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Nutrition, Sports Nutrition
Sports drinks vs. water – what is the right choice?
August 24, 2018 | by Melissa Kazan, Fortius Sports Dietitian

There are many opinions on sports drinks and their use during/after exercise. Bottom line: it’s not as simple as you think.

In this article, we answer some of your common questions, explaining why or why not sports drinks might be right for you.

WHEN & WHY IS A SPORTS DRINK NEEDED?

Drinking a sports drink can sometimes be better than drinking water, however this will depend on your activity duration, intensity, as well as environment.

You could benefit from a sport drink anytime you are doing heavy exercise for more than ~45-60mins, especially in hot and humid weather. This is because during exercise, your body is losing fluids and electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and having a drink that is high in electrolytes will help prevent dehydration and cramping.

Sport activities requiring a sport drink can be: a run or bike ride for more than one hour, or high intensity intermittent sports like hockey, soccer or basketball. A sport drink can also be useful when athletes participate in long training hours with back-to-back sessions and little opportunity to fuel in between.

WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS?

If your kid(s) participate in sport recreationally, without engaging in high intensity physical activity for more than one hour, then they do not need a sport drink and can meet their fluid needs with water.

THE SPORTS DRINK DILEMMA, WHICH ONE IS BETTER?

Nowadays, the sport drink industry is saturated with different products with varying amounts of electrolytes. You will need to read the labels carefully before choosing your drink.

The table below outlines a few drinks that athletes commonly use for rehydration during/post training and compares it to the electrolyte content of sweat.

While coconut water is commonly believed to be excellent for re-hydration after training, as you can see, compared to sweat it does not nearly replenish the sodium losses. Cow milk on the other hand, as well as common sport drinks are a much better match for electrolyte losses, and would be preferred beverages to consume for hydration and electrolyte replenishment.

ARE FOOD COLOURINGS IN SPORTS DRINKS HEALTHY?

When you read the ingredients of a sports drink, you may see artificial food colourings like Yellow 6 or Red 40 that don’t look too appealing. These ingredients are approved by Health Canada and are recognized as safe to consume within limits. Although natural food pigments from beets, paprika or turmeric can be used to create food colouring, those are unfortunately not commonly used by our food industry.

Studies have linked artificial food dyes, with increased hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndrome, increased allergic reactions as well as other health concerns. Most of these studies have limitations, making it difficult to make a clear recommendation. In addition, health risks were observed in animal studies where the dyes were given at very high levels that are unlikely to be reached with regular food consumption.

If you are concerned about artificial food coloring, make sure to read the ingredient label of sport drinks as currently, manufacturers are required to clearly label color names. Alternatively, you can simply make your own. See the recipe below for a refreshing and rehydrating Homemade Maple Sport Drink:

  • 400 ml water
  • 2 tbsps. orange juice
  • 2 tbsps. Maple syrup
  •  1 tbsps. lime juice
  •  1/8 tsp salt

Makes 500ml and contains 130 calories; 32 g carbs; 168 mg potassium; 241 mg sodium.

BOOK A NUTRITION APPOINTMENT

Melissa Kazan offers sports nutrition services at Fortius for youth and adult athletes of recreational to professional levels. Visit our Sports Nutrition page to learn more! To book an appointment call our Sports Medicine Clinic at 604.292.2501.

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References:

  • Amchova, P., et al., Health safety issues of synthetic food colorants, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.09.026
    Catherine M Puund & Becky Blair. Energy and Sport Drinks in Children and Adolescents. Paediatr Child Health, 2017; 22(7):406–410.
  • Schab & Linh. Do Artificial Food Colors Promote Hyperactivity in Children with Hyperactive Syndromes? A Meta-Analysis of Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Vol. 25, No. 6, December 2004.
  • Government of Canada. Food Additives. Retrieved Jul 25 2018 from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-safety/food-additives.html#a3