Beginning with the Gators

September 15, 2018
Sherrie Hebert

You may be familiar with Gatorade’s history. In 1965, University of Florida Gators’ football coach Dwayne Douglas noticed his players were losing a lot of weight during practice, experiencing extreme dehydration despite drinking a lot of water and suffering heat stroke.

He took his concerns to some university physicians to determine why. The researchers discovered that the fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat were not being replaced and the carbohydrates not replenished, so they developed a beverage to replenish the lost minerals and sugars. Thus Gatorade was born.

Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine, tissues, and other body fluids. Electrolytes are important because they maintain voltages across cell membranes and carry electrical impulses across themselves and to other cells. When doing extreme physical activity, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium. In addition to the lost electrolytes, carbohydrates, which provide energy, need replenishing.

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, were designed to replenish electrolytes and sugars when doing very strenuous exercise for at least an hour, especially in hot conditions.

The original Gatorade contained water, sodium, sugar, potassium, phosphate and lemon juice, for flavor. Today’s version has added sugar, glycerol (preservative and sweetener) ester of wood rosin (helps keep oils suspended in water), natural flavors and food dyes.

Energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster Energy, were designed to increase energy and mental performance. Differing from sports drinks, energy drinks contain excessive caffeine and even more sugars and were originally marketed to appeal to youths as such.

Most energy drinks also include some or more of the following: Vitamin b, taurine and L-carnitine (amino acids), guarana (an Amazonian high-caffeine content plant), glucuronolactone (a naturally occurring chemical produced by the body and in plant gums), natural and artificial flavors and food dyes. Even though the additional ingredients may improve energy, their content is not great enough for any noticeable effects except the additional caffeine stimulants.

In contrast to sports drinks, energy drinks can have serious health effects, particularly in children, teenagers, and young adults. A 16-ounce energy drink may contain 54 to 62 grams of added sugar, increasing the risk of obesity. Caffeine, however, is the disconcerting ingredient. That 16-ounce drink can contain 70 to 240 mg of caffeine, where an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 100 mg and a 12-ounce cola about 35 mg.

Consuming such large amounts of caffeine can cause serious heart and blood vessel problems, heart rhythm disturbances, increases in heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, shakiness, headache, digestive problems, dehydration and seizures — many severe enough requiring emergency care. Caffeine may also harm children’s cardiovascular and nervous system development.

On a side note, it is now common to combine the high caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol. This extremely dangerous behavior can disguise the extent of intoxication and have them believe their coordination and reaction time are better than without the caffeine and often leads to binge drinking.

Recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) data states “the estimated number of ER visits involving energy drinks doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,783 visits in 2011.”

There were more patients ages 18 to 39 each year than in other age groups and the largest increase were those 40 or older by 279 percent. In 2011, 58 percent of energy drink-related visits involved energy drinks only, with the remaining involving other drugs, including alcohol.

(Sugar, caffeine and ER data: NIH, July 2018)

In short: Sport drinks replenish electrolytes and sugars in your body after extreme physical activity, where excessive unnecessary consumption can cause weight gain. Energy drinks use excessive caffeine, sugars and other ingredients to improve performance, where excessive consumption can cause multiple health issues including heart problems, anxiety, insomnia, obesity and more.

Why then are so many consuming energy drinks? Brilliant marketing, where the strategies promote endurance and stamina, utilize professional athlete endorsements, vitamins and other natural ingredients and directly interact with their consumers at large scale high-energy events in pop-culture, motor and contact sports.

It is time to take off the blinders and see the reality that there is no good in energy drinks. And don’t be fooled by sports drinks either. Drink one if your body indeed needs the electrolyte and carbohydrate replenishment — especially if you made the Florida Gators final cut.

Sherrie Hebert is a certified personal trainer and Pilates mat and equipment Instructor. She teaches and trains at Performance Pilates and Gold’s Gym of Pocatello. As an established Idaho State Journal columnist, Sherrie has provided health and fitness information and guidance to her readers for nearly four years.

Contact her at 208-317-5685 or sherriehebert@gmail.com and visit her Facebook page, Performance Pilates.

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