When are they necessary and how to choose the healthiest rehydration drink for you and your family?
Ads for brand name sports drinks are everywhere we look, and our favourite athletes and idols all seem to be promoting and advocating these rehydrating drinks. Sports nutrition can be very confusing and misleading, but there are some great products out there – you just need to know when it’s necessary to consume them and what ingredients to avoid.
So when is it necessary to consume an electrolyte-based drink?
For the average adult or child who engages in 30-45 minutes of low-moderate intensity exercise, sports drinks are generally unnecessary – water is more then sufficient to achieve optimal hydration.
Examples of low–moderate exercise are 30-45 minutes of yoga, pilates, walking, gentle weights, medium paced bike riding or swimming, or light netball, cricket or footy drill-based training sessions.
In contrast, electrolyte replacement is required after high intensity exercise of 30-45 minutes or more. For example, if you have broken out into a serious sweat, you are exercising at a high intensity, you have competed in a long distance race or competitive sport like football or netball, or moderate exercise has lasted for more then 60 minutes.
When choosing an electrolyte drink what should you avoid?
Gatorade and Powerade are not ideal rehydration formulas for a number of reasons. Both contain high amounts of processed sugar, up to 40g per serving, which is more processed sugar then any athlete needs!
If you go for the low or no sugar option, these are filled with artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for us than sugar. They both also contain artificial flavours and colours, which is why they are so bright and colourful – appealing to kids, but not so appealing to our insides.
Here are some examples of what is in these drinks and why to avoid these ingredients:
- Red#40: a suspected carcinogen, linked to allergic reactions in sensitive individuals
- Yellow#5: can promote asthma attacks, behaviour disturbances and is a suspected carcinogen
- Blue#133: may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, hyperactivity and is a suspected carcinogen
- Sucralose: artificial sweetener found to cause adverse effects on gut tissue, may case DNA damage in the gut and is found to reduce beneficial gut bacteria levels
- PEG: can’t be absorbed in the digestive tract properly, and can induce diarrhoea which is not what any athlete wants, it can also commonly cause cramps, bloating and in sensitive people even vomiting.
Healthier Alternatives to Popular Sports Drinks
There are some much healthier options on the market:
- Endura: free from artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and PEG. Contains an even balance of easily absorbable key electrolytes. However most Endura products contain about 15-20g of sugar per serve, so this should not be drunk in excess and I would only recommended this rehydration formula for higher intensity exercise, where carbohydrate replacement is necessary.
- Vega Rehydration Formula: All natural plant based, sugar free and artificial sweetener/colour free rehydration formula. A great well balanced electrolyte replacement drink option for endurance athletes. However can only be shipped from the USA, which is a bit inconvenient!
- Basica Active: Also great for endurance events. It is an alkalising mineral and citrate drink, that supports optimal acid-base balance in the body, helps maintain a healthy pH level in the body and contains all key electrolytes to support optimal rehydration. However it doesn’t have as high amounts of magnesium and sodium as the above two Endura or Vega rehydration formulas, so for ultra distance events, I would recommend either Endura or Vega rehydration formula’s over this one. Only available from your health care practitioner.
- Bioceuticals Ultra Muscleze – Free from artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners, processed sugar and PEG. It is high in magnesium, contains key electrolytes as well as some B vitamins and amino acids, which assist with optimal muscle recovery and rehydration. Found only in health food stores or from a natural health practitioner.
- Organic pure coconut water: a great completely natural option. It has been found in studies to rehydrate athletes just as well as commercial sports drinks and was tolerated by athletes’ significantly better then commercial sports drinks post exercise with no gastric complaints recorded. It contains lower all natural sugar levels, but is slightly lower in optimal sodium and magnesium levels for higher intensity athletes. Found in organic shops, health food stores and some major supermarkets.
As you can see there are a lot of healthier alternatives on the market, and organic pure coconut water is my number one choice post exercise for moderate to short high intensity sessions.
However for more endurance exercise, I would still recommend coconut water, but complement it with some Endura or Vega rehydration formulas or with 1 teaspoon of Ultra Muscle Eze post work out. This is to ensure optimal magnesium and sodium chloride levels are being obtained and an increased magnesium intake will also assist with optimal muscle recovery and reduced muscle soreness post exercise.
- Kalman, D, Feldman, S, Krieger, D & Bloom, R 2013, “Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink on measures of hydration & physical performance in exercise trained men.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Vol.9, pg. 2-10.
- Chattapadhyay, S, Raychaudhuri, U & Chakraborty, R 2014, “Artificial sweeteners – a review” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Vol 51, Issue 4, pg. 611-621, April 2014.
- American Academy of Paediatrics, 2011, “Clinical report-sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate?” Vol 127, Number 6, pg 1182-1189, June 2011
- Dr Minich, D-M 2010, “An A-Z guide to food additives” Conari Press, San Francisco, CA.