Consumption of sports drinks can be both beneficial and harmful to athletes

By Maria Grund

Senior Anna Eversole is no stranger to exercise. Playing on the girls soccer team and working out every day is a way of life for her. But when she needs a boost she reaches for water. Not a sports drink.

The use of sports drinks among student athletes can be beneficial to their performance, however, other healthier alternatives exist.

Sports drinks have become a large part of athletics today. They are consumed by 38 percent of all young adults, and have had an eight percent increase since 2009, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. Currently, 80 percent of high school students have access to sports drinks in their school, according to a study conducted by the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity.

A number of benefits come from using sports drinks while working out. They provide electrolytes and carbohydrates to replenish those lost during a workout. A lack of carbohydrates and electrolytes can cause an athlete to have dizziness, cramps and mental confusion, according to the article “Electrolyte Disturbances” published by the Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group.

Athletic trainer Ryan Weible said the benefits from sports drinks can extend into an athlete’s performance.

Eversole has used some sports drinks such as Vitamin Water, but still prefers water.

Despite the benefits that come from sports drinks, there can be several drawbacks. Weible said most of these problems occur from overdrinking sports drinks, which can have an adverse affect on an athlete’s performance.

“You can actually overdrink sports drinks [and] get too much of that stuff into your body and not have it well balanced out with water and that can actually make you cramp just as much as the lack of electrolytes or the lack of water in your body,” Weible said. “Having a sugary drink sloshing around in your body can make you have an upset stomach but it would be depending on how much you’re working and all those sorts of things.”

Eversole dislikes sports drinks due to the high sugar concentrations and the cramps she receives from them while exercising.

“When I drink a sports drink it tends to give me a cramp if I go back to working out so I stick with water,” Eversole said. “I think that’s a lot of sugar for someone to be taking in when they are working out. It seems a little counter-productive.”

While the consumption of sports drinks depends on the athlete’s preference, alternatives exists that provide the same benefits but with less sugar.

Weible said that orange juice is a good alternative although it does have drawbacks as well.

“Orange juice on the other hand has a good amount of carbohydrates, sugars, electrolytes and potassium in it which is good for you,” Weible said. “Though it can be very acidic and give you an upset stomach.”

According to the article “Sports Drink Alternatives? Seven Healthier Picks To Power Up Your Workout” written in 2012 by Meredith Melnick and published by The Huffington Post, bananas, coconut water and raisins all help replenish lost electrolytes and provide carbohydrates but without large quantities of fructose. Instead, they contain glucose and sucrose.

There are three main types of simples sugars: glucose, fructose and sucrose. When glucose and sucrose are absorbed in the liver the human body knows at what level to stop the absorption. This stopping mechanism doesn’t exist for fructose, however, and can cause weight gain.

Some sports drinks contain high levels of fructose, while other alternatives, such as bananas or raisins, contain glucose and sucrose.

After workouts Weible recommends chocolate milk to help replenish an athlete’s body. It contains good fats, which, according to are, “naturally occurring, traditional fats that haven’t been damaged by high heat, refining, processing or other man-made tampering.” However, it is best to avoid the brands with large amounts of sugar.

“[Chocolate milk] has protein in it, it has good fats, [as well as] a lot of vitamins and minerals,” Weible said. “It’s really one of the best things you can put in your body after a workout.”