“Be Like Mike”: Do Electrolyte Sports Drinks Make You Jump Higher?

Sports drinks are popular among athletes — especially teen athletes. Professional athletes, (Michael Jordan being one of the most famous) market them as vital fuel for optimal performance. Do they work? Yes, if you are working out hard though.

featured in the European Journal of Applied Physiology explored whether taking a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink before and during physical activity improved performance and endurance among teenagers. Researchers found that the teens who consumed the 6 percent carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage lasted 24 percent longer before they reached a point of exhaustion compared to those in the placebo group. Additionally, the teens that consumed the sports drink also ran farther.

For those engaging in prolonged exercise, replenishing fluids, sugar and electrolytes is important to sustain activity.

The study showed that while the drink did not alter sprint performance or times, it significantly increased the endurance of the teen athletes. The study was very small, and it did not seek to understand why or how these drinks improve performance. Here”s the problem

These drinks may improve endurance, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Anything that”s colored bright blue is highly processed, and like other sugary beverages, spike blood sugar levels. Plus, other research has proved the overconsumption of these sports drinks by teens in the absence of exercise may contribute to obesity.  Plus, they are probably best limited to times when you are working out for over 30 minutes at a high intensity.

Finally, if you are active, the best thing to drink is a natural electrolyte-carbohydrate beverage, such as coconut water.


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3 Comments

  • Uhhh, There are a few issues with the points the author is trying to make. First, coconut water has higher caloric value than many of the sports drinks. And calories, no matter if they are sucrose, fructose, lactose, or any other mono or polysaccharide, are still calories… and all contribute to weight gain the same. Second, during exercise there are many factors controlling blood sugar levels such as epinephrine levels, cortisol levels, glucagon levels, etc. The amount of sugar in these drinks are usually lower than most other beverages such as fruit juice, sodas, milk, and sweetened tea, but still have enough calories to maintain blood glucose levels during exercise as glycogen levels are depleted. The body, specifically neurons and type 2 fast twitch muscle fibers depend on glocuse for fuels, and the body simply cannot maintain high or moderate impact exercise levels without muscle and liver glyocgen and plasma glucose levels remaining high. I think these drinks are demonized without really thinking about their purpose. The body must be fueled during exercise, especially high intensity or long duration exercise, and I think the benefits of fueling this type of exercise vastly outweigh the negatives of any “obesity risk” that a sports drink is perceived to have. But that’s just my opinion.

    RJB MS, PA-C, PT, CSCS

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