Drinks

Is soft drink the new sports drink for junior sport?

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I usually don’t feel alarmed too often when it comes to food, but a recent observation at a children’s sports camp left me certainly shocked, and genuinely disappointed.

As you may have guessed, this disappointment relates to soft drink, and children.  I know there is an entire aisle in the supermarket dedicated to sugary, bubbly drinks but I never really thought about who actually buys and drinks this stuff….until I saw it with my own eyes – and I didn’t like it.

When I was a child, the only time we ever had a bottle of soft drink in the fridge was for someone's birthday or Christmas!  It was a special occasion drink, and contributed to the excitement associated with kids’ parties and resultant sugar highs!  I'm just not quite sure when carbonated water with sugar and additives became an everyday drink? 

Research shows that a large proportion of the population’s sugar intake comes from sweetened beverages.  This includes children, but I naively have never really taken much notice of what kids drink.  I am pretty aware of the amount of sugar that my own children consume from foods and drinks, but I am not over-the-top when it comes to avoidance.  I think that being a dietitian the assumption is that kids’ lunchboxes will be filled with only organic beans and kale crisps – so far from the truth!  They eat what I would consider pretty standard school-age fare, including whatever they want when they are at a party (I don’t send them with a personalized bag of chopped vegetables!).  But one food habit I am particularly solid on with my own children is the sugar-rich drinks, and I have now discovered this does make me a bit of an outlier when it comes to family fluid habits.  

I am usually not one to bother too much about what other people are eating or drinking - adults can make their own food choices and we all have different needs at different times so I am certainly not one to judge.  But I couldn’t look away, and to be honest felt really sad, when I saw the drinks popping out of the childrens’ lunchboxes at the junior camp.  I just happened to be in attendance over the lunch break and noticed a group of girls  who each had a can of soft drink in hand.  I was then compelled to look around me a little bit more and honestly, I was truly shocked at the number of soft drink cans I saw.  There was no canteen at the venue, so all of these primary school-age children had been sent to a sports camp, where they were going to be active all day, with soft drink packed in their bag?!  I don’t understand.....

I am not sure whether the perception is that these kids will be active all day so a bit of sugar won’t hurt for energy, or that they need extra fluid for hydration so throw a can in?   I totally get it that packing super-nutritious lunches everyday for kids is a challenge with busy lifestyles, but I don't understand the need to add a can of drink – especially for kids doing sport.  Even traditional sports drinks aren't necessary most of the time for active kids (see my article Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?)

The obvious downside of sweetened beverages is the sugar content, but we also need to consider the additives and acidity - the combination of sugar, acidity and reduced saliva production with exercise leaves young teeth exposed and particularly vulnerable to decay.  

Water, milk and dairy-based fruit smoothies are all great options to hydrate and fuel young athletes.   

Active kids don’t need sugar in a can for energy to run and play. 

 

Keep an eye out for my next Thoughts post about infused water and making water more appetising if you don't love plain water. 

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Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?

Summer in Australia can get hot!  Daily fluid intake is essential, but how much, and what type, do you really need for optimal energy levels, performance and health?  If you train regularly you need to drink regularly, but it’s not just about drinking as much water as you can.  Working out your individual needs can help you hydrate to train and perform at your best.

Why hydrate?

When we exercise we sweat, leading to higher fluid losses and increased fluid needs.  Starting training hydrated means setting yourself up to: 

- improve concentration and judgement

- improve co-ordination

- improve energy levels and delay fatigue

- make exercise feel easier, so you feel better and can work harder

Best fluids for training

For most exercise and sport, water is the drink of choice and totally adequate.  However many active people are turning to the wide range of sports and electrolyte drinks to help power their performance.  But are all the fancy formulations worth the effort and investment? 

Sports drinks vs electrolyte drinks

The key question to ask is whether you need fuel, fluid and/or electrolyte replacement.  Commercial sports drinks generally contain both carbohydrate and electrolytes and can be useful during prolonged training, hot and humid conditions and any time that sweat rates are high and when additional fuel in an easily consumed form is required. 

If your main priority is hydration, there are a number of pill and powder options that provide electrolytes without the carbohydrate and sugars.  The main electrolyte that drives hydration is sodium, so in essence you are purchasing a high salt solution to aid in fluid absorption and retention. 

If you don't do large amounts of prolonged training, enough sodium will likely be consumed through foods, and additional electrolytes may not be required.  However if you participate in long-duration exercise or have a high sweat rate with the potential to lose significant fluid and sodium, an electrolyte supplement could be pretty useful.  Salty carbohydrate-rich snacks can be handy too for those longer pursuits as a fuel and electrolyte source – just add water!  But if the event makes eating difficult, a sports and electrolyte drink or combination might work well (worth practicing in training to see what works, but for most shorter training sessions water may be fine).  Sports drink swishing is another strategy if you want the effects but not the fuel and carbs, might need to write a post on this down the track. 

