Why sports drinks may be a waste of money

Shereen Dindar
Contributing Writer
Shine On
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Listen up, gym rats -- your beloved neon-coloured sports drinks may be sabotaging your workout (not to mention your wallet!).

A CBC investigation shows that light-to-moderate exercisers come nowhere close to losing enough sodium and potassium in their blood after a workout that would require a sports drink to replenish the minerals.

“Your body is very, very good at making the changes it needs to make in order to keep you exercising safely all on its own,” says sports physiologist Dr. Greg Wells.

Instead, consumers are actually counteracting the effects of their workouts by ingesting excessive calories and sugar through the sports drinks.

Yet with a multibillion dollar sports industry with effective advertising and high-profile athlete endorsements, the public seems to be convinced that sports drinks are necessary for something as simple as a casual jog.

Not so, say experts, who suggest you only need a sports drink after exercising for more than 90 minutes. Otherwise, plain old water before, during and after your exercise is sufficient.

"Exercising 1.5 hours to three hours is long enough to warrant fluid replacement due to sweat losses," Kristine Clark, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University Park, tells WebMD. "How much sweat is lost influences how much sodium and potassium are lost."

Electrolyte minerals carry an electrical charge through our bodies and are necessary for proper function. They're depleted through sweat, but only during long periods of intense exercise or spending time in the hot sun.

While the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends sports drinks for young athletes who exercise in high temperatures or for more than an hour, they caution against overuse.

“For non-athletes, routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks can result in consumption of excessive calories,” the group warns.

Should you find yourself in need of an electrolyte-packed drink, coconut water may be a good option, depending on your needs. Many people find it appealing because it is a natural source of electrolytes and has significantly less calories and sugar than sports drinks. While it contains high amounts of potassium, it may not have enough sodium or carbohydrates needed intense athletes.

The National Post notes two studies that have been conducted on the effectiveness of coconut water. One suggests it is equally as hydrating as sports drinks or water, while the other suggests that it may cause less nausea or stomach upset after intense exercise than sports drinks.

What's your go-to drink after a workout? Share in the comments below.