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Are Sports Drinks Necessary?

Isn't it amazing how often new things quickly become things we "need?" Take for example, sports drinks. The colorful bottles take up lots of shelf-space in grocery stores and convenience store coolers. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride. They were developed and marketed as products that help rehydrate and keep energy levels high during periods of physical activity. But the question is, are sports drinks really necessary?

The short answer to that question is, "not always." The benefits touted by sports drink advertisements are available from other sources. A sports drink is not better for a person unless that person is physically active for 60-90 minutes, or unless they are exercising in very hot conditions. Other than in those two instances, water is your body's best friend.

One bottle of a sports drink, according to the Nutrition Facts label on it, may actually contain four servings. We can calculate that if the beverage provides 50 calories per serving, we'd be guzzling 200 calories by drinking the whole bottle. We need to ask ourselves if we used that many calories during our exercise or physical activity. It would also be telling to consider what the cost of the beverage was, in terms of dollars and cents, and remember that water out of a drinking fountain is usually available to us for free.

Dehydration results when we haven't been drinking enough fluids. It can lead to decreased physical performance and health problems. Unfortunately, thirst is not an early indicator or warning sign of dehydration. By the time we feel thirsty, we may already be partially dehydrated. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, having a dry mouth, and/or producing a smaller amount or darker-colored urine are other symptoms of dehydration.

On of the keys to staying well hydrated is to take sips of water frequently, even if you don't feel thirsty. It is also important to drink fluids before, during, and after physical activity. By having a water bottle available, you will be prepared to take a hydration break every 10-15 minutes. Following physical activity, we need to drink two cups of fluid for each pound we lost during or from physical activity. It is important to avoid highly caffeinated beverages. Milk and 100% fruit juices are loaded with nutrients to benefit our health, including protein in milk that helps rebuild muscle after a workout.

Another alternative is to make your own sports drink. The Homemade Sports Drink recipe from NDSU Extension Service calls for 4 tablespoons of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of boiling water, 1/4 cup of orange juice (or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice), and 30 oz. of cold water. The sugar and salt are to be dissolved in the boiling water in the bottom of a pitcher. Then the juice and cold water are added and the beverage is chilled until needed.

For more information about sports drinks, request NDSU Extension publication FN1400, or access it online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn1400.pdf.  

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