Because the goal of functional medicine is to reverse disease by getting to the root cause, we look at the impact that sugar and other chemicals in sports and energy drinks have on the systems of the body.
While elite athletes may require the replenishment of electrolytes and need to refuel muscles, many do not reach for sugar and chemical laden sports drinks any more. Elite athletes know that water is the primary hydration tool and is key in performance. In additional to water, many now opt for natural and clean "sports drinks."
One example is coconut water. It has electrolytes, natural salts, amino acids, enzymes, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and so much more. Coconut water is also low in calories and sugar.
Toxins in the form of sugar, genetically modified corn syrup, dyes and the paragraphs of chemicals listed on the label of most sports drinks contribute to inflammation, disrupt hormone signaling, destroy the gut flora, cause insulin resistance and lessen the assimilation of nutrients. This is why we always recommend clean or more natural products.
One issue with sports drinks is that many people drink them instead of water when working out and many drink them without working out at all as a "healthy alternative" to soda. The general rule is that unless you work out for 45 minutes to an hour, water is the best hydration. After an hour, electrolytes and salts may need to be replenished. For those who drink them without working out, this is not a healthy choice.
The calorie or sugar content is very high in these drinks and even endurance athletes know not to use refined sugar as fuel.
Just like soda and fruit juice, sugary drinks are one of the biggest culprits of fatty liver. Sugar has the same toxic effect on the liver as alcohol which is why we now are seeing many children diagnosed with fatty liver, a condition that is associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
It is also important to know the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks. Some energy drinks contain up to 500 mg of caffeine which can cause heart palpations and high blood pressure. The stimulants in these drinks can create a problem when using them to keep cool in hot temperatures.
It is easy to guzzle these drinks and often drink more than the serving size. (There is generally more than one serving in bottle). This not only increases calorie and sugar consumption but also caffeine levels, which can increase dehydration.
Stimulants may also interact with medications, such as some asthma medications that also have stimulants.
The last concern with sports drinks and energy drinks is tooth decay. There are high levels of citric acid in many sports drinks. This can soften the enamel on teeth. If we are hot or thirsty, we have less saliva to protect against the high acidity in these drinks.
Drink water or coconut water as an alternative to sports drinks. You can also look for recipes for making your own healthy sports or energy drink. If you are looking for a healthy stimulant, green tea is a powerhouse of energy and nutrients.
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This article was published in the May 2018 edition of the Healthy U @ Work newsletter from WorkingWell. Courtesy of Complete Wellness Solutions. WorkingWell is a network of occupational health services and part of Franciscan Health. With locations in Northwest Indiana, Greater Indianapolis and South Suburban Chicago, WorkingWell's team of professionals provide high-quality medical care to business and industry, with a primary goal to work closely with employers to ensure employees are "working well."
By Pamela Johnson, BS, HHP-AADP, CFMP, RYT