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Think before you drink

By H.K. Jones

An energy or sports drink is a bottled concoction that contains some mix of ingredients designed to provide a physical or mental boost. For athletic men, gulping down one of these drinks might seem like an easy way to increase endurance, improve performance and gain energy. So should you break out one of these fancy drinks and start guzzling? Not exactly. You need to think before you drink.

Sports drinks
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, are advertised as fluid replacements for athletes. They provide carbohydrates (for energy to fight fatigue) and electrolytes (for hydration and muscle function) that are not found in water.

Here’s the catch. While electrolyte and energy deficits can occur during rigorous events (say a 50 mile run, a 100 mile bike ride, or a four hour triathlon), average workouts (an hour lifting weights, a 45 minute spinning class, or a 30 minute run) will not do the same. In fact, you need to engage in strenuous exercise for at least an hour or longer in order for expensive sports beverages to provide a performance edge that water can’t supply. Also keep in mind that if your goal is weight management or weight loss, drinking extra carbohydrates (aka extra calories) is counter productive.

For most, water remains an effective and inexpensive way to cover losses sustained by a common workout. As a general rule you should drink at least 8 ounces before exercise, 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes during exercise, and 16 ounces after you have finished working out. If you’re engaging in vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour, sports drinks (not energy drinks) are a good choice. Just be sure to read labels carefully. Sports drinks containing more than 8 percent carbohydrates can cause cramping, diarrhea and nausea, and any less than 6 percent is not enough to enhance performance.

Energy Drinks
Energy drinks, in shiny silver or brightly colored cans, are popping up all over supermarkets and convenient stores Most are carbonated beverages that contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar with other ingredients, such as B vitamins, amino acids (like taurine), and herbal stimulants such as guarana and ginseng. Think Red Bull, Full Throttle, Sobe No Fear, and Monster Energy. The question is: do energy drinks really give you energy?

The sugar and caffeine in these drinks will in fact provide you a temporary boost, but unfortunately, that’s not all they’ll give you. All that sugar is likely to cause weight gain and the excess caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, increased heart rate and insomnia. What’s more, the drinks uplifting effects are only temporary, and when they wear off, you’ll crash and burn.

Nutritionally speaking, energy drinks are comparable to soda. The traces of vitamins and minerals can’t make up for the caffeine and sugar, not to mention the questionable herbal ingredients. And energy drinks are not adequate substitutes for poor dietary choices, a lack of sleep, and a lack of exercise. Energy drinks make big promises, but once you cut through the hype and look past the flashy packaging, you’ll find what you’re really getting is a stiff dose of liquid caffeinated candy.