I was watching an episode of CBC's Marketplace today that originally aired in January of 2014. The investigative journalists took a long look at the sports beverage industry with a focus on whether Canadians actually do enough exercise to warrant drinking sports beverages. They focused in the television report on the marketing done, especially to kids, by Gatorade, and how Gatorade's marketing seems to be leading kids to the confectionary counter to buy sports beverages after they get off the ice like their on-ice idols do. Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington did an excellent job in exposing some truths in this episode.
As CBC writes in their article linked above,
Sports drinks promise to rehydrate, provide energy to muscles in the form of sugar and replenish electrolytes lost during exercise. Canadians guzzle more than $450 million in sports drinks every year.Again, I don't doubt that Gatorade has done extensive studies to see what electrolytes are lost in sweat. That claim has to be true in order for them to design an ingestible product that replaces what is lost. However, when one looks at the nutrition labels of these beverages, you start to question exactly how much is needed when you're sweating.
Popular choices such as Gatorade are extensively promoted for their ability to help athletes refuel. Gatorade boasts their beverage is “scientifically formulated” and will "provide optimal quantities of sodium, potassium and carbohydrate to support exercise." Powerade promises an "advanced electrolyte system designed to help replenish four electrolytes lost in sweat."
Gatorade’s Glacier Cherry Perform drink contains 41 g of sugar per serving - more than 10 teaspoons of sugar - and 330 mg of sodium, more than a McDonald's medium fries and more than a serving of Doritos Cool Ranch chips.Wowzers. That's a ton of sugar and a ton of salt. For an adult, that's excessive. For a child to be putting that into their bodies is downright criminal.
Dr. Greg Wells, a sports physiologist who is a researcher with the Human Physiology Research Unit at the University of Toronto and has worked with elite athletes, says the body is actually pretty good at regulating itself without all the fancy drinks. Children should probably avoid them completely.
"Your body is very, very good at making the changes it needs to make in order to keep you exercising safely all on its own," he stated. “We know that children don't sweat as much as adults do, so they don't actually need it as much as adults do. And kids' events are typically shorter and not long enough to require them. We're giving our kids a lot of sugar, lots of salt, so we need to be very, very careful with that."
I, for one, agree with the doctors here. Water is the main ingredient in sweat, so replacing it is vital. Yes, there are electrolytes that are expelled with sweat, but the vast majority of sweat is still water. You can argue that losing these electrolytes are vital in the long run, but how many of us are actually doing the amount of work needed to lose the quantity of electrolytes found in a bottle of Gatorade? You might think you do, but the studies show differently.
Wells says that while sports drinks are widely available, they're only really helpful to a small minority of athletes. "Eighty-five per cent of Canadians don't get enough exercise to begin with, so they don't need sports drinks. The remaining 15 per cent that actually do exercise, you probably have one or two per cent exercising really hard, really intensely enough to really need those sports drinks. In that group, probably a small subset of them are exercising long enough to need it.Intense workouts in the heat for long periods of time? Sounds like a Florida Gators football practice - the same place where Gatorade was first developed and used. If you're a marathon runner in the summers, you could probably start to use Gatorade later in the race for the pick-me-up it provides with the simple sugars and the small effect the added electrolytes it will add. However, as Dr. Wells states, "the average person, in a gym, typical spin class, yoga class, going to lift some weights, you need water."
"In the scientific community, we generally don't recommend sport drinks for anything less than 90 minutes, if you are exercising really intensely, if you are exercising in the heat, if you are exercising for a very long period of time."
And that leads me to back to the rinks across Canada. Most beer league teams don't play for more than an hour, and there is no one player outside of the goaltenders who play the entire game. That means that you might log thirty minutes of ice-time in any given night which is far below the recommended exercise time proposed by the scientific community. Therefore, it stands to reason that you don't need Gatorade on the bench whatsoever, and that water is the only in-game beverage you need to replace any water lost through sweat.
“An average person like you," Dr. Wells told Mr. Harrington, "during a workout, you need to be drinking a lot of water; that's pretty much all your body needs. That's what your body needs for your muscles to work really, really well. That's what your blood needs to circulate really well."
I'm not here to tell you how to parent, but if I was coaching a minor-hockey team and I saw a kid drinking Gatorade, I'd be speaking to those parents. While I appreciate everyone believes their children are putting in 110%, the fact remains that ice-time is limited and kids in minor-hockey will never scratch the surface of a ninety-minute workout of an adult. Ever.
The benefits of water are many. Let's get off the "$450 million in sports drinks" mentality, and start doing what's best for us and our kids. Or, in other words, let's stop buying into the marketing.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!