Fall 2012

Fitness in a Bottle

Are sports drinks any better than water for the weekend warrior?

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Photo: iStockPhoto

Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are heavily promoted as beverages that are essential for replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during exercise. But are these drinks any better than water for the average weekend warrior?

Miriam Nelson thinks not. Nelson, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the “Radio Boston” program on WBUR-FM recently that “unless you’re in the Tour de France, the Boston Marathon or the Iron Man Triathlon, for the most part drink water, eat well, nourish yourself well and train appropriately.” When the host laughed at her unexpectedly direct and blunt statement, Nelson added good-naturedly, “Sorry it’s not more sparkly than that.”

The most elite endurance athletes, such as marathoners, who exert themselves at high intensity for more than two hours, represent a special category, she says. They may benefit from the replenishment available in sports drinks. “But you have to realize we’re talking about less than 0.1 percent of the population,” she points out. For most, the drinks deliver little more than “an added sugar load” that doesn’t help improve anyone’s health or performance in a time of widespread obesity.

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