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The sports drinks labels shout it at you – "Fitness", "active" "isotonic", "Give your body more than water!". You can buy them everywhere and the choice of products is huge. The designs are trendy, the messages strident and many beverages are already targeted at children and young people. The manufacturers sell their drinks, not as thirst quenchers but as a source of energy, vitamins and minerals. But research shows that sport and energy drinks are really superfluous for most amateur sportsmen and women – in fact their often high content of sugar and stimulants like caffeine makes them unsuitable for this purpose anyway.


How much you need to drink depends on the type of sport, the intensity and the length of time you’re exercising and the ambient temperature. If you’re active for up to an hour, you need to replenish fluids above all, so it’s enough to simply drink plain mineral water. Only if you’re active for over an hour do you need to top up your energy reserves with extra carbohydrates.

Isotonic drinks

There’s a huge choice of isotonic sports drinks available. They were originally developed for high-performance sports people needing a quick top-up with fluids and energy during a race or a game. “Isotonic” means that the concentration of dissolved sugars, vitamins and minerals is about the same as in your blood. Isotonic drinks are a way of replacing fluids very quickly, making them a sensible choice if you’re doing physical activity over a long time and sweating profusely.

In many countries, like Germany, the levels of mineral or “sugar” content required justify the claim “isotonic” on the label are not regulated. The result is that the composition of the different drinks on the market that claim to be “isotonic” varies widely. This is the background to the view that these products are generally superfluous both for children and for adults.

Alcoholfree beer

Recently alcoholfree beer has been advertised as an isotonic drink for athletes. Here it’s important to emphasize that alcohol-flavoured drinks should never be marketed as thirstquenchers, because there is a risk that children and young people quickly grow used to the taste of alcohol and to the idea of drinking beer when they’re thirsty. Bear in mind that beers can be sold as alcoholfree with an alcohol content up to 0.5% by volume.

Energy drinks and the risk of overdosing

Energy drinks are uncarbonated, sweet-tasting drinks that are marketed as performance-enhancing and a source of energy. Sold in jazzy cans, they are targeted especially at young people. In addition to possibly problematic amounts of caffeine and sugar, these drinks usually contain a mix of ingredients and additives such as taurine, guarana, ginkgo, glucuronolactone, aromas, vitamins, colourings and artificial sweeteners.

The risk of overdosing on caffeine with these drinks is relatively high. Consuming more than 200 mg caffeine can lead to side effects such as stomach problems, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety states, heart palpitations and headaches. With children it takes only very little caffeine to evoke these problems. Research has shown that caffeine does keep you awake, but it doesn’t necessarily improve performance. Nor, according to the evidence to date, do taurine and guarana.

Fruit juice, lemonade and colas – too much sugar

Pure fruit juices and most lemonades and cola drinks can’t be recommended as thirstquenchers or sports drinks either. Most of them contain far too much sugar and/or undesirable additives such as sweeteners and acidifiers. Because of the high carbohydrate content (over 8%) the liquid takes longer to pass through the stomach to the small intestine from where it can be absorbed.

So what’s left for thirsty sportsmen, women and children? The ideal thirstquenchers are mineral water, pure fruit or vegetable juices well diluted with water and unsweetened fruit or herb teas. You can make your own equivalent of an isotonic drink by mixing two parts of sodium-rich mineral water with one part of pure fruit juice.



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