“Make sure you stay hydrated!” you holler at your kids on the soccer field. “Don’t forget to drink!” you caution your child before a big game. But what are they drinking to stay hydrated? What are YOU drinking to stay hydrated in the gym or on your bike ride? Is it the best option? Is your drink of choice ruining your teeth?
Out of convenience, most people turn to one of the main-stream sports drinks (like the one that rhymes with Shmator-ade). The original sports drink was born when researchers were looking for solutions for athletes who were falling ill after intense exercise in the heat. They found that these athletes were losing electrolytes and fluid through exercise but not replacing them. The sports drink was developed to replace crucial electrolytes and carbohydrates while hydrating at the same time.
What about athletes? My kids play sports for hours in the hot sun?
I have athletes of all ages who come to my office in excellent physical shape, but they have a mouth full of cavities because they consume sugary performance drinks, energy bars, and gels.
They aren’t alone. Researchers screened elite and professional athletes, most of whom were on course to compete in the 2016 Olympics. A majority of the athletes had good oral health-related habits in as much as they brushed their teeth twice a day, visited the dentist regularly, didn’t smoke, and ate healthy foods. However, they used sports drinks, energy gels, and bars frequently during training and competition, which lead to high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion among the athletes.
Why are sports drinks so bad?
When you work out, most of the time, you don’t have a lot of saliva. Saliva has a neutral PH and helps neutralize the acids in your mouth, helping to protect your teeth from bacteria. Whenever you work out and drink a sugary, acidic sports drink or eat an energy bar, your saliva isn’t there to help neutralize the acids and protect your teeth, so enamel damage is the result.
In addition to sugar and acid, sports drinks can also be laden with dangerous artificial sweeteners that have been linked to cancer. The artificial dyes in common sports drinks are banned in other countries due to the fact that they are made from petroleum, and are linked to increased hyperactivity in children and to cancer.
Consuming a sports drink or recovery drink when you haven’t put in the exercise, is adding extra calories that contribute to weight gain, additional sugar, and acid that contribute to tooth decay, and extra sodium that increases your risk of high blood pressure. There is also no nutritional value in a sports drink, so you should consider it empty calories.
It’s a common misperception that electrolyte water is superior to regular water for hydration. In reality, it depends on the circumstances. Outside of intense sports, hot weather, and illness (diarrhea or vomiting), good old fashioned water it the best way to meet your day-to-day hydration needs.
Kids are suffering more than any other group.
While sports drinks are mainly marketed to athletes, they aren’t the only ones drinking them. Kids are being affected by the damage more than any other group. Kids and young adults are drinking sports drinks as an alternative to soda with their lunch (thinking it’s healthier), or as part of their mid-day snack. In the worst cases, they carry a bottle around with them at school and sip on it all day, creating a continuous blanket of sugar and acid on their teeth! The high acidity levels in these sports drinks erode their tooth enamel which is irreversible. Without the protective enamel, teeth become prone to cavities and decay.
A few tips when consuming sports drinks:
- Limit your consumption.
- Don’t prolong your consumption. It’s better to consume the drink in one sitting than to sip on it over time.
- Drink from a container that keeps the liquid from touching your teeth or use a straw.
- Rinse off your teeth with water following consumption
- Chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow, which naturally helps neutralize the acidity level of your mouth.
- Wait an hour to brush your teeth after consuming a sports drink.
Alternatives to sports drinks:
- Coconut Water is often called “nature’s Gatorade” and contains an array of essential electrolyte minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
- Eat a Banana! Bananas are inexpensive and provide a great hit of carbohydrates for energy and potassium for electrolytes!
- Make your own electrolyte drink using essential oils
- Citrus essential oils don’t have the acidic profile of their juice counterparts, so you can get the citrus flavor without ruining your teeth. Make sure you buy INGESTIBLE essential oils. Some oils are produced for topical use only.
Citrus Electrolyte Drink:
- ½ tsp unrefined SEA SALT (DO NOT use table salt or kosher salt)
- 2 cups hot water
- 1 tsp – 1 Tbsp raw honey (do not use granulated sugar)
- Ice cubes
- 3-5 drops ingestible Lemon essential oil (or citrus oil of choice: Lime, Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit)*
- (If essential oils are not an option you can also use citrus juice. But be aware that if the bottle you are drinking from causes the drink to hit your teeth, you will be bathing your teeth in acid. Also, keep in mind essential oils will be more cost-effective in the long run.)
- Boil water
- Place the unrefined sea salt in a glass measuring cup (2 or 4 cup)
- Pour hot water into measuring cup and stir until salt is dissolved
- Add honey to taste and stir well
- Add ice cubes until mixture is sufficiently cooled
- Add essential oil of choice and stir well
- Pour into your sports bottle and head to your game!
*It is a good idea to consult your doctor before ingesting any essential oils. This recipe is meant as an idea for a sports drink substitute when needed and should not be considered medically-approved or given through medical advice. I am a firm believer that water is the best drink option most of the time.