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Sports Drinks Linked to Weight Gain in Teens and Young Adults

In the last few years at least 20 studies have associated sugared soft drinks with weight gain. Many people have stopped drinking sodas and started drinking sports drinks instead, on the mistaken belief that they are more healthful than sodas.

A new study has followed 4121 females and 3438 males, ages 9-16, for seven years and found that each year BMI increased by .1 in girls and by .11 in boys for every eight-ounce serving of sports drink per day (Obesity, July 14, 2014). For a 5'6" female that is .62 pounds per year for each serving per day. (The formula to convert BMI to pounds is BMI/703 x (height in inches) x (height in inches) = weight in pounds).

Sports Drinks Cause the Same Weight Gain as Any Other Sugared Drinks
Athletes use sports drinks because they need sugar during competition or hard training. Sodas provide the same benefit. However, if you take sports drinks when you are not exercising, they cause the same amount of weight gain as sodas or any other sugared drink. Sports drinks are advertised and labeled to make people believe that they are somehow healthful, which may lead some people to drink more than they would of ordinary soda, so they will gain even more weight.

Why Athletes Use Sports Drinks
The primary sources of energy for your muscles during exercise are sugar and fat. You have almost an infinite amount of fat in your body to drive your muscles for many days. However you have only a limited amount of sugar stored in your muscles and liver.

You start to run out of sugar after 70 minutes of intense exercise and have to slow down. So all athletes learn, sooner or later, that they have to take sugar during any competitive event that lasts more than 70 minutes. When blood sugar levels drop, you bonk, and when muscle sugar levels drops, you hit the wall.

Bonking: In sports, the term "bonking" refers to low blood sugar. Your brain gets 98 percent of its energy from sugar in your bloodstream so when blood sugar levels start to drop, you feel weak, tired and dizzy and can even pass out. There is only enough sugar in your bloodstream to last for three minutes at rest, so your liver must constantly release its stored sugar (glycogen) into your bloodstream. However there is only enough sugar in your liver to last 12 hours at rest. During intense exercise, you start to use up liver sugar at 70 minutes. Your liver then must make new sugar from certain protein building blocks or you have to take in a source of sugar in food or drink. Your body cannot make sugar from fat.

Hitting the Wall: How fast you can run or pedal a bicycle over distance depends on how much sugar you can keep in your muscles. The limiting factor to how fast you can run or pedal is the time it takes for oxygen to get into contracting muscles. Sugar requires far less oxygen than fat does to power your muscles. When your contracting muscles run out of sugar, you have to slow down. This is called hitting the wall. The greater the percentage of sugar that your muscles burn, the faster you run.

Sugared Drinks All Have the Same Concentration of Sugar
Soft drinks, sports drinks, sweetened tea, most fruit juices and other sugared drinks contain close to eight percent sugar. This is the concentration at which sugared drinks taste best to most people. Unsweetened cranberry juice contains only four percent sugar, so it tastes sour.

Sometimes manufactures add artificial sweeteners to their sports drinks and advertise that they contain reduced amounts of sugar. If they want to make a diet drink or low-calorie beverage, they should stop calling it a sports drink because the only useful function of these drinks for sports is to provide sugar to help power muscles. More information on Sports Drinks ingredients

Why You Should Not Use Sports Drinks When You Are Not Exercising
When you exercise intensely for more than 70 minutes, you should take sugared drinks or sugar added foods. You will have a better workout and do better in competition. However, I think that it is foolish to take sports drinks or any other sugared drinks when you are not exercising because the extra sugar will just increase your chances of gaining weight and becoming diabetic. When you take sugar in its solid form such as in a cookie, you usually eat less of other foods. However when you take sugar in a drink, your brain does not recognize the extra calories and you do not reduce your intake of other foods. Sugared drinks in all forms tend to make you fatter than the same mount of sugar taken in solid food.

Checked 4/22/17

August 17th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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