT the best choice when you are looking to quench your thirst.  Or ever.  First I’ll show you the nutrtion panel on two bottles:



The first picture is a bit better then the second, barely.  So lets look at the first 3 ingredients in picture one: water (good start!), Liquid Sugar (or as we normal people call it, sugar), and Glucose-Fructose (AKA: SUGAR).  The rest of the ingridents are salts and flavorings.

Picture two, Water, Sucrose Syrup (Sugar) Glucose-fructose Syrup (Sugar)…some flavoring and again salt.

So, sports drinks consist of 3 things, water, sugar, and salt.

Okay, now lets find out exactly what an electrolyte is.  An electrolyte is a fluid that conducts electricity.   In the body, they are used to maintain proper cell functions such as blood volume (proper blood volume is crucial in making sure your organs are getting enough nutrients and oxygen), muscle and nerve function, and maintaining normal heart rates.

There are 7 major electrolytes:

  • Sodium -Sodium is used to control how much water your body retains.   You don’t get bloated from eating too much salt for no reason.  We only need 500 mg a day of sodium, and most of that comes from table salt.  500mg is very little.  Its about 1 tsp of table salt.  Too much sodium is called hypernatremia, or dehydration, and comes from having too little water in the body.  This can lead to weakness, lethargy, and in severe cases seizures or coma.  However, have too little sodium and you develop hyponatremia.  It is the most common electrolyte disorder in the United States. Often caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting, symptoms may include headache, confusion, fatigue, hallucinations and muscle spasms.
  • Chloride -Working together with Sodium, Chloride maintains proper acidity in the blood.  Most chloride intake is from table salt as well.  Deficiencies can lead to breathing problems, weakness and confusion.
  • Potassium – Potassium is a mineral found inside the cells, and many people do not get enough because of instead of eating fresh raw fruits and vegetables they opt for processed foods laden with salt.  This offsets the proper balance of electrolytes immensely and leads to hypertension, heart disease and stroke.  Found in avocados, bananas, coconut.
  • Magnesium – I’ve talked before about magnesium, and here it is again.  It is so important and one of the most misdiagnosed deficiencies around.  It regulates sleep, is known as the “muscle relaxer”, maintains normal nerve and muscle function, boosts the immune system, maintains stable heart rate, stabilizes blood sugar, and promotes the formation of bones and teeth, and it even plays a role in the synthesis of RNA and DNA.  Magnesium deficiency, results in  fatigue, convulsions, muscle spasms and numbness.  Magnesium is found in many fruits and vegetables, coconut, banana, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Calcium- Calcium is needed for muscle contractions (ie your heart and lungs).  When there is  a lack of calcium in your blood, your body starts taking it from your bones.  This leads to osteoperosis, and brain deterioration.  Calcium is found in nut milks, dark leafy greens, tofu.
  • Phosphate – Phosphate is used to repair bones and tissues.  Deficiency is usually found in people with  celiac’s disease or Chrone’s disease but it is not common.  Found in beans, legumes, nuts.  Almonds have the highest  phosphate content for vegans. (50% of phosphate from plants is not absorbed, unfortuantly the best phosphate source is from animals, however, it is not common to be deficient if you are eating a proper diet)
  • Bicarbonate – Bicarbonate is the bodies way of protecting itself from the build up of lactic acid in the muscles during work outs or other metabolic activities.   If lactic acid were to build up, we would die.  Bicarbonate keeps our PH in harmony.  Sodium Bicarbonate is also known as baking Soda.

Okay so now that we’ve cleared that up, lets take a look back at whats in a sports drink.  Water, lots of sugar, and salt.  I’ve posted a few shakes that I said would be great post work out, and the reasons should now be clear, but if they’re not, I’ll explain.  Having a glass of coconut water (water, potassium, magnesium, sodium) and a banana (potassium, magnesium) will do more to replace your electrolytes then a glass of water, sugar and salt…oh, I’m sorry, I meant  Gatorade!… Sugar, unless naturally occurring in fruit, has no place in your diet.  However, that is a whole other post.

Remember, electrolytes are a balanced system in our bodies.  The key word is balance.  The way to maintain all of it working properly is through good nutrition   That means eating whole raw fruits, vegetables and grains.

I will end this  by saying that water is not enough to keep your from getting dehydrated on a hot summer day.  People have died during races where they drank the whole way through.  The problem was not lack of water, the problem was lack of minerals.  Please keep this mind as the months warm up, stay safe and hydrate properly.



8 thoughts on “The truth behind Sports Drinks – Why you don’t need them.

  1. Very good article! Lots of people have trouble hydrating on anything but clean unadulterated water. If you add food coloring to that, and sugar, it needs to go through the digestive processes before it can be utilized. Food coloring is an allergen for many folks, so, instead of a digestive response, we get an immune response and the body will try to get rid of the pathogen as quickly as possible.
    The water will run straight through you. As soon as chlorine hits the taste buds on the tongue a signal travels from the mouth to the brain through the vagus nerve. Chlorine isn’t something the brain likes in the mouth and instigates an immune response, which interferes with the uptake of the fluid. People can drink gallons of fluids without hydrating. We work with alcoholics in our clinic who are so badly dehydrated because they continually drink beer in order to quench their thirst. Beer does not hydrate because of the salt content of beer (to counteract the sweetness) which is the reason people can drink a lot more beer than water.

    • Thank you for the added information about the digestive process of food coloring! Do you think it is their addictions causing them to forgo common sense when they reach for beer instead of water? Or do you think they actually have no idea that alcohol is dehydrating? Alcoholics suffer from potassium deficiency (as well as other malnutrition issues) because after drinking alcohol the human body excretes 260% more potassium then it normally would. They, more then anyone, should be careful how they re hydrate after a binge, but for some it doesn’t matter. Addiction is a horrible ailment, be it drugs, food, or alcohol!

  2. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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