Health

Does the average exerciser really need a sports drink?

A May 4 article in the New York Times health section examined recent research on different types of sport drinks and their effects on exercise performance. Although some of the mechanics of the study, ratios, types of sugar used, and performance measurements were changed, it still boiled down to the same basic conclusion: this stuff matters for competitive athletes, and not the average person.

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A May 4 article in the New York Times health section examined recent research on different types of sport drinks and their effects on exercise performance. Although some of the mechanics of the study, ratios, types of sugar used, and performance measurements were changed, it still boiled down to the same basic conclusion: this stuff matters for competitive athletes, and not the average person.

I work out hard for about 10 hours a week. Sometimes I go for four- or five-hour bike rides at a high intensity. But the only time I ever have a sports drink is to prevent a hangover. Even then, I go for the low or zero-calorie version, because it’s the electrolytes that prevent the pounding headache I get after just a few drinks. Getting old can be a drag.

Enough about my drinking habits. And please don’t worry about me: I’m married to a family doctor and she’d give me serious grief if I drank too much.

Back on track. Sports drinks are for people who are engaged in lengthy, intense bouts of exercise who are also concerned about maximizing performance. In other words, they’re for the serious athlete. Still, I see people chugging them just as a drink for no other reason than that they’re thirsty, and these things pack a massive caloric wallop that will negatively affect your waistline. They have just as many calories as soda pop, and no one would recommend you drink a Coke after a 30-minute jog. But many think it’s okay to drink Gatorade or Powerade, when in reality they both contain loads of sugar and calories. That’s marketing for you.

Sometimes when I go for a long run, I “bonk,” which means I rapidly run out of gas and need more energy now! I have in my little back pocket a Sunrype Fruit Source bar — I scarf that sucker down and then I’m good to go. I realize these things are all processed up and not nearly as good as fruit in its natural form, but I can’t fit an apple or a banana in that back pocket. When I cycle, however, I have a pannier bag and that’s loaded with fresh fruit.

And for being thirsty, it’s water. Lots of water. Nothing wrong with good old tap water.

If you like to drink booze and get headaches easily like I do, maybe try a low- or zero-calorie sport drink before bed. (Drink in moderation.) But for most of us we simply don’t need the sugary ones for exercise. This is why I was pleased to read the closing paragraph of the article: “Sugar is not all bad,” Dr. Johnson concluded, “but it’s hardly nutritionally good, either.” The best sweet option, he added, is fruit, which comes prepackaged with a small but satiating dose of all-natural fructose.

Seems like I’ve been doing it right.

Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email James at james@bodyforwife.com.

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