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There are a lot of sports nutrition drinks brands out there competing for our attention, and our wallets. It is an ordeal trying to decide which one is lends itself best to our health, or at least what is worth buying and what is not. Add to this the bombardment of anything and everything a Google search throws up from brand advertisements to all the stuff on comparison sites, and it is as if you are in a minefield with no clear way out.

What is the healthiest sports drink out there, and how can you tell? Considering the nature of the product this can be a strange question to ask, but as we live in a world where chemicals and processes make up more and more of the things we eat and drink it is a question worth asking nonetheless. There are three types of sports nutrition drinks on the market: isotonic, hypotonic and hypertonic. Isotonic drinks are designed to quickly replace the fluids lost by sweating as well as add a carbohydrate boost – i.e., much needed energy. Examples of an isotonic sports drink are Lucozade Sport, Boots Isotonic and HighFive. Hypotonic drinks also replace lost fluids quickly, but without the carb energy boost. Examples of these include Gatorade G2 and Powerade Zero. In fact, generally any water-down or ‘light’ sports drink will fit into this category. Hypertonic drinks are great for supplementing daily carbohydrate intake. It can also be used in conjunction with isotonic drinks to top up fluids lost during exercise. Lucozade Energy is one example.

Most sports drinks on the market are isotonic.

Sports nutrition drinks are generally straightforward combinations of water (often carbonated), glucose syrup, citric acid, lactic acid, assorted flavourings, preservatives (such as potassium sorbate and sodium bisulphate), caffeine, ascorbic acid and colourings. Electrolytes (minerals such as chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium) are key components. The variations in these ingredients give us isotonic, hypotonic and hydronic types.

There is some debate about whether sports drinks actually contribute to overall health. The Health Cloud (https://www.thehealthcloud.co.uk/ingredients-in-sports-drinks) looked at the ingredients in sports drinks and concluded that, although they “can help with prolonged exercise…they are not needed for the majority of sports. These drinks also contain a number of preservatives and other artificial chemicals in small quantities, and although they do not pose a significant health risk, they do not contribute to health in any way, and ideally would not be consumed at all.” A blog from Inside Tracker (https://www.insidetracker.com/blog/post/22217548736/sports-drinks-helpful-or-harmful#) gives an alternate opinion, stating “the sugar in sports drinks can be beneficial for people who are exercising more intensely or working out for longer periods of time. It can provide ready-to-use fuel for someone who is jogging for three hours or mountain biking.” It goes on to say that “if you are performing an intense level of exercise for over an hour, you may need to replace the carbohydrates that you burn during exercise and electrolytes that you lose through sweating. For intense exercise sessions, drink about 20 ounces of a sports drink for every hour that you exercise, starting after the first hour.”

Professional opinion is certainly varied.

For the converted, there are a number of recent surveys done on the best sports drinks on the market. Survey criteria are diverse from study to study, with all claiming to advocate their own healthiest options for consumers. In a recent Mail Online article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3806/The-best-sports-drinks.html), dietician Jeanette Crosland of the Sports Nutrition Foundation gave her verdict in the best sports nutrition drinks products on the market. In no particular order, the list included Liquid Power, Boots Isotonic, HighFive Energy Source, Gatorade, Lucozade Sport and Isostar. US consumer rating site The Top Tens (http://www.thetoptens.com/best-sports-drinks) had a top ten, in descending order, of Propel, Lucozade, Staminade, Accelerade, All Sport, Mizone, SoBe Life Water, Vitamin Water, Powerade and, coming in at No. 1, Gatorade.

And, certainly, an important aspect of the healthiness of sports drinks is whether the one you have is the one you need. If you are into fitness any drink type is sufficient, albeit in its own way. Isotonic drinks are ideal for the avid gym-goer and athlete, providing the hydration and energy needed to maintain high performance and an optimal work out. If you are into sports but require less of an energy boost – e.g., gymnastics, joga and pilates – hypotonic drinks are the tonic for you. If you are primarily after a supplement, either as a product of a physical workout or an added boost to your daily diet, hypertonic fluids are probably what you want. Giving the body what it needs to perform best in situations of physical strain and endurance is key to maintaining good health during exercise or sport, and the appropriate sports nutrition drink can be of real benefit here.

And then, there is one type of sports drink money can buy, but you can nonetheless for absolutely nothing: water. When it comes to hydration – unless exercise is especially rigorous and sustained – there is no clear evidence suggesting any sports nutrition drinks work more quickly or completely as water. But this also has no necessary bearing on the replenishment of sugars in the body.

So the verdict is an open one, and the debate rages on. All in all, the healthiest sports nutrition drink money can buy is the one appropriate to your level of exercise or sport. If you work out only modestly, for instance, an isotonic drink or simple water is going to be best. Then again, you could always follow what trends and opt for Gatorade, Lucozade, Propel or any of the other brands advanced by the diet experts. Whatever your decision, it is worth keeping in mind that anything more than what is required for you and your exercise routine is likely not going to add to your physical health, while also remembering that neither will it necessarily harm it.

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