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Sports drinks not made for everyone

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Gatorade was developed in 1965 for athletes at the University of Florida when a coach became concerned that his players were suffering from heat-related illnesses. Since that time, many other companies have developed their own sports drink formulas, and these beverages have become popular with both professional and recreational adult athletes.

Many parents also believe that a sports drink is the best choice for their children who are exercising or playing sports in the heat. In fact, sports drinks have become the beverage of choice for many, regardless of whether or not they exercise. 

The problem is that most sports drinks contain added sugar and sodium; nutrients that most of us get too much of. For example, a 12-ounce serving of original Gatorade contains 21 grams or 5 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men regardless of the level of physical activity. And keep in mind that there typically is more than one serving in a bottle and many people may drink the entire bottle. Most of us get enough added sugar and sodium from the foods we eat without consuming more in the form of liquids.

Sports drinks were developed for the needs of athletes who were doing intense workouts in hot and humid conditions. Most of us simply do not work out hard enough to require the extra calories or nutrients that are present in a sports drink.

What’s the best choice for hydration? It’s hard to beat plain old tap water for availability and affordability. According to the American Council on Exercise, “While sports drinks may be necessary for certain athletes performing high-intensity and prolonged exercise, water remains the ideal beverage to optimize hydration, control body temperature in challenging climates, and set the stage for a successful physical pursuit ...”.

If you plan to exercise outdoors in the heat or at any other place and time, the best plan is to make sure that you do not start out in a state of dehydration. Drink water or other unsweetened beverages throughout the day, every day. Once you start exercising, drink enough to remain hydrated throughout your workout. Eating plenty of water-rich fruits and vegetables can also assist in maintaining the proper hydration level.

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