The sports drink industry is a $6.8 billion business that spends a lot of marketing money on convincing you their beverages are a necessity. But before you reach for that bottle of sports drink while you’re working out, stop. Athletes are already at a heightened risk for gut problems like acid reflux, warns the American College of Sports Medicine, and common exercise beverages may simply be making the matter worse.
The Carbohydrate Connection
Multiple studies, such as one published in the Digestive Diseases and Sciences medical journal, have linked carbohydrate consumption with GERD flare ups. And more specifically, research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine linked the carbohydrates in conventional sports drinks with an increase in acid reflux among cyclists and runners.That may be because sugar and simple carbohydrates create more bloating and gas, which may in turn influence GERD.
The Hidden Dangers of Citric Acid
Citrus fruits are already on the acid reflux avoidance list from Harvard, but there’s a hidden form of citrus in the drinks your gym sells: citric acid.
“Citric acid is added in most sports and energy drinks,” reports Rutgers University. For example, in one very popular sports drink product, it’s one of the very first ingredients.
“This acid used to flavor the sports drink can break down the enamel on teeth,” notes Rutgers. “When a lot of this citric acid is consumed it can erode the enamel which then leaves the teeth exposed to bacteria and possibly decay.”
The news gets worse for athletes who suffer from acid reflux. Citric acid and other acidic drinks can provoke acid reflux while also damaging the throat, larynx and esophagus, creating an increased risk of other medical problems.
Caffeine and Your LES
Some sports drinks also contain caffeine. While there is conflicting research on the exact role that caffeine plays in triggering acid reflux, some research suggests that it may relax your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES plays a major role in keeping stomach acid down. Until there is more conclusive evidence, many experts recommend shying away from caffeinated beverages.
What’s the Alternative?
It’s important to stay hydrated. Drinking lots of fluids helps keep your digestive system moving, which is key for managing symptoms of GERD. Studies have also shown how just a tiny amount of dehydration can severely lower your exercise performance and endurance.
In the end, simple is better. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that athletes who stuck with plain water were able to keep their bodies hydrated while limiting acid reflux.
Before you start working out, aim to drink 20 ounces of water approximately three hours before hitting the gym. If you’re missing the electrolytes in a sports drink, consider adding a pinch of salt.
Approximately half an hour before starting the workout, drink another 8 ounces of water. Then, drink 7-10 ounces of water every 20 minutes while exercising, recommends the American Council on Exercise.