“A good thing sells itself; a bad one advertises itself” – Nigerian proverb.
One of the reasons I don’t like TV is because of the adverts. Advert breaks are becoming longer and more frequent during programmes, and, having seen the occasional TV programme whilst skiing in North America, I almost cringe at how much time is devoted to advertising. Advertising can be so persuasive, particularly if it is, as is increasingly the case, being endorsed by some “celeb” or media star.
Casting my mind back to 1992 when I attended the New York Marathon exhibition may seem like a slight deviation from the subject in hand, but bear with me. In addition to exhibitors trying to tell me that I was wearing the wrong running shoes, one stand caught my eye, and I was intrigued. It was a stand promoting the benefits of sports drinks. This concept was new to me back then – in all of my long distance runs and gym training, I only ever drank water. But here was a young man telling me that my performance would be better if I drank his company’s sports drink instead. Now, I will be the first person to admit that in those days I was pretty opinionated, but I dismissed his marketing advances with a brusque “no thanks, I drink water”. The reason behind my instant dismissal of his “amazing, performance-enhancing” new product? Simple. It was bright blue. I am aware of course that, sky aside, very few things in nature are bright blue, particularly food. Sure, we have antioxidant-rich things called blueberries available to us, but their pigments are very dark. No, this young man was trying to get me to believe that sugary, salty water spiced up with food colouring would enhance my sports performance. Even then, before I discovered what I really needed before and after a long tough race, I realised that something must be amiss.
Fast-forward 20 years, to last Thursday evening to be precise, at the karate club. I was paired up with a young lad for fighting practice, and the room was hot. No, not hot, absolutely steaming; giving the kind of environment that wouldn’t be considered out of place in a Bikram yoga class. I for one, with the effort I always put into my training, was pouring with sweat. Not so my young opponent, who remarkably seemed to be managing to keep his pores closed, and was only exhibiting a slight change to his facial hue.
After a 3 minute blast of jyu-ippon kumite (announced attacks with freestyle defence), my little opponent was allowed a quick refreshment break. We can’t have the kids getting dehydrated after all that effort, can we? I declined the opportunity to grab a quick gulp of water – I could have kept going for another couple of hours. He rummaged in his bag and pulled out, to my horror, a bottle of the aforementioned diluted food colouring. It has been clearly demonstrated that it is only athletes who have been performing at high intensity for over 90 minutes that might benefit from a drink other than water. After just 3 minutes, this 12 year old thought he needed to “improve his performance”, even though he had hardly sweated!
What message is it that we are giving not only to adults who compete in sport at whatever level, but also to kids that might do the odd bit of recreational training? Prior to writing this blog, I looked up the ingredients in this cocktail of blueness. Bear in mind that the flavour of this particular drink is called “berry & tropical fruits”… Here it is, the little bottle of horrors:
Water, glucose, fructose, citric acid, mineral salts (sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium phosphate), flavourings, acidity regulator (potassium citrate), stabilisers (acacia gum, glycerol esters of wood rosins), sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame K), colour (brilliant blue).
This stuff is primarily marketed to highly tuned athletes, but in turn the masses have not escaped from the virulent marketing campaigns. So how about we delve into the ingredients, and what they might do, not only for athletes, but us mere mortals too.
Water. OK so far, unless that water is chlorinated. If it is, don’t touch the stuff.
Glucose, fructose: This is sugar. It increases adrenaline production by 400%. Stresses the pancreas. Causes increased storage of body fat. Acidifies the body and runs minerals out of the bones. Removes enamel from the teeth. Feeds cancer cells. Need I go on?
Mineral salts: People that sweat need to replace the water-soluble minerals that come out in the sweat. Of course we do. But the listed mineral salts do not adequately do this. They have very limited bioavailability because they are not incorporated into the structure of a plant and have no enzymes attached to them. Nice try marketing guys, but this does not stack.
Flavourings: I guess that is what enables them to call this liquid “berry and tropical fruit blend” then. Because, as you can see, there’s not a berry, mango or indeed anything else that could be considered to be part of the plant kingdom in the above list.
Acidity regulator: I personally wouldn’t want to eat this stuff. In commercial applications, this white crystalline powder is allowed to be contaminated with arsenic and heavy metals (2ppm and 20ppm respectively). It is commercially obtained by fermentation process of glucose with the aid of the mould Aspergillus niger and can be obtained synthetically from acetone or glycerol. Acetone? That’s nail varnish remover. Would you drink that I wonder?
Stabilisers (acacia gum, glycerol esters of wood rosins): Doesn’t sound good to me. These additives allow the flavouring oils to mix with the drink and not come out of suspension. The WHO has recommended that toxicity studies be carried out. I could not find any – maybe the corporations have somehow wriggled out of their duties in this regard.
Sweeteners – Sucralose, Acesulfame K: Artificial sweeteners are the lowest of the low. Not only do you have sugar and fructose as the primary ingredients after water, it is somehow deemed necessary to add extra sweetness to this concoction? This doesn’t make any sense. Acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sugar. God only knows what this stuff must taste like! Acesulfame K contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans. There has been a great deal of opposition to the use of acesulfame K without further testing, but at this time, the FDA has not required that these tests be done. As for sucralose, I would treat it with the same degree of caution.
Colour (brilliant blue): Yes, it certainly is. Is it food? No. Does it have any known health benefits? No. Does it improve your sports performance? No. Is it safe to drink? No. I think that answers that one for you.
So, that’s the bad news, and, no matter who makes them, I consider all sports drinks to be bad news. What, then, do I offer as an alternative? Firstly, think about your activity level. Here goes:
1. Inactive, does not participate in exercise: Drink water. And start exercising.
2. Participates in exercise of less than 20 minutes per day: Drink water. And do more exercise.
3. Participates in moderate intensity exercise of 20 to 90 minutes duration: Drink water.
4. Participates in high intensity exercise for 20 to 90 minutes: Drink water.
5. Participates in high intensity exercise for over 90 minutes: Good for you! Wave to me at the next race won’t you? Drink water. If you feel that your performance level is dropping, drink one of The Raw Food Scientist’s special sports drinks*.
You will not find any of my special sports drinks in a shop. No, dear reader, you have to make them yourself. There are 3 different ones.
1. Green juice. See my website for more information and the best ingredients.
2. Coconut water. Get a coconut, drill a hole in the top and drink the liquid contents. Carrying a coconut is difficult of course if you are on a long run, bike ride or other discipline. Hint: Drink it before you start, or tip the contents into a bottle to take round with you. Simple!
3. A mixture of green juice and coconut water.
Easy isn’t it? You will recover faster, your body will be loaded with antioxidants, you will dilute out the lactic acid produced by the intense exercise and you will feel amazing. And the best thing is, people in all 5 of the above exercise categories can benefit from green juice and coconut water.
In summary, drinking sports drinks will not make you a better athlete. Drinking them if you are not an athlete will not miraculously turn you into an athlete. They will, if consumed regularly, shorten and degrade your life, whilst lining the already bulging coffers of companies that have been “sponsoring” the Olympics since 1928. In contrast, drinking The Raw Food Scientist’s suggested sports drinks will not support companies who profit from people’s ignorance. I have nothing to gain financially from you following my suggestions. But what I do gain is this: satisfaction in the knowledge that I have helped someone not only to improve their sports performance, but also their health at a cellular level, athlete or not. Are you ready? Get juiced!
*Not available commercially.