Let's talk sports drinks...

“Sports drinks have a time and a place”...is just another diet culture rule.

I was taught we’re only supposed to only consume sports drinks when these criteria have been met:

  • We’ve exercised for more than an hour

  • We’re exercising in hot/humid environments

  • If we sweat a lot

Further, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (who claims to be our “source for science-based food and nutrition information”) supports the idea that “sports drinks are more appropriate than water for athletes engaged in moderate- to high-intensity exercise that lasts an hour or longer”...ie. they are not [as] appropriate for athletes who are training for less than an hour and at a low-intensity nor are they appropriate for “non-athletes”.

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But this is such a biased and rigid way of thinking about sports drinks (or any food/beverage for that matter). This is a classic example of how we are, unfortunately, encouraged (even by major health organizations) to have “rules” when it comes to what, when, where, how and how much we eat/drink.

I think these “criteria” need to be reframed and renamed. Instead, let’s look at them as times when consuming a sports drink may be helpful to us. AND also add that sports drinks may be helpful to consume at other times too (such as when you’ve been sick, had diarrhea, etc.). AND that we can also consume sports drinks whenever we would like. We can consume them because they provide electrolytes. We can consume them because they provide carbohydrates (that our body needs...yes, even at their “simplest” forms, aka as monosaccharides- like glucose- and disaccharides- like fructose). We can consume them because they are hydrating (they provide fluid). We are allowed to drink them also simply and solely because we like the flavor. Pleasure is a very very important aspect of health (yes, you read that correctly...pleasure!).

But what about the “sugar” they contain? Ok, let’s chat about this a little more. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, do contain “sugar”. I like to actually call them carbohydrates. Specifically, they typically contain carbohydrates in some of the smallest forms- monosaccharides and disaccharides. These forms of carbohydrates are easy to absorb and can be utilized by the body pretty quickly. And so when we are in need of a quick source of energy/replenishment of carbohydrates, getting in these smaller forms of carbohydrates serve us really well.

Let me also talk about sports drinks (and things that contain “sugar”) in the context of of an individual who has diabetes. Management of diabetes does not require shameful messaging with regards to food. Nor does it require or need restrictive efforts, rules or restraint around food. Individuals with diabetes still need carbohydrates. The body just needs some assistance (such as with monitoring carbohydrate intake, checking blood glucose levels, giving themselves insulin, etc) to help it maintain blood glucose levels within a certain range because it has a hard time doing so by itself. So, consumption of sports drinks may be a bit different compared to an individual without diabetes. However, even individuals with diabetes are allowed to have sports drinks. Want more information on non-diet and weight-inclusive diabetes management? Here are some of my go-to sources: Brenda Stephens, PhD, RD, LD and Weight Neutral 4 Diabetes Care.

It is extremely important to also recognize that sports drinks aren’t accessible to everyone…which sucks and is not ok! I believe we all should have access to a wide variety of foods regardless of our socioeconomic status, zip code, etc. it’s an injustice that a variety of foods is only truly accessible to those who are privileged.

If you are having a hard time with deciphering all of the nutrition information out there in our world and are looking for guidance and support, I would be honored to work with you! Click here to learn more!