The problem with Sports and Energy Drinks.

North Americans have a serious drinking problem. We buy our drinks already-made, everything from water to coffee. It’s all about convenience. What we drink is not nourishing our bodies.

With names like Rock Star, Monster, and Full Throttle, energy drinks pack a punch that young people can’t get enough of. In fact, one in three teenagers regularly drinks them. Energy drinks spiked the market 15 years ago. They are now so popular that Americans are expected to spend $9 billion on them this year, making them the fastest-growing beverage market. Canada allows them to be called “health drinks”. The word is starting to get out and people are recognizing the dangers. Children downing 2 or 3 energy drinks hit the ice rink or the soccer field and collapse with a heart attack. Something is seriously wrong.

Sports drinks are seen as a healthy replacement and are recommended by sports coaches and teams. They are nothing more than flavored shot of a boy drinking a glass of waterwater that contains carbohydrates (usually sugar) and minerals such as sodium and potassium. Those minerals are generally referred to as electrolytes.

Sports drinks became cool when Gatorade hit the market. It was created in the 1960s for the University of Florida Gators football team. The British Medical Journal says it “started life as a simple mixture of kitchen foodstuffs” like water, salt, sugar, and lemon flavoring. Today they are loaded in sugars, color, minerals and preservatives.  The industry is now dominated by multinational companies like Pepsi and drug companies like GSK. In the United States alone, sales of sports drinks exceed $1.5 billion a year.

Before the rise of sports drinks, athletes and the rest of us drank water when we exercised or got sweaty. We knew when to drink and how much according to our thirst. But as profit became the purpose, sports drink makers spent a lot of money sponsoring less-than-rigorous research damning thirst as a guide to hydration and casting doubt on water as the beverage for staying hydrated. Compounding the problem, the recommendations once aimed at endurance athletes have now trickled down to anyone who exercises.

Potential Health Risks

What’s in these energy drinks that has them flying off the shelves? Mainly caffeine, at least the amount found in a strong cup of coffee, sometimes much more. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only requires that manufacturers list the presence of caffeine in a product, not how much. In Canada they are regulated as a health product and full disclosure is required.

Energy drinks are also be loaded with sugar — a quarter-cup on average or artificial sweeteners–that have their own problems. Also, since they’re marketed as dietary supplements, they often contain herbal stimulants like Taurine, Guarana, Creatine and B vitamins. We now know that is a dangerous mix. The medical journal Pediatrics warns energy drinks can cause kids to suffer heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, and even sudden death.

“I think it’s really important for parents to know what their kids drink,” said Dr. Peter Restaino, M.D. He says energy drinks are especially dangerous for kids with heart or psychiatric problems. Energy drinks should not be combined with alcohol or any other drugs, including caffeine from other sources like soda.

The pediatrician tells his young patients not to drink even one because they can be highly addictive. Many kids don’t feel good when they come down, and so think ‘I need to do another one.’, according to Dr Restaino.  Pretty soon they are drinking three and four and five a day.

Sports Drinks =Acid

Energy drinks are often marketed to athletes for that extra boost. That can pose even more problems for athletes than non-athletes, including increased blood pressure and serious dehydration.

Because of that risk, many athletes who shy away from the energy drinks choose the sports drinks instead. But sports drinks have as much or more sugar and can corrode teeth even more than soda. Candace Hawkins learned that fact the hard way. After enjoying a lifetime of perfect checkups, when she made her high school swim team, she started drinking sports drinks. As a result, she developed eight cavities.

“I couldn’t really believe it,” she lamented.

The acid in sports drinks erodes the teeth from the first sip until 45 minutes after the last sip, when the saliva returns the mouth to its normal ph balance. It’s better for your teeth just to chug it all at one time and then rinse your teeth off. If you sip it the whole game, you are going to have this acid attack on the teeth the whole time.

Those Pesky Calories

Another drawback of many sports drinks is the calorie content. Sports drinks and energy drinks are often so high in sugars that people sometimes drink more calories than they burn off during exercise. Do not be fooled by drinks that put healthy words on the label, like “fruit,” “water,” and “green tea.”

They also often have words like ‘vitamin’ or ‘antioxidant’. Those are important things when they come from real foods, but read the labels, in the drinks it is just simulated chemical versions. Now, when you add 50 grams of carbohydrate in the form of sugar, or more than that, the extra sugar cancels out any potential benefit.

Drink More Water

woman_drinking_waterSo how many carbohydrates are in what you’re drinking? It’s on the bottle.  But watch out — that number is carbohydrates per serving. Many bottles contain two or more servings. So if you drink the whole bottle, you’re consuming at least twice the number of carbohydrates on the label.

Aside from the sugar, which is nearly all genetically modified (GMO) because they are made by Pepsi and Coke, they are filled with colors, preservatives, and an array of other chemicals.  Read the label!   Just because a drink has a healthy image, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Don’t you need extra electrolytes when you work out?

There is no evidence that dehydration has ever killed a marathoner much less a regular athlete according to Dr. Arthur Siegel, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a medical adviser to the Boston Marathon. But the drumbeat that athletes must stay fully hydrated and drink before they become thirsty has spawned a new problem—over-hydration. That’s what killed a healthy, 28-year-old woman during the 2002 Boston Marathon. She collapsed a few miles short of the finish line and died a day later. The cause of death was hyponatremia—too little sodium in her blood caused by drinking too much fluid before and during the marathon. Boston Marathon officials admit that 16 marathoners have died and more than 1,600 have become critically ill due to over-hydration and hyponatremia.

Sports drinks don’t appear to prevent hyponatremia. A study of marathoners by Harvard-based researchers found that 13% had some degree of hyponatremia, and that it was just as likely to happen among those who guzzled sports drinks during the marathon as it was among those who stuck with water.

Trust thirst, drink water

Dr. Francis Wang, the team physician for Harvard athletics teaches athletes about thirst and fluids. For most players, thirst is a good guide for hydration. Athletes who have had muscle cramps may need to drink extra, and may need more electrolytes, but for the rest of us, who may run a couple miles in the morning or play a few sets of tennis: Thirst should be our guide, and water our beverage.

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