Have Sport Drinks Changed?

When did sport drinks go from being a healthy way for athletes to replenish lost water and electrolytes during active workouts to having an ingredient profile curiously similar to soda?

The first sports drinks were introduced nearly fifty years ago to college athletes who needed a way to replace water and electrolytes lost during intense, extended workouts. Makes sense, right? The original ingredients were: water, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride, which are some of the most important electrolytes that our bodies need, so the blend probably worked pretty well.

The ingredient profile of today’s sports drink has changed considerably from what it was in the 60’s. One of the most significant changes is the addition of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. Other additions, such as food coloring agents, preservatives, natural flavors, and even caffeine (found in new sports energy drinks) have also become commonplace ingredients in the new sports drink.

For many health conscious label readers, seeing the new formula as a kind of non-carbonated soda may seem pretty obvious. But that is not how they are being marketed. The new sports drink (a $1.5B annual industry) is sold the same way sports drinks have always been sold—as an essential part of any athletes mission to stay healthy and hydrated. But are the old and new really the same?

Cost & Calories

If your intuition is telling you that a sugary beverage with preservatives and food dye isn’t exactly what you should be drinking after an exhilarating 10k, your intuition might be right. According to the executive editor of Harvard Health, Patrick Skerrett “The truth is this: drink when you are thirsty and don’t waste your money or calories on sports drinks—choose water instead.”

Skerrett, of course, is talking about adults; if you’re talking about teens or children however, Skerrett‘s advice may be doubly relevant. The American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends most children and adolescents shouldn’t consume sports drinks.”

One of the reasons for concern over the health of today’s sports drinks has to do with the unnecessary calories that these drinks deliver. Some new sports drinks may contain as much as 150 calories or enough sweet to equal about 10 teaspoons of sugar!

Healthy Alternatives

If health conscious consumers are saying soda-like sports drinks are out, what’s in? For starters, plain old H20 is the most accessible and cost effective option. But, for people who are looking for options with a little more pallet power, here are a few choices that are healthy and taste great, too.

  • Coconut Water: Full of electrolytes like: potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus.
  • Watermelon Juice: People who consume watermelon juice before exercise feel less sore the next day.
  • Noni + Water: Mix Noni Immunity with 8oz water for a no sugar added, fruit-flavored boost!

In the fast changing world of consumer beverages, it pays to stay informed about the ways our favorite drinks are evolving. The best way to ensure your drink choices are meeting the standards of your healthy ideals is to read ingredient labels carefully. At Hawaiian Ola we look for things like preservatives, sugars, and synthetic chemicals that don’t sound like real food. Changes like the shift that has taken place in the world of sports drinks are important to take note of. And remember, if you notice a change you aren’t happy with, finding a healthier alternative is usually just a few clicks away.

Chris Whidden