Bright colors, refreshing fizz, added vitamins, the chemical zing of artificial flavors: there are plenty of reasons you could be attracted to sports or energy drinks for an easy workout boost.
But how much do you know about these energy elixirs? And do you even need them?
So that you don’t end up sabotaging your health goals one sip at a time, Accredited Sports Dietitian Lisa Middleton is here to untangle it once and for all.
Aren’t sports and energy drinks basically the same?
While you may see both in the gym vending machine, they’re very different.
“Sports drinks were created to support elite athletes and people undertaking training sessions or events of around 1.5 hours or more at a decent intensity,” Lisa says. “They have carbs and electrolytes to help with fuel and recovery.”
Your standard energy drink usually has carbs, too, with a hefty dose of sugar. This, along with the caffeine and possible guarana, provides a quick, short-lived energy spike.
Who needs to sip?
You work out hard, so you need a sports drink, right? Well, probably not.
“If you’re only working out for a standard session of around one hour or less, you can fuel and hydrate just fine without them,” Lisa says.
Even drinks with added vitamins aren’t worth the hype – you’re much better off getting those from actual food as part of a balanced diet. Plus, with the carb-boosting sugar, a 20 oz (600 ml) sports drink can come in at 150 calories or more, so you’ll need to consider that, too.
As for energy drinks, Lisa says they’re much more likely to have a negative effect than a positive one.
“They aren’t made to support athletic performance and health, and they have basically the same sugar as a soft drink,” Lisa says. “That energy spike is quickly followed by an energy crash. Energy drinks have also caused adverse heart reactions in some people, especially those sensitive to caffeine or drinking a few of these in a short space of time.”
But I’m a heavy sweater!
Everyone loses electrolytes at a different rate when they sweat. If you’re worried about the amount you sweat, a sports dietitian can arrange for you to have a ‘sweat test’ to figure out what you need.
“In fact, if sweat is depleting your electrolytes, you may need far more electrolytes than what you find in your average sports drink,” Lisa says. “A sports dietitian can help you figure out if you need an actual supplement.”
What should I actually do?
Unless you’re putting in hours of training or working out in a really hot and humid climate, chances are you don’t need the sports drink. The good news is it’s not complicated to prep and recover from your workout. Focus on hydration, a little boost of carbohydrate and maybe some easily-digested protein, depending on your goal. Choose plain water or coffee for a caffeine boost. Afterward, more hydration plus a protein snack or meal within 1-2 hours also helps recovery.
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