Sports drinks not so sporting
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Originally, sports drinks were composed of water, salts, minerals, and acids. They were marketed to athletes for replenishment during and after vigorous training sessions. They also added carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and maltose) for extra sustenance.
In the past few decades, sports drinks have often been marketed as a quick healthy ‘energy fix’. It is mass-marketed to all consumer segments and can be found conveniently in every grocery or convenience store.
A video released by Cancer Council Victoria supported by VicHealth, explains the problems associated with too much consumption of sugary drinks. Rethinksugarydrink.org.au also provides this quick ready reckoner on how much exercise you need to do to burn off a sugary habit.
Sugar and Acid - Double Trouble
A recent study discovered that out of 352 Olympians, a shocking 172 of those had untreated tooth decay (Gallagher et al., 2019). Some even had gum inflammation that was greatly affecting their training performance. Another study found that 50% of Australians did not realise that sports drinks would damage their teeth significantly. (Dhealth, 2015).
And children, are much more vulnerable as their teeth are softer and can permanently damage their teeth by consuming too much sugar. In fact, in 2015 the ABC reported that around 30% of children consume sports drinks every week unaware of the health issues.
One bottle of sports drink can contain anywhere from 6-13 teaspoons of sugar - more sugar than a can of coke!
But don’t just blame the sugar for attacking your teeth, most sports drinks contain the additional hidden danger of a higher level of acidity. To increase sports drinks shelf life and change the flavour, acidity is used which usually carries an acidic pH level of between 2.4 and 4.5, similar to a can of soft drink.
How sports drinks can affect your oral hygiene
Hundreds and hundreds of bacteria live in your mouth, some are good bacteria, and some are bad. Good bacteria's aid in the breakdown of food and stimulate saliva.
However, one in particular called streptococcus mutan, feeds on sugar. When people consume high concentrated sugary drinks, it attracts harmful bacteria like streptococcus mutans to feed on the enamel. Part of the digestion process for these dangerous bacteria releases acid as their excretion. When there is more acid in the mouth, there are more problems.
Many sports drinks have an extremely high acid (citric) concentrate, a pH of roughly 2-4, which is highly concentrated and can weaken and soften the tooth enamel. This leads to damage underneath the enamel tissue as it starts to erode and cause tooth decay. In some cases, perhaps a painful tooth extraction.
And then there is the way sports drinks are consumed. As sports drinks are often used for sipping during workouts rather than in one go, teeth get hit with sugar and acidity over a longer period of time. Add to that dehydration during exercise reducing your saliva, you dramatically increase your chances of damage to your teeth.
Protecting your enamel is incredibly important because:
Bacteria will have full reign over your teeth once that layer of protection erodes, and you will be more susceptible to infection
Leftover food and particles will get into crevices in the teeth material (dentine), potentially creating cavities that need to be filled or even worse the loss of a tooth
What is a better alternative?
Unless you are training for a marathon or triathlon, water is your best bet. Even then high-performance athletes should consume sports drinks with careful consideration. The statistics by the British Journal of Sports Medicine are very concerning:
15 -75% of athletes are impacted by decaying teeth
36-85% suffer enamel erosion
15% have moderate to severe gum disease.
If you consume sports drinks, consider drinking water as well, it is the best beverage to quench your thirst. Water increases your salivary flow, neutralising pH in your mouth to fight off decay while re-mineralising your tooth enamel to protect your teeth.
So if you need that sports drink also grab a naturally raised high pH alkaline water and use it as a chaser to ‘swish and swallow’ away quickly the double trouble of sugar and acid.
To find out more 8 quick tips on the best way to consume sports drinks click here
Dentistry, d. (2022). Impact of Sports Drinks on Dental Health - dhealth Dentistry. Retrieved 25 January 2022, from https://www.dhealth.com.au/impact-of-sports-drinks-on-dental-health/#:~:text=In%20a%20 recent%20study%20by%20the%20Australian%20 Dental
(2022). Retrieved 25 January 2022, from https://healthyeatingresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/HER-Sports-Drinks-Research-Review-6-2012.pdf
Gallagher, J., Ashley, P., Petrie, A., & Needleman, I. (2019). Oral health-related behaviours reported by elite and professional athletes. British Dental Journal, 227(4), 276-280. doi: 10.1038/s41415-019-0617-8