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Is My Sports Drink Bringing Me Down?

Many people trust that sports drinks are the best alternative to replenish lost fluids, glycogen and electrolytes when exercising. But is that really true? Have ya ever really looked at the ingredients and wondered what yellow #5 has to do with hydration or replacing minerals?

And now for a surprising truth, many sports drinks pack around 9 teaspoons of sugar per 20 ounces?! They also typically contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial flavors and food coloring. None of these ingredients contribute to optimal health or performance and can certainly contribute to poor health and poor performance over the long term.

Is anything that color actually good for me?
Is anything that color actually good for me?

Original Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains water, sucrose (table sugar),dextrose (another type of sugar), citric acid, natural flavor (this is not fruit juice, so what is it?), sodium chloride (table salt that contains only sodium), sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, and flavoring/coloring ingredients (Yellow #5, Blue #1 (derived from coaltar); some Gatorade flavor variations use brominated vegetable oil (hormone disruptor) as a stabilizer. - looks perfectly healthy right?

So what is so bad about sugar and HFCS, aren't there to replenish the glycogen lost after exercise? Well, that is what they are there for, but consuming naked sugar during and after exercise will negatively affect both your insulin sensitivity and your human growth hormone (HGH) production. In fact, these sugars will create an initial increase in blood sugar then the body will spike insulin causing a dramatic reduction in blood sugar. This roller coaster can make you feel fatigued in the long run (pun intended). Repeat this sugar and artificial sport drink consumption over time and the pancreas, liver, adrenals, and other organs and glands become taxed and toxic. Plus these added sugars also contribute to weight gain over time as well. Why train to keep your body healthy to then pour junk into it?

Artificial colors and flavors are also questionable ingredients. Most have links to numerous forms of tumors and cancers. Let alone the links to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children, which our society is facing each and everyday in record numbers. For instance, Yellow #5 has been shown to stimulate severe hypersensitivity reactions and trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Just another ingredient on the not so healthy list.

Then there is the brominated vegetable oil. Brominated vegetable oil is a food additive used to keep citrus and other flavorings from separating out in some foods, sodas and sports drinks. What's the problem with this? Bromide is part of the halogen family and some research suggests that it can displace health supporting halogens in the body like Iodide and chloride. Communication between neurons depends on a carefully managed exchange of hydrated chloride. And iodide is important for a healthy functioning thyroid and healthy mammary tissue. Because bromide can go into iodide receptors, bromide can displace iodide and disrupt our bodies ability to make thyroid hormones. It's banned as a food additive in Europe and Japan but not currently in the U.S. Being healthy isn't just about being fit. It requires a happy functioning neurological and hormonal system as well.

What should you do instead?

Water a wonderful hydration source since forever!
Water a wonderful hydration source since forever!

Drink water. Water has been a hydration source for, well, ever. Very few people actually need to replenish that much glycogen or actually lose that many minerals from a 20-60 minutes of training or physical activity. The most important thing to do for a typical training session is maintain proper hydration by drinking a little bit of good clean water through the training.

Sadly sports drink makers spend a serious amounts of money sponsoring less-than-rigorous research damning and casting doubt on water as the beverage for staying hydrated. To make matters worse, recommendations once aimed at endurance athletes have now trickled down to anyone who exercises. At all. Especially children. In fact, both the makers of Lucozade and Gatorade have developed school outreach programs to persuade children that they need a sports drink for any and all activity. Next thing you know Gatorade will be sponsoring recess. The corporate marketers of sports drinks have been so successful with their outreach programs and advertising that several studies highlight a high consumer belief that sports drinks are healthy, even essential to any and all activity. This is just plain unhealthy propaganda aimed at getting children hooked and loyal to a product as early in life as possible.

In fact, sports drinks do not appear to prevent hyponatremia, low sodium levels in the blood. A study of marathoners by Havard-based researchers found that 13% had some degree of hyponatremia. The surprising part of the study was that hyponatremia was just as likely to happen among those who guzzled sports drinks during the marathon as it was among those who stuck with water. If you want to ensure good hydration and replenishment of electrolytes during or after training, add sea salt to your water. Sea salt has a vast array of minerals (60-84 minerals) instead of just sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Sea salt is a much healthier electrolyte replenisher.

If it is about adding flavor to ensure a child, or yourself, will drink some water during a bout of training, add a few squeezes of lemon or lime juice (which also have a small amount of natural sugars and minerals) or a few frozen berries to the water. You will get the needed fluid without unhealthy ingredients that actually bring your health and performance down.

If you feel a need to restore muscle glycogen after an intense training session or activity, which can be beneficial, eat a piece of fresh fruit or a starchy vegetable. Now the body is replacing glycogen with real food containing vitamins, fiber and minerals that support your health and your body's recovery. The idea that you need instant sugar for your muscles is another wonderful bit of propaganda to benefit makers of sports related products.

If you are looking to increase your performance and hack your body, that is great! Just be sure you are supporting that training in a health supportive way. It is best to hydrate and feed the body to be a capable active athlete everyday.


Training? Great! A good sport drink for everyday activity or training:

  • 8 ounces of Good Clean Water

  • 1 teaspoon Lemon and/or Lime Juice

  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt

Stir or shake together. Add ice if you like it cold.

  • Or drink 1/2 cup of Fermented Sauerkraut or Pickle Juice. Fermentation takes place in a salt brine and the veggies will add even more minerals to the liquid. Plus, now you are getting all of those amazing probiotics for a healthy gut. I particularly love drinking pickle juice from our homemade fermented pickles. It is so refreshing and tasty! Click here to learn how to make you own fermented pickles (it is very easy actually).

Plan on doing some intense or long duration training? Try some of options below to replenish electrolytes and glycogen while supporting a healthy body.

A good all around healthy sports drink for endurance activity (an hour+ of training):

  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt

  • 2 teaspoon Lemon and/or Lime Juice

  • 1 teaspoon Maple Syrup or Unfiltered Honey (optional)

  • 8 ounces of Water

Stir or shake together. Add ice if you like it cold.

  • optional addition: Steep 1-2 inches of fresh ginger in the mix for 1-24 hours to add a zing. If you tend to have a decreased appetite after exercise or nausea during a training session, ginger can help improve both.

Want a glycogen replacer to help you recover from a high intensity training or lifting? Eat a serving of fruit, squash, waxy potato variety, or a sweet potato. Or make a smoothie like the one below.

BASE Smoothie

  • 1 Cup fruit - Fresh or Frozen

  • 1 Cup Liquid like Water,

  • 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

Optional additions to any of the above:

  • Whole Whey or other high quality protein powder like SP Complete from Standard Process

  • An avocado will give it a super creamy texture and is also a good source of potassium, calcium and magnesium and healthy fat. All good things for fluid balance and muscles recovery.

  • 1/4 Cup whole greens or veggie juice. More minerals.

  • Make a iced mint herbal tea and add the sea salt and lemon or lime juice from either of the above.

  • Spices like a dash of ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, turmeric, etc. Many of which have anti-inflammatory properties, can help reduce post-training nausea.

Dr Steve taking time out to do the Spartan Beast
Dr Steve taking time out to do the Spartan Beast

Dr Dobelbower is a doctor of chiropractic with a post doctorate in clinical nutrition, a member of Rehab to Performance, certified in FMS. He works with people to help them be more capable of living a healthy full life through a variety of safe and natural therapeutics like Chiropractic adjustments, rehabilitative care, functional movement, exercise therapies, nutritional and herbal supports, and life style coaching. Contact his clinic at 406.222.9373 to schedule appointments.

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