I have to admit that it makes me sad to see children at athletic events toting around giant bottles of commercially made sports drinks like Powerade or Gatorade.
On top of being loaded with sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, colors and a myriad of chemicals, research has demonstrated that they are damaging to teeth. According to the journal General Dentistry, non-cola drinks, commercial lemonades, and energy/sports drinks showed the most degradation of tooth enamel. (1)
The good news is that more parents becoming aware of the risk of sports drinks to their children’s health and teeth. However, instead of creating healthier options, beverage manufacturers responded by labeling sports drinks “reduced sugar”.
This is commercial food industry lingo for the blending of artificial sweeteners with GMO sugar or high fructose corn syrup to bring the sugar per serving in line with politically correct “nutritional guidelines”.
Artificial Sweeteners in Most Sports Drinks
Sucralose and aspartame (Nutrasweet) are two common artificial sweeteners in sports drinks. As mentioned above, manufacturers often blend them with calorie containing sweeteners to masquerade as “healthier”, low sugar options.
The documented dangers of aspartame are discussed at length in the must read book Excitotoxins by neurologist Dr. Russell Blaylock.
Sucralose is most popularly known by the brand name Splenda. The health dangers of sucralose are many including:
- Reduction in the number and quality of beneficial gut flora. (2)
- Digestive breakdown into unknown and untested compounds with uncertain health implications. (ibid)
- Disruption of crucial insulin/glucose/glucagon regulation. (ibid)
- Insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes. (3)
- Elevation of risk for coronary heart disease. (4)
- Weight gain and obesity. (ibid)
- Shrinkage of the thymus gland with potential negative impacts to the immune system. (5)
Another dangerous artificial sweetener in sports drinks is acesulfame potassium also known as acesulfame K or Ace K for short. Like sucralose, use also risks weight gain and gut flora disruption.
Warning: acesulfame potassium is often mistaken as an electrolyte when appearing on a sports drink nutritional label.
As a result, acesulfame potassium is the perfect artificial sweetener to stealthily include in these commercial beverages, whose main purpose is to replace minerals like potassium lost via sweating.
Healthy Sports Drink Substitutes
Over the years, I’ve posted dozens of healthy drink recipes on this blog as options to help people who are trying to eliminate dependence on sports drinks, soda, or processed juice.
Which of these are best to use if you are weaning your children off commercial sports drinks? My top five list is below. It is a condensed lineup of easy options that you can either make or buy.
Water with Added Electrolytes
Plain filtered water is the easiest substitute for commercial sports drinks. I see more and more coaches emphasizing this with their players, which is very encouraging!
Filtered water mixed with a few drops of concentrated sea mineral electrolytes in a nontoxic, reusable bottle is best (I like these). If you must buy bottled water, structured water with added electrolytes is a good way to go (and please recycle those bottles!).
Homemade Hydration Beverage
Our family’s favorite pre and post event hydration beverage is a glass of filtered water with a pinch of fine sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
I serve a couple of glasses of this one or two days before competition and then again after the event. This helps ensure proper hydration and electrolyte levels to reduce the chance of leg cramping. It also virtually eliminates the chance of post-competition dehydration headaches too.
Coconut water is a natural, isotonic beverage that quickly replenishes minerals. It tastes sweet and may be a bit of an acquired taste for some, though many children take to it right away.
Be sure to buy unsweetened coconut water only! Watch out for some coconut water brands with lots of added sugar!
This brand of raw coconut water is our family’s favorite. It is available in many healthfood stores.
Note: I do not recommend birch or maple water. While these two options do replace electrolytes effectively, several issues give me pause about using them. Please refer to the linked articles for in-depth analysis.
Haymakers Punch (Switchel)
If your family prefers a more flavorful sports drink, try making homemade switchel.
“Switchy” is a traditional American beverage. For centuries, thirsty farmers have enjoyed it while harvesting hay. Hence, it is also known as Haymakers Punch.
This tasty electrolyte replacement beverage contains filtered water, raw apple cider vinegar, and raw (local) honey as the three basic ingredients. Small amounts of ginger, cardamom and/or turmeric powder add more flavor if desired.
Commercial switchel containing maple syrup is a good alternative to buy in a pinch.
Fruit Juice Sports Drinks
Real fruit juice makes an excellent base for a healthy sports drink when diluted with filtered water and electrolytes. This energy drink recipe I developed and use in our home provides a nice boost along with easy hydration without any added sugar or caffeine.
My recipe is based on Bragg’s line of apple cider vinegar beverages available at many healthfood stores. If you prefer to buy rather than make it yourself, that is the brand I would suggest.
Have you ever tried making sports drinks yourself? What recipes do you like to use?