Behind the Hype: Sports Drinks
In a nutshell
- Sports drinks are not necessary. Water is the best choice before, during and after most physical activity.
- Many sports drinks contain sugar and energy similar to other sugar-sweetened drinks, so they can cause weight gain and tooth decay.
- Most people participating in physical activity will not have additional nutrition or fluid-related requirements other than the food and nutrition guidelines.
What are sports drinks?
Sports drinks were designed for use by endurance athletes as a convenient way to replace fluid, glucose and electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium and magnesium) lost during endurance activity.1 Sports drinks usually contain water, sugar (although sugar-free alternatives are available), sodium, potassium, artificial colours and flavours.
Why is this an issue?
Sports drinks can be a concentrated source of sugar and energy. Depending on the brand, some contain up to 22.4 grams of sugar per 250ml.2 Sports drinks are often sold in large sizes so can contribute significant amounts of energy to the diet. For example, a 750ml bottle of sports drink may contain 67 grams (16 teaspoons) of sugar.2
Sugary drinks are a main source of sugar for New Zealand adults and children.3,4 Consumption of sugary drinks is associated with tooth decay, increased risk of unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes and gout.3 Sports drinks also add unnecessary sodium to the diet. High intake of sodium is associated with elevated blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.5 Estimates suggest sodium consumption in New Zealand exceeds dietary recommendations.4
While sports drinks are marketed for those playing sport, most people do not exercise enough to burn the energy in one sports drink, or need to replace lost electrolytes. For most people drinking water before, during or after activity provides sufficient hydration.
What is the best choice of drink for my activity?
Water is the best choice before, during and after most physical activities. Some examples are given below.
The food and nutrition guidelines are available at http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/preventative-health-wellness/nutrition/food-and-nutrition-guidelines
- The Health Ed resource 'Eating for Healthy Adults' has information on fluid intake
- How much sugar do you drink? (infographic) available at: www.hpa.org.nz/nutrition-physical-activity-resources
1. Burke I, Read S (1993). Dietary Supplements in sport. Sports Medicine 15(1) 43–65.
2. The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Ltd and the Ministry of Health (2014). The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 10th Edition. Retrieved from www.foodcomposition.co.nz/concise-tables
3. University of Otago and Ministry of Health (2011). A Focus on Nutrition: Key Findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health.
4. Ministry of Health (2003). NZ Food NZ Children Key Results of the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey Wellington Ministry of Health.
5. National Health and Medical Research Council (2006). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra, Department of Health and Ageing.