You would think sports drinks are healthy. You see sports drinks at sporting events and in the vending machine at the gym. A sports drink has to be a better alternative than soda, right? Sports drinks were developed to replace the carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during an intense workout. Now we see them not only at kids’ soccer games but also when they aren’t active at all. Whether you’re a kid at a birthday party or running a marathon, are sports drinks good for you? If you look at the ingredients in most popular sports drinks, you won’t think so.

The ingredients you will find aren’t ones that help build a healthy, athletic body and some actually add to your toxic load. In fact, some are inflammatory and linked to a wide range of diseases. What do you need to watch out for in your sports drink?

Are Sports Drinks Good for You? Common Unhealthy Ingredients to Watch Out For

1 – Sugar

The second ingredient in many popular sports drinks is sugar or sometimes high fructose corn syrup. Either way, you are drinking sugar water. Sugar contributes to our obesity epidemic while also being a very inflammatory food. A 12-ounce serving of Lemon Lime Gatorade contains 21 grams of sugar and if you drink the whole 28-ounce bottle that’s 48 grams of sugar. That’s a quarter cup of sugar and well over the recommended daily limit of 25 grams of sugar. Another common ingredient is dextrose which is also sugar but made from corn. Did you know sugar increases your rate of urination which in the long run actually dehydrates you?

2 – Artificial Sweeteners

The sugar content of a sports drink isn’t much better than a soda. So, because of worries about sugar, many people might think switching to low sugar sports drinks is a good idea. These contain sucralose and along with other artificial sweeteners that can be hidden under the term artificial flavor. These artificial sweeteners can mess with gut health and insulin levels and have not been properly studied for long term effects. Studies have shown they can make you crave more sweets and contribute to obesity.

3 – Artificial Colors

The colors of sports drinks aren’t natural, and the artificial colors can have some unnatural effects. Yellow dye #5 and red dye #40 are frequently found in popular sports drinks. In the European Union, these drinks would have to come with a warning label, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Artificial colors have been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD and cancers. Caramel coloring can include a number of toxic ingredients that have been linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and allergies. The bright colors might seem fun, but their effects aren’t.

4 – Citric Acid

Found in many drinks, citric acid is a preservative to keep things from breaking down. It sounds harmless enough. Citric acid can naturally come from lemons, limes, and other produce but that would be too costly to add for the 28-billion-dollar sports drink market. They manufacture a cheaper version. Most products use a citric acid that’s made from a mold that’s grown on corn. So, for those with allergies, beware.

5 – Glycerol Ester of Rosin

This ingredient comes from pine tree stumps and is used as an emulsifier. This helps the oil-based flavors mix with the water in your sports drink and replaced the brominated vegetable oils that used to be used by beverage companies. It’s considered a food grade material. Not a food. So, yes, you are drinking pine tree stump with some of your sports drinks… enjoy? I don’t know about you, but I’ll pass on the tree stump juice.

Skip Unhealthy Sports Drinks

While it’s true that if you are working out intensely for long periods you will lose electrolytes like potassium and sodium, you don’t need a sports drink to replace them. Try adding salt to water for a hydrating beverage without the extra ingredients and add stevia to make it taste better. To recover well, make sure you aren’t making hydration mistakes.

If you aren’t working out at high intensity in high heat just drink some water and make sure you have plenty of healthy salt in your diet. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that have more potassium than a sports drink plus many other nutrients to build a healthy body. Skip the artificial and inflammatory ingredients you will find in popular sports drinks. They aren’t ingredients for a healthy life.

Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn

Dr. Jason Nobles looks at ingredients in electrolyte drinks and better alternatives in this video: