'Sports' and 'energy' drinks: do we really need them?

Emma Brown | 01 Mar, 2018

If you read the adverts, you might think energy and sports drinks do it all. More energy. Improved performance. Better concentration. But do they? And what's the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks? Nutracheck nutritionist Emma Brown, herself a gym lover, looks behind the hype.

“Sports drinks like Lucozade were originally developed to help high-level athletes re-hydrate during long workouts by replacing water and minerals lost when sweating heavily. They contain sugars and salts, flavour and colour and can have a high price tag.

“An average gym goer can all too easily slip into the trap of thinking they need a ‘sports’ drink as part of their workout – but it’s a fake fix. They are marketed as functional and consumers buy into this, but there’s really no need to go to this extra expense – it’s more about ‘trend’ than any physical benefit.

“As a nutritionist, my rule of thumb is simple: if you’re exercising heavily for longer than an hour, you can easily and cheaply rehydrate and replace any lost minerals by drinking a glass containing half water, half fresh orange juice and a pinch of salt.

“If you are not exercising this long, do your health – and your purse – a favour and instead drink a glass of cold water.

“If you’re training for a long distance run, look at your diet first and make sure you eat high carb snacks before and a balanced carb and protein snack after.

“Energy drinks are a different product entirely – they are generally loaded with caffeine and some contain herbals that claim to help enhance alertness – however the evidence is minimal. While caffeine will make you more alert and can help improve athletic performance, overuse can be dangerous for some people.

“There’s an added problem with the consumption of energy drinks by teenagers and young people, purely as a stimulant. Sales of energy drinks to children under 16 have now been banned in most major UK supermarkets, amid concerns about high levels of sugar and caffeine (more than 150mg of caffeine per litre) – this includes popular brands including Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar.

“The high levels of caffeine in these drinks can impact adversely on pupil behaviour in schools. There’s lack of awareness about the effects and long-term health impacts of these drinks which many pupils – and parents – may think are just another soft drink.”

Nutritionist Emma Brown, MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.