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Ask Dr. Lindsay: Frequently Asked Questions About Sports Drinks

Carbohydrates, rehydration help young athletes perform at their best

By Dr. Lindsay Baker

Dr. Lindsay Baker - GSSI

As a scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), I am frequently asked  by parents about our sports drinks and why it's important for young athletes to stay hydrated so they can perform at their best.  

At GSSI, we study athletes of all ages and skill levels in our own physiology, performance, biochemistry and exercise sensory labs to make sure the Gatorade is formulated for optimal hydration and performance. Backed by forty years of scientific study, Gatorade is the most researched sports beverage on the planet! 

As a mom myself, I understand the concerns parents have, so here are answers to some of most frequently asked questions about sports drinks.   

Q: My daughter wants sports drinks at soccer practice but I've heard there is too much sugar in sports drinks. Is that true?

A: No. Sports drinks are scientifically formulated with just the right amounts of fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates (sugar), to both rapidly replace fluids athletes lose in sweat and to provide energy for optimal performance. Gatorade only contains 14 grams of sugar (or 50 calories) per 8-oz serving. By comparison, 8 ounces of a juice box contains approximately 100 calories.

Sugar or carbohydrate energy is the primary fuel our brains and muscles use to keep us going.  The sugar in sports drinks not only serves the specific function of providing fuel for working muscles, but also helps fluid absorption for quick and better rehydration.

Q: But why are sports drinks important? Can't my son and daughter get the same benefit from water?

A: No, because water does not contain electrolytes and carbohydrates for rehydration and refuel.

While the body is, of course, mostly made up of water, studies show that water does not hydrate as effectively as a sports drink. In drinking water, the brain may turn off an athlete's perception of thirst before the body's overall fluid needs are met, and stops the athlete from fully rehydrating. Electrolytes like sodium in a sports drink help maintain the stimulus to drink (thirst) and help complete hydration4,5 - a major factor in keeping athletes safe on the playing field. In addition, water lacks the carbohydrate energy needed to fuel working muscles to help athletes perform at their best.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids who are active in the heat drink a flavored beverage containing 15-20 mmol/L of sodium, such as in a sports drink.1

Q: But don't sports drinks contribute to obesity?

A: Obesity is mainly the result of a daily caloric intake larger than caloric expenditure, not by eating certain specific foods or drinking particular beverages.  The amount of carbohydrate (calories) in a sports drink is formulated to offer hydration and fuel during physical activity, when the body needs, and can utilize, those calories.  The carbohydrate energy (calories) in sports drinks is quickly used by active muscles, making it easier to continue exercise at high intensities - a key to burning calories.

Q: Doesn't Gatorade contain high fructose corn syrup? I try to avoid that with my athletes.

A:  To address the concerns of some athletes and remove a potential barrier to consumption,  high fructose corn syrup was removed from Gatorade and G2, begining in January 2010.  The efficacy and taste of Gatorade and G2 remain unchanged. Regardless of the source of carbohydrates, the Gatorade formula provides the types and amounts of carbohydrates shown by research to stimulate rapid absorption of fluid and carbohydrate and rapid burning of the carbohydrate to sustain performance during exercise. 8,9,10,11

The carbohydrates in Gatorade and G2 will continue to serve the important function of providing energy to fuel athletes' working muscles during activity.

Q: Do sports drinks cause dental erosion or tooth decay?

A: There is no relationship between the consumption of sports drinks and dental erosion in young or adult athletes. A retrospective study of some 300 college athletes who had started consuming sports drinks on average at 12 years of age showed no increased risk of erosion with sports drink use. 12 In fact, maintaining the body's hydration status increases saliva production, which may help prevent dental issues.

Almost all foods or beverages left settling in the teeth have some potential for promoting tooth damage. There is no reason to single out certain foods or beverages to avoid. However, it is highly recommended that proper dental care be practiced, including regular brushing, visits to the dentist, and use of protective mouth guards during sports.


Dr. Lindsay Baker is a Senior Scientist working in the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI). Her research areas of interest include thermoregulation, dehydration, sodium balance, and exercise/sport performance.

Created August 1, 2010

References

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Climatic heat stress and the exercising child and adolescent. Pediatrics 106:158-159, 2000.

2. Maughan RJ, Leiper JB. Sodium intake and post-exercise rehydration in man. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 71:311-9, 1995.

3. Wemple RD, Morocco TS, Mack GW. Influence of sodium replacement on fluid ingestion following exercise-induced dehydration. Int J Sport Nutr 7:104-16, 1997.

4. Gisolfi CV, Lambert GP, Summers RW. Intestinal fluid absorption during exercise: role of sport drink osmolality and [Na+]. Med Sci Sports Exerc 33:907-915, 2001.

5. Jentjens RLPG, Moseley L, Waring RH, Harding LK, Jeukendrup AE. Oxidation of combined ingestion of glucose and fructose during exercise. J Appl Physiol 96:1277-1284, 2004.

6. Jentjens RLPG, Venables MC, Jeukendrup AE. Oxidation of exogenous glucose, sucrose, and maltose during prolonged cycling exercise. J Appl Physiol 96:1285-1291, 2004.

7. Shi X, Summers RW, Schedl HP, Flanagan SW, Chang R, Gisolfi CV. Effects of carbohydrate type and concentration and solution osmolality on water absorption. Med Sci Sports Exerc 27:1607-1615, 1995.

8. Mathew T, Casamassimo PS, Hayes JR.. Relationship between sports drinks and dental erosion in 304 university athletes in Columbus, Ohio, USA. Caries Res 36:281-287, 2002.

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