Think twice before you reach for that Pocari Sweat the next time you’re at 7-Eleven. Sports drinks might have more flavour than plain old water, but diet experts say you shouldn’t drink them if you don’t do exercise.
Hongkongers love to drink Pocari Sweat, Aquarius, and Gatorade, but if you don’t put in an hour or two of sweat-inducing sport on top of it, they can make you gain weight.
“These drinks have nearly as much sugar as soft drinks,” said Gabriel Pun, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Dietitians Association, and an accredited dietitian. “Hong Kong has a big obesity problem, and I think these drinks have a lot to do with it.”
A recent government survey revealed that nearly 50 per cent of Hongkongers older than 15 are overweight or obese. According to Pun, too much sugar can lead to a lot of health problems.
“The World Health Organisation recommends 25 grammes of sugar per day,” he said. “Many people in Hong Kong have so much more than that.” To put this into perspective, one can of a fizzy drink contains 35 grammes of sugar.
A lot of dishes and drinks, such as bubble tea, mochi ice cream and milk tea, are high in sugar. Adding sports drinks to the mix, even if they are thought to be “healthier”, is making the city’s obesity problem worse.
Studies have shown that your metabolism, the way your body changes what you eat and drink into energy, slows down as you get older. This makes it hard to lose weight. You have to put in more energy than someone younger than you to get the same result. That’s why it feels like you can get away with drinking more sugary drinks when you are younger.
“Of course, if you don’t work out a lot, all that sugar will just turn into fat,” Pun said. “But it’s not just that – too much sugar leads to a lot of diseases and health problems, including diabetes, [a] fatty liver, and stomach problems.”
Nutritionist Wynnie Chan said that you’re better off staying hydrated with water.
“Water is a lot cheaper than a sports drink,” said Chan. “Sports drinks are only useful for people who intensely exercise.
“Sports drinks contain minerals like sodium and potassium, which are lost during sweating. But for people not exercising, they don’t need the extra salt.” Chan also pointed out that drinking too many sports or high-sugar drinks can lead to tooth decay.
Pun agreed with Chan that sports drinks should only be used by athletes who exercise for more than an hour. “Their purpose is to [replace] electrolyte, or mineral, loss from sweat and the energy loss with sugar. However, some people might run for 20 or 30 minutes to lose weight, then throw away all of their hard work by [drinking] extra calories with an energy drink,” he said.
For those who love soft drinks and energy drinks but don’t want the extra sugar in their bodies, Pun said that low-sugar, or “diet” versions of these drinks, such as Aquarius Zero and Coke Zero, are good alternatives.
“These days, artificial sweeteners are quite safe and are a good alternative to sugar or syrup,” he said. “For people who want to cut down on their sugar intake and want to get fitter, they may serve as a step towards a healthier diet.”
In conclusion – if you often exercise outdoors and sweat a lot, then help yourself to a Pocari or Gatorade – but not too many. If you don’t, then keep in mind that all these sports drinks are doing is adding unneeded sugar and salt to your body.