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Never Forget What's Really In Your Energy/Sports Drinks

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Summer's not over yet. And if you like outdoor exercise, you'll know how important it is to stay hydrated.

But are the fashionable fluids you're drinking actually sabotaging all your hard work?

For all-too-many of us, the answer is "yes".

So what should you drink?

Well, let's face it: Water can be blah (especially when it becomes lukewarm in the sun).

So instead many of us have turned to heavily-advertised sports drinks and energy beverages. Which is smart, right?

After all, sports drinks are marketed as the ideal beverages for optimal exercise and recuperation in energy-sapping hot weather. And energy drinks are supposed to help keep us going when we would ordinarily tire.

But don't be fooled.

Sports and Sugar: An Unholy Alliance?

Starting with sports drinks, they're not anywhere near ideal if you're looking for a healthy beverage to help you lose weight while exercising. That because they typically contain lots of refined sugar. The other main ingredient is water.

Add the two -- along with some colouring and a sprinkling of other ingredients -- and you have a formula for commercial success. That's why big food conglomerates are making lots of money from these very cheaply-made but relatively expensive products.

The two most popular brands are Powerade and Gatorade.

The former contains about 41 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons), totaling 160 calories, in a large 25-ounce (710-milligram) bottle. The latter has 56 grams of sugar (13 teaspoons), adding up to 200 calories, in an oversized 32-ounce (907-milligram) bottle.

Frankly, it's mostly the sugar that is most responsible for giving you a short-lived rush of energy that'll typically fizzle out within half an hour. It's not the other more fashionable ingredients.

On the plus side, these drinks also contain electrolyte minerals, such as potassium and sodium. Such inexpensive additives are meant to sustain stamina during exercise, and to help runners avoid muscle cramps.

However, unless you sweat profusely while exercising, you're unlikely to need to replace lost electrolytes. As for rehydrating yourself, water should suffice -- and it's calorie-free.

A Buzz in a Can!
Another youth-oriented, pop culture product that's both figuratively and literally creating a big buzz these days is the so-called "energy drink".

Its key appeal is that it comes with more than just sugar to keep you going when your energy reserves run low. In fact, it's loaded with caffeine, which can play havoc with your nervous system if you consume too much.

But just like sports drinks, energy beverages tend to be full of sugar. Which can easily contribute to weight gain -- especially because they aren't very filling and can be easily over-consumed.

Let's consider these two well-known brands which both derive all their calories from sugar, Red Bull and Rock Star. A small 8.3-ounce can of Red Bull contains 26 grams (six teaspoons) of sugar, which adds up to 106 calories. A hefty 16-ounce can of Rock Star has about 62 grams (15 teaspoons) of sugar and contains 248 calories.

Of particular concern, these fizzy beverages are especially popular with young athletes and other fitness devotees. Likewise for the 20-something nightclub crowd.

And since these products aren't government-regulated, their manufacturers can make all sorts of hyped-up marketing claims about their energizing benefits.

Make Your Own Cheap, Healthy Alternative

Here's a healthy, calorie-conscious tip: Instead of buying sports and energy drinks, you can make your own low-calorie alternative. Simply top-up your water bottle with a tablespoon of either maple syrup or evaporated cane juice.

Or drink coconut water, which is high in simple carbohydrates and electrolytes. And just as importantly, it's very low in sugar and is also fat-free. Which means you don't need to load up on sugar or wind-down with all these unnecessary empty calories when exercising.

Remember the key to getting or staying trim is to use up more calories than you ingest each day. So kick the sugary drink habit and you'll be well on your way to achieving your fitness goals.

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