Have you seen the movie "Idiocracy"? If you haven't it's a classic dystopic movie where Americans have become less intelligent and the earth's gone to shit. A main theme of the movie is electrolytes as a cure all for everything. So, as the earth deteriorated due to pollution, instead of changing their ways, people began to water vegetation with sports drinks because well, "it's got electrolytes." This of course caused further damage to the earth and the elimination of all plants. Enter Luke Wilson to save the day who tells them to water the farms with water. The movie is a parody of both our obsession with supplementation and our willingness to deny science (among other things). "Idiocracy" is over ten years old and in that time I think the use of electrolyte beverages has only increased along with the blatant disregard for scientific truths.
Why do I mention this movie? For one, I hope you'll watch it and draw parallels to current times and get scared enough to take action. And two, because my son's soccer coach so boldly told parents not to send their kids to practices or games with Gatorade. While I was thrilled by this request, I also know that some parents were hearing for the first time that their kids don't benefit from drinking sports drinks while playing sports. Thankfully coach pointed out that our kids just need to drink water and that players are set up to fail when they are given sugary drinks. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about the affect of sugar on kids!? Well, when you have a group of kids hopped up on sugar and red dye number 40 trying to focus in on a game, the result is chaos. Never mind the after game sugar crash we parents have to deal with that follows the game time sugar high! Ever wonder why your kid is exhausted and/or a monster after the game? It's potentially because of the myriad of sugar and chemical laden foods they were eating from the snack shack.
Now this is not to say that electrolytes don't play a major role in your health because they do. But, unless you or your kids are playing at an incredibly high intensity in an extreme climate, you don't need to supplement with electrolytes. If you're sick and getting a balanced diet is out of the question, it does make sense to replenish these vital minerals with a natural electrolyte drink. Think coconut water with himalayan pink salt or one of the many low sugar options found at a natural food store. Overall though, when we drink sports drinks or give them to our kids in place of a well balanced diet, we're causing the same destruction within our bodies as seen environmentally in "Idiocracy". Nature designed us to only need things that are found in nature but the SAD diet, Standard American Diet, or highly processed, sugary, starchy food based diet, is so nutrient deficient that we've become obsessed with supplementation. The truth is we just need to eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, organic/grassfed meat and add a little sea/himalayan salt to it. (I understand the cost associated with such a diet AND that there are food deserts all across this country... that is another topic for another time!)
Just to be 100% clear, Gatorade isn't necessary or even beneficial simply because it has more sugar than electrolytes. But don't our kids need carbs aka sugar for energy and electrolytes to stay hydrated? Yes, they do. However, you and your kids would benefit greatly from sourcing this fuel and hydration from whole foods and water. Electrolytes, aka minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium can be gained by eating a banana, yogurt and adding salt to pre/post-workout meals. Personally, I'm a big fan of rice cakes with honey and salted PB or PBJ. Since I don't eat dairy I source my calcium from leafy greens, eggs and beans. I do take supplements such as Athletic Greens and a pre workout so I'm not 100% innocent. I've been fine tuning my diet for the last 9 years and my goal is to continue to improve my diet so that I'm meeting as many macro AND micronutrient needs through food as possible.
There are so many health related reasons to eliminate sugary sports drinks (and foods) that I could literally write a book. But for now I'll tell you my biggest driver. For me, the biggest reason to eliminate sugary sports drinks, is that the newest research shows that there is a direct correlation between what we eat and how our brain functions. More specifically, a poor diet is correlated with inflammation in the brain which can cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, and brain fog to mention a few. I don't know about you but none of this sounds good to me. And as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, I can say with 100% certainty that cleaning up my diet and exercising regularly has greatly alleviated symptoms of both.
You don't know what you don't know. If you're just hearing that Gatorade is terrible for the first time, I encourage you to do your own research. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to pay attention to what we put into their bodies (and out own). Far too often the undesirable behavior that they're being held accountable could have been prevented by not providing them with sugary, highly processed food in the first place. There's a solid chance that how we react to their behavior is also a manifestation of what's we're putting into our body as well. Additionally, let's ask ourselves why are kids being enrolled in sports but not being taught how to properly support their efforts with nutrition? I hear parents say all the times "to keep them active". Well I can tell you as someone who has lost a lot of weight and competed in bodybuilding that your diet is more important than your physical activity. Periodt. Please don't tell me "they're kids" and "they can get away with it" just because your child may not be overweight. Cause the truth is that most adults who grew up with this philosophy are currently overweight, out of shape and/or struggling with a chronic mental or physical condition. I don't want this outcome for my kids and I'm sure you don't either.
Perhaps the most challenging things about eliminating sugary drinks and snacks from our kids' diets is the fact they're everywhere.... at the corner store, at their friend's houses, the snack shack and the grandparents AND they're addicting AF. These are all things that we can't control. What we can control is what we bring into our homes and the example we set for our kids. We can also have the courage to speak up and share our knowledge (me) or use our authority (coach) to challenge the status quo. You deserve to live a life as the healthiest, most vibrant version of yourself and so do your kids. My call to you once again is to really ask yourself why you do what you do? Why do you give your kids sport drinks? Is it because "it's got electrolytes'?
Thanks for reading,
There's a song for that: "I Need to Wake Up", by Melissa Etheridge