Imagine Coca-Cola running an advertising campaign claiming that the best way to recover from exercise is to drink a can of coke. The ad is easy to imagine. Kobe Bryant steps off the basketball court to pluck a can from a courtside bucket of ice. He returns to center and pours a twisting stream of soda into his open mouth. The screen fades to the words: “For Fast Recovery, Top Athletes Demand Real Corn Syrup.” In the parting shot, Bryant tosses an unopened can to a kid sitting in the front row.
The health and nutrition industry would explode into a Frankenstein style mob. Led by Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver, advocates for low-carb and low-fat diets alike would hoist torches and march on Coca-Cola’s Atlanta offices. The footage on CNN would be indistinguishable from old civil war photos of Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Oddly, ads similar to the one described run every single day. They are simply promoting a different shade of soda. Most of the ingredients are the same. But because they’re labeled as “Sports Drink” and dyed primary colors instead of brown, no one seems to notice or care.
Ounce for ounce, sports drinks like PowerAde and Gatorade contain roughly half the calories of a traditional soda. However, Sports Drinks are sold in 24 and 36-ounce bottles. And the nutritional labels on these bottles are incredibly misleading. They divide the liquid into impossibly small portions. Alongside a disclaimer reading “No Fruit Juice,” the label on a standard bottle of “Gatorade G Series 02 Perform Fruit Punch Thirst Quencher” claims just “50 calories.” This seems downright sensible until you notice that there are four servings in the bottle. No one in the history of drinking these sickly-sweet concoctions has ever limited him or herself to drinking one quarter of a bottle. Unless you’re disciplined enough to share one with three friends, you’re most certainly taking in the same number of calories as in a can of coke.
There is a new trend in sports drinks that is certainly healthier than corn syrup based, fruitless fruit flavored concoctions. Over the past few years, coconut water has gone from being available only in Thai restaurants to taking over half an isle in our local supermarket. Most coconut water contains slightly fewer calories, ounce for ounce, than traditional sports drinks. Coconut water is, however, sold in smaller bottles. The biggest size we found was a 16-ounces juice box, dialing in—assuming you finish both servings—at 90 calories. Downing coconut water after you workout is akin to slamming two-thirds of a soda. It’s better, but it is still not the best choice for people on DYC.
There are times when taking in the quick calories in a sports drink makes sense. If you are doing the equivalent of running a half marathon you earn enough calories to justify drinking salted sugar water. Otherwise, there are better ways to supplement with electrolytes. Our current favorite is a product called E-Lyte, which is an essentially flavorless concentrate you dump by the capful into your water bottle, creating SmartWater at a fraction of the price. There are dozens of similar products. Keep experimenting with them until you find one that works for you.
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