Meditation & Health No 16 - Table of Contents


Think Before You Drink: The Health Risks of Sports Beverages

         By Jasmine Tham & Cindy Lee

         Sports drinks are marketed to the public as necessary hydrators for fitness enthusiasts,or simply as healthful beverages which both quench thirst and boost cellular hydration even for those who are not exercising.But in most cases, commercial sports beverages pose health risks,especially if consumed regularly.



           In theory, sports drinks are formulated to help people rehydrate during or after exercise. Sports drinks are beverages made of water, sugars, small amounts of minerals like sodium and potassium (generally referred to as electrolytes), and sometimes artificial, health-damaging ingredients as well. Although these drinks are marketed with claims of delaying the onset of fatigue during exercise and replacing nutrients lost through sweating, they may contain questionable ingredients such as the following:


Refined sugar


            Commercial sports beverages generally contain sugar, and it is very challenging for the body to convert refined sweeteners into glycogen, the fuel needed by muscles to conduct repair and recovery during and after a workout. Important nutrients, including zinc, manganese and B vitamins, are sacrificed as the body struggles to process refined sweeteners. High-fructose corn syrup is particularly damaging, but all refined sugars cause inflammation and boost the risk of disease, as well as being intensely addictive. Too much sugar in the diet combined with nutrient deficiencies inhibits insulin sensitivity, and this means sugar stays in the blood and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) begin to form, which wreak havoc on tissues throughout the body and contribute to disease. Based on the How Sweet Is It? guide created by “The Nutrition Source,” which was set up by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, every 12-ounce/350 ml sports drink contains about five teaspoons of sugar. Studies have shown that sugary drinks increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gout. Also, because of their high sugar content and added artificial flavoring and coloring, sports drinks can cause tooth decay.


Food coloring


            Animal studies have shown that food coloring can have a detrimental effect on the liver, brain and DNA. It contributes to behavioral problems in children.




          The electrolytes, typically sodium and potassium, can affect the amount of water in your body and how well your muscles function. In the case of sodium, it can encourage fluid intake by driving the thirst mechanism. Sodium also increases fluid absorption and retention. However, when the body has an excessive amount of sodium, dehydration ensues. Studies have also shown that too much sodium in the body can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, even heart failure. There is also some evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta, and kidneys without increasing blood pressure, and that it may be bad for bones, too.



Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)


         First patented as a flame retardant, brominated vegetable oil is a synthetic chemical composed of vegetable oil (typically soybean-derived) and bromine, which is not found in any food sources. Bromine displaces iodine, an essential mineral that is needed throughout the body for good health.Brominated vegetable oil is not safe to consume, even in small amounts. Used in some sports beverages as a means of stabilizing the artificial colors and flavors, BVO may cause nerve disorders, skin lesions, mental fatigue, memory loss, impaired speech, muscular weakness, and other problems.

Monopotassium phosphate and sodium citrate


          Both of these chemical compounds are used as preservatives, and both make the body more acidic, forcing you to use your reserves of calcium and magnesium to protect yourself from the acid and rebalance your pH level.


Best Options


           Most people simply do not exercise at an intensity level that requires massive carbohydrate loading. So the energy in the form of sugar supplied by most commercial sports beverages far exceeds what most people require. Post-workout, it is important to replenish micronutrients and antioxidants, not just carbohydrates and proteins. Rather than drinking commercial brands, try making your own hydrating beverage. Combine a pitcher of coconut water, which is immensely hydrating, with a couple spoonfuls of raw, unpasteurized honey, the juice of a lemon, and a pinch of Himalayan crystal salt to replenish lost fluids and nutrients. If you still wish to consume store-bought sports drinks, search out natural beverages that contain a healthier mix of ingredients and are free of the unhealthy ingredients previously noted.



          There are three main types of sports drinks available, all of which contain various levels of fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates:


Isotonic drinks


          contain similar concentrations of salt and sugar as in the human body:

          Quickly replaces fluids lost through sweating and supplies a carbohydrate boost.

          The preferred choice for most athletes, including middle and long-distance runners or those involved in team sports.


Hypertonic drinks


          contain a higher concentration of salt and sugar than the human body:

          Normally consumed post-workout to supplement daily carbohydrate intake and top-up glycogen stores in the muscles.

          Can be taken during long-distance events to meet the high energy demands, but must be consumed together with isotonic drinks to replace lost fluids.


Hypotonic drinks


          contain a lower concentration of salt and sugar than the human body:

          Suitable for athletes who require fluid without a boost in carbohydrates, such as gymnasts.


Consume at the Right Time


          Sports drinks are best consumed during exercise, since the carbohydrates in the drink do not cause high blood-sugar fluctuations because insulin is not secreted during exercise. The drink may be a suitable option for exercise sessions that exceed 60 minutes or when you are exercising in a hot, humid climate. In such instances, sip on a sports drink (100 ml to 200 ml total serving) for every 15 minutes of exercise to hydrate your body.  

           Studies have shown that the nutrients we require for our exercise regimens can be obtained from our daily meals. A banana, for example, is a rich source of carbohydrates, potassium and sugar. Remember to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods, rather than relying solely on beverages to meet nutritional needs. 

           Sports drinks are not meant to be consumed daily or even weekly, especially when exercise is moderate or nonexistent. Choose plain water the next time you feel thirsty, even if it is during your workout, and particularly if you are exercising indoors at a moderate level of intensity for less than 60 minutes. The health risks posed by consuming sports beverages regularly outweigh the perceived benefits.



Meditation & Health No 16 - Table of Contents