Sports drinks: Read before you swig

August 16th, 2013

Sports drinks

Stay hydrated, we’re told, as the mercury rises and the Texas summer heats up once again. But when outside activities beckon, just what is the best beverage to reach for first?

It can be tempting to turn to sports drinks. After all, many on store shelves today are sugar free and loaded with electrolytes, vitamins and protein, which makes them good for quenching thirst and — for those endurance athletes out there — adding that coveted energy boost. Unfortunately, they also have an ingredient that isn’t so readily marketed: acid.

“The acids that are added for taste contribute to the risk of demineralization,” says Dental Hygiene Associate Professor Lisa Mallonee, who is a licensed dietitian with a master’s degree in public health and coordinated degree in nutrition. “Even most liquid drops, powders and additives have some sort of acid contained within the product as a preservative, which has erosive potential for the teeth when sipped on frequently throughout the day or consumed in excessive quantities.”

That doesn’t mean sports drinks have to be completely eliminated from the modern active lifestyle. The best way to minimize the side effects on your teeth, Mallonee says, is to consume your sports drink all at once instead of sipping or drinking multiple bottles throughout the day. Since frequent consumption may be indicated for endurance athletes, education on sports drinks and their potential effect on teeth must be reinforced.

Plus, there are tons of alternatives filled with hydration benefits.

“Consuming ‘plain old water’ is always best,” says Mallonee, who also encourages consumption of fruits and vegetables high in H20, like oranges, peaches, pineapples, cucumber, tomatoes and zucchini. They pack a one-two punch of hydration and antioxidants in one scrumptious snack.

Another growing trend: coconut water.

“It is low in calories and sodium yet high in potassium,” Mallonee says, adding one cautionary detail: “Natural, unflavored coconut water is best — otherwise it’s no better than soft drinks or juice because of the added sugars.”

Looking for electrolytes? Look no further than berries, bananas and grapes for potassium, and cantaloupe, melon and honeydew for sodium.

“People WANT to be healthy and in shape, and sports drinks embody active lifestyles,” Mallonee says. “Lifting weights or breaking a sweat during a moderate intensity workout doesn’t usually warrant the need for these drinks.

“For your weekend warriors or your average walk-the-dog-around-the-block kind of activity, good old water, fruits and vegetables loaded with water and electrolytes will suffice.”

— Jennifer Fuentes