Q&A: Sports and Energy Drinks

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Q&As, General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

What’s your take on all these popular beverages that claim to enhance energy and sports performance? They sound too good to be true.

 

Americans spend billions—yes, billions—per year on specialty energy and sports drinks, which can easily cost up to $2.50 per serving. But if you take a close look at their labels, you’ll see that most are little more than “sexy” soft drinks.

The majority of them are loaded with sugar and calories.

For example, a 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. Red Bull, the energy drink that “gives you wings,” contains 110 calories and 27 grams of sugar—but a can only contains a little over 8 ounces. Gatorade, perhaps the most popular sports drink, boasts just 50 calories and 14 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving, but the average bottle contains about 20 ounces.

And though VitaminWater certainly sounds more promising, it has a similar caloric and sugar profile. In fact, Coke—VitaminWater’s manufacturer—was slapped with a class action lawsuit alleging that marketing it as healthy was deceptive.

If you have diabetes or insulin resistance, you should stay away from these beverages altogether. And if you’re overweight or trying to lose a few pounds, you’d be wise to avoid them as well. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers noted that restricting liquid calories had a bigger impact on weight loss than cutting back on solid calories. You may think sugar-free versions are better, but chemical sweeteners have problems of their own.

Some specialty drinks are truly therapeutic. However, the purported benefits of many of them are overblown and unproven. Their vitamin levels are paltry, and unless you are exercising vigorously and sweating profusely, you simply don’t need the excess sodium and other minerals.

The beverages that contain a little caffeine, however, may be on to something. Multiple studies show that caffeine boosts endurance, performance, and pain tolerance.

Bottom line, many of these drinks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. To stay hydrated, stick with filtered water. If you want a little caffeine, go ahead. Just opt for unsweetened green tea or coffee.

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