When you are not exercising, other nutritious fluids such as milk, soup, blended fruit smoothies, juice, tea and coffee all help you to hydrate.  In fact milk can have a higher electrolyte content than many sports drinks!  Coffee can have a diuretic effect, so is not as effective in helping your body to hold onto the fluid you drink, but can still contribute to hydration goals. *For more hydration info, see my previous blog post Best Fluids for Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup.

Individual fluid needs vary significantly due to a number of factors.  Work out how much you need and the best fluids for you for different scenarios, and ask an accredited sports dietitian if you need some help working it all out.

For more nutrition updates I would love you to send you my free newsletter every month or two, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page.  I am now on Instagram too, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Why juice is not as bad as you might think - tips for making a top choice

I am the first to admit that I am one of those dietitians who was never a big fan of juice.  My standard line was always to ditch the juice and eat a piece of fruit with a glass of water instead.  You have probably heard that one before!  Over time my views on juice have changed.  This is because juice has changed.  No longer is juice just the bottled reconstituted supermarket variety, or the sugary juice box that would be a school lunch order ‘treat’.  Today more and more juice is fresh.  Juice bars provide a range of juiced and blended options, which contain a whole lot more than just the liquid extracted from fruit.   With the variety of juice options out there, it’s possible to make fresh, smart choices that can help you meet your nutritional needs.  

Many dietitians are likely to recommend you keep juice intake to a minimum.  The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a maximum of 125ml of 100% juice as an occasional substitute for a piece of fruit.  This is based on the fact that many juices (sugar-added or not) contain over 10% sugar, just like soft drink.  It’s easy to drink that sugar and just a 300ml glass can give you over 6 teaspoons.  With obesity being a national health concern, public health messages to reduce sugar intake are warranted.  Many people consume too much from drinks that are loaded with sugar but low in important nutrients - these don't fill you up at all, making it easy to drink and drink and drink.

But with the age of the whizz-bang super blenders and superfood smoothies, a new variety of fruit and vegetable-based drinks has emerged.  Unlike old-school bottled juice, the new-age juices are more than simply sugar, water and a sprinkle of vitamin C.

Blended fruit drinks, with the inclusion of whole fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, milks, nuts and seeds have seen traditional juice turned on it’s head.  Coconut water is now apopular base for fruit and veg drinks, along with dairy, soy, rice and almond milks.  Juice is often not ‘juice’ at all.

Nutrients such as protein, healthy fats and fibre are becoming more prominent in blended juice drinks as a result, providing health benefits and fullness.  A blended fruit drink can really become more of a meal or snack rather than just something to drink.

One criticism of regular juice is that the fibre and pulp are removed during the juicing process.  Many of the nutrients in fruit are found near the skin.  When whole fruit is blended, the skin is included, boosting fibre and nutrients.  Blending is best! 

Yes, there is still sugar in blended fruit drinks or smoothies.  But when the sugar comes from fresh fruit or milks, it brings with it other beneficial nutrients, an important point of difference compared to soft drink and other high sugar, empty-calorie beverages.  The presence of a wider range of nutrients replaces some of the sugar, which ends up reducing the overall sugar content of the drink (especially if vegetables are incorporated).  If you know your vegetable intake needs a boost, a blended fruit and vegetable smoothie is a great way to sneak a in a few extra serves to help you reach your 5 per day.

A recent study by the University of New South Wales* compared a range of on-the-go drinks for their overall nutrition quality and found the drinks that contained blended whole vegetables or fruits to be the most beneficial for nutrients overall.  It's important to consider the overall nutrition value of a drink rather than just focusing on one nutrient or the kilojoules.  By keeping informed about the nutrient balance of on-the-go drinks, you can make an appropriate choice of drink, serving size, frequency and timing of intake to meet your individual needs and preferences.

For example, someone looking for a lower-kiojoule but nutrient-dense refreshing drink may choose a green smoothie with plenty of blended vegetables and a coconut water base.  Someone who is super-active and trying to gain some muscle mass may benefit from a dairy based smoothie higher in protein with some fruit, nuts and seeds providingextra nutrition and energy.  Everybody's needs are different.

One concern about juice is that it can be acidic, creating an environment for potential damage to teeth. A number of factors contribute to your likelihood of dental issues, including the acidity, sugar content, 'stickiness' and frequency that foods and drinks are consumed.  You can reduce your risk by drinking fruit/vegetable based drinks through a straw to reduce contact with teeth, and make sure to always rinse and swish with water after drinking higher acidity drinks.  Incorporating dairy with whole fruit to make a smoothie can be protective for teeth compared to drinking juice on its own.  

Water is important for daily fluid needs (tea is right up there for hydration too), but if you are looking for a nutritious and tasty choice, a blended fruit and vegetable drink can provide a range of important nutrients, keep you full and put a smile on your face!

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* Reynolds, R & Lin, S. (2016) Nutritional analysis of a selection of on-the-go drinks, Full Analytical Report, UNSW Australia.