Sports drinks excessive for some

Nate Ulrich

Melissa Rittenhouse, a doctoral student in exercise physiology, said that sports drinks are useful during long workouts and high-endurance competitions, not necessarily a three-mile jog. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Melissa Rittenhouse guzzles down a cold sports drink as the sweat drips and her muscles ache after a long, grueling run in the heat.

However, most people don’t need the sports drinks that Rittenhouse, qualifier for the 2008 Olympic marathon trial, uses when she trains and runs more than 20 miles. Rittenhouse, a doctoral student in exercise physiology and a registered dietitian, said people don’t need sports drinks unless they exercise for more than one hour.

Ellen Glickman, professor in exercise physiology, said sports drinks can be counter-productive for the average person.

“In three miles that I run in the morning, do I actually deplete myself of electrolytes? The answer to that is no,” Glickman said. “Do most people actually need (sports drinks)? The answer to that is no.

“It actually defeats the purpose if you’re going to go have a 400-calorie Gatorade, and when you exercise you spend 300 calories. You’re 100 calories behind.”

Not so healthy

Glickman said the counter-productive effect of sports drinks can be seen in children who usually prefer the flavored refreshments to water.

“We’re having them go out and do physical activity and exercise, and our kids are fatter than ever,” Glickman said. “So why don’t we kick back the amount of sugar that we have in these, and reduce the calorie content somehow in these beverages? It’s all marketing just like everything else, and most of us don’t need (sports drinks).”

Rittenhouse said advertising gives people the idea that sports drinks are healthy, when they aren’t under most circumstances.

“People are drinking Gatorade on the street without exercising,” Rittenhouse said. “There is no nutritional benefit to sports drinks if you’re not exercising.”

Rittenhouse said the average person can replenish the sodium, electrolytes and fluid he or she loses during exercise by simply eating a meal and drinking water.

“People do need water because it helps with digestion, whereas sports drinks need to be digested,” Rittenhouse said. “If (a sports drink) is your meal, you’re not getting your vitamins and protein. And if you’re having a sports drink with a meal, then you’re eating too many calories.”

Although sports drinks are unnecessary in most cases, Glickman said they can be beneficial for athletes such as football players who practice for extended periods of time.

“It depends on the length of the activity, the duration of the activity, the intensity of the activity and the temperature that you’re exercising in,” Glickman said. “So if you run for three miles, you don’t need a replacement beverage. If you’re exercising for five or six hours, you probably need a replacement beverage.”

Rittenhouse, who drinks either Gatorade or Powerade every two miles during a marathon, said sports drinks are useful in her high-endurance competitions.

“During a marathon, the goal is to maintain hydration and blood sugar levels,” she said. “The quickest way to do that is through a sports beverage.”

Gatorade vs. Powerade

Athletes who benefit from sports drinks can choose from a variety of formulas, with Gatorade and Powerade topping the list.

“The sports beverage helps replace carbohydrates, which should help prevent fatigue,” Rittenhouse said. “You want mostly between a 4-6 percent carbohydrate percentage; anything higher than that delays the absorption of carbohydrates. Too many carbohydrates decreases gastric emptying and fluid absorption.”

Nutrition labels indicate Gatorade contains 14 grams of carbohydrates per 8 ounces (5 percent), while Powerade has 17 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces (6 percent).

Rittenhouse also said the sugars in the two drinks might affect some people differently.

“Powerade has high fructose corn syrup, which is typically not the best,” she said. “It can give some people an upset stomach and even diarrhea. I can tolerate both (Gatorade and Powerade), but a lot of people can’t tolerate high fructose corn syrup.

“That’s why it’s important to try out the sports drink before the competition, so you know how you’ll handle it.”

Contact College and Graduate School of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected]