The term ‘sports drinks’ refers to “beverages that have been developed to address fluid, fuel and electrolyte needs before, during and after exercise”. The key components are carbohydrate, electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, flavour and additional ingredients such as vitamins and minerals.
The truth is about sports drinks? They are simply funded research combined with good marketing, all designed to take your money. And destroy your health. Read on to find out why you should quit.
To avoid legalities, this post will not name names, but rather focus on the group as a whole (I think you know what brands I’m talking about). Here are a few ingredient panels of our common brands:
WATER, SUGAR, DEXTROSE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, SODIUM CITRATE, MONOPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, GLYCEROL ESTER OF ROSIN, BLUE 1.
WATER, ISOMALTULOSE, SUGAR, DEXTROSE, MALTODEXTRIN, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, XANTHAN GUM, SALT, SODIUM CITRATE, MONOPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, YELLOW 5, NIACINAMIDE (VITAMIN B3), YELLOW 6, CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE (VITAMIN B5), PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6).
WATER, GLUCOSE, FRUCTOSE, CITRIC ACID, MINERAL SALTS (SODIUM CHLORIDE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE), FLAVOURINGS, ACIDITY REGULATOR (POTASSIUM CITRATE), STABILISERS (ACACIA GUM, GLYCEROL ESTERS OF WOOD ROSINS), SWEETENERS (SUCRALOSE, ACESULFAME K), COLOUR (BRILLIANT BLUE).
WATER, GLUCOSE, FRUCTOSE, CITRIC ACID, MINERAL SALTS (SODIUM CHLORIDE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE), FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CONCENTRATES (CHOKEBERRY, ELDERBERRY, SWEET PURPLE POTATO, SAFFLOWER, RADISH), ACIDITY REGULATOR (POTASSIUM CITRATE), FLAVOURINGS, STABILISERS (ACACIA GUM, GLYCEROL ESTERS OF WOOD ROSINS), SWEETENERS (SUCRALOSE, ACESULFAME K), ANTI-FOAMING AGENT (E900).
I hope the ingredient panels are enough to make you never drink another sports drink, but just in case you need further clarification, here’s why you need to quit:
- Sports drinks contain more sugar than soft drink. Sugar is highly inflammatory and will make you fat. Too much sugar post-exercise will blunt your human growth hormone (HGH) production and in turn, slow down your recovery.
- Sports drinks are high fructose. Yes I understand that multiple transportable carbohydrates (e.g glucose + fructose) have a higher absorption rate during exercise, but the real question is, why do you need so much fuel in the first place? As an athlete, your goal should be fat adaptation and natural, low fructose fuelling. Ninety grams of carbohydrates per hour is extremely excessive, a logistical nightmare, and highly likely to cause gastrointestinal upset. You simply won’t achieve an Ironman PB if you’re ducking off into the bushes every 20 minutes.
- Sports drinks are highly artificial. Artificial chemicals can not possibly help you train optimally, recover faster, lose weight or become an Olympic athlete. Don’t even get me started on the sponsorship arrangement in London 2012.. And please, don’t fall for the trap that the “zero” range is better. They just contain even more chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic.
Instead, try these natural sports drinks alternatives:
Natural Sports Drink Alternatives
- Electrolytes: unless your session >90 minutes, you do not need carbohydrates in training. In hot climates, and/or if you have a high sweat rate, electrolytes on their own will get you though. Simply use lemon and a pinch of Himalayan salt, or purchase one of these TNN recommended brands: Hammer Nutrition, Vega Sport or Skratch Labs.
- Homemade Sports Drink: simply combine 750ml of water, 1 tablespoon of rice malt syrup, the juice of one lemon and a pinch of sea salt. Fluid, fuel and electrolytes naturally. As above, leave out the rice malt syrup if your session is <90 minutes and/or for enhanced fat adaptation.
- Home Liquid Nutrition: for longer sessions, turn your homemade sports drinks into homemade liquid nutrition with Freedom Fuel.
To avoid excess fructose, artificial ingredients and gut trouble in training and on race day, try this natural fuelling alternate. Freedom Fuel is gluten free, refined sugar free, all natural and tastes great!
Ingredients (Serves 1)
- 2 teaspoons rice malt syrup
- 1 teaspoon medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil
- ¼ cup raspberries
- The juice from ¼ lemon
- A pinch of Himalayan salt
- A dash of hot water
- Blend all ingredients until smooth.
- Pour through a strainer to remove pips. Transfer carefully into a gel flask and seal well.
Please note: this recipe has been updated, so please check you are using the most recent version.
One serve is ~20g of carbohydrates and 5g of fat, so please make multiple serves based on your exercise duration and fuelling requirements. This recipe can also be used like a commercial liquid fuel on the bike. To make a “multi-hour” bottle simply multiply the recipe by the number of serves you require and add enough water to reach your desired consistency and taste. Please trial this in training – remember, nothing new happens on race day.
Have you already quit sports drinks and if so, what do you now use?