Which sports drink is best?
I have to admit, sports drinks are one area I totally messed up when travel sports entered our world a decade ago-
I was fully riding the Team Water! wave and didn't think my kids ever needed sports drinks... oops.
For the most part, I viewed sports drinks as a glorified substitute for pop (soda for my Eastern friends), which makes sense since pop industry sales have declined over the years and the sport drink industry has grown to a $20+ billion market.
Loosely translated, people are drinking a hell of a lot of Gatorade.
Unfortunately, most of the consumption is unnecessary (see, I was partially right back then). Yet, they can be beneficial for athletes who can't stomach food in the essential 30-45 post-workout window.
So, when does the body need electrolyte replenishing? Typically after
60 minutes of exercise (read active, not a 60 minute session with much of it on the sidelines or inactive)
Extreme sweating (very common in sports with pads and gear)
or Exercising in high heat and/or humidity
are all times when the body needs to replace lost sodium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, magnesium, and potassium.
Water alone isn't enough to replenish lost electrolytes that minimize cramping, regulate muscle contractions (including the heart), maintain cellular water/sodium balance, and increase energy.
In a 20 billion dollar industry, there's no shortage of sports drinks claiming to be the best for recovery.
For the sake of time, let's look at the pros/cons of 3 : coconut water, Gatorade, and Bodyarmor
100% Coconut Water is one of the more natural ways to replenish electrolytes, but it can be expensive. And, many kids/teens don't love the taste of plain coconut water (if they don't like it and won't drink it, it's obviously not helping replenish anything!).
Added sugar and/or fruit puree can help with flavor... BUT here's the biggest downside to 100% coconut water... it can be a natural laxative. So, if it's consumed between periods, between games, or away from home... it's a good idea to know how a particular athlete's body responds first!
Gatorade definitely carries the industry in sales. So, you can bet you'll find it anywhere from gas stations to grocery stores to concession stands, and it's typically under a $1.
But, Gatorade is also notorious for artificial colors (red #40, yellow #5, and blue #1 particularly) and synthetic sugars (sucralose, acesulfame postassium/ACE-K, and high fructose corn syrup). None of which add any nutritional benefits and may increase negative health responses (behavior/digestive issues, heads/migraines, ADHD, fatigue, decreased focus, seizures, diabetes, obesity, and cancer to name a few).
Bodyarmor is a relatively new player to the game and is comparable to Gatorade in price and availability.
The main criticisms of Bodyarmor typically focus on it's lack of sodium (electrolyte) and higher levels of sugar. BUT... often the sugar discrepancies result from comparing cane sugar to a product with synthetic sugar or Stevia (personally not a fan).
Yes, sodium is an essential electrolyte (especially for athletes that notice white markings around sweat stains), but it's much easier to add tiny pinch of Himalayan salt to the bottle (or just eat a few salted almonds/pretzels/or salted edamame) than take out the artificial colors and synthetic sugars.
Ultimately, the best sports drink is the one that they'll drink... preferably without increasing risk of negative health effects. So, while price and availability are important, don't overlook the label.
The good news? Many athletes can skip the sports drinks and replenish with refueling foods instead.
Want more information on electrolyte replenishing foods? Think your team/organization would benefit from a sports nutrition "Team Talk" or newsletter "Nutrition Minute"?
Contact me here, I'm happy to help.