Sports Drinks: The Myths Busted

The Coca-Cola and McDonald's sponsorships for the London Olympics are creating outcry from health advocates, but there's one sponsorship they may be overlooking: Powerade. Powerade, the official drink for athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games (as well as the EUFA 2012), is the sister drink of the other official Olympic drink: Coca-Cola. Is it that surprising? The most common beliefs about sports drinks are that they rehydrate athletes, that all athletes (Olympic or not) can benefit from sports drinks, and that all sports drinks are created equal. Right? Wrong.

Click here for the Sports Drink: The Myths Busted Slideshow

Reaching for a neon-green Gatorade after your oh-so-grueling spin class may seem like a good idea, but the truth might surprise you. Sports drinks contain electrolytes (mostly potassium and sodium) and sugars to replenish what the body has lost through sweating that water alone can't replace. The purpose of these beverages is to bring the levels of minerals in your blood closer to their normal levels, so you can continue your workout as if you just started.

Sounds great, right? But don't go reaching for the nearest bottle just yet. Not all sports drinks are created equal, and not every sports drink works the same for every athlete. Most nutritionists agree that sports drinks only become beneficial once your workout extends past 60 minutes. For Olympians, sports drinks might actually do the trick; one study from the University of Bath found that sipping on a carbohydrate-based drink helped athletes' performances. But that doesn't mean that drinking water ceases to be essential. "Even if [one] consumes a sports drink," Dr. Haemi Choi, a nutrition specialist at Loyola University in Chicago says, "it's important that he or she continues to drink water." And guzzling unnecessary sports drinks can give you added calories, sugars, and toxins from artificial flavorings. Reading the label carefully is the best way to avoid any hidden extras lurking in your beverage.

But in a world where variety reigns supreme, how can you choose which drink will be the best when you need one? Is there a difference between Gatorade and Powerade? Where does coconut water fit into all of this? When the rows of brightly hued drinks become overwhelming, here's your guide to sports drinks — which ones to choose, and which ones to lose.