Are Carbonated Beverages Bad for Athletes?

Liime spritzer
A glass of sparkling water with lime is refreshing after a workout. (Image: MSPhotographic/iStock/Getty Images)

A soda every now and then isn't going to make or break your athletic career; a regular soda habit, however, can push out healthy calories and cause unwanted weight gain, which can negatively affect play. During most workouts, carbonated beverages are not ideal as they may cause stomach upset. There are times, though, when carbonated beverages may offer up a performance or recovery boost.

Pass on Soda

Soda offers no vitamins or minerals to bolster performance. If you're an athlete trying to make weight, soda adds unnecessary calories to your diet. Too much soda may also discourage you from drinking water, which is really the optimal drink for exercise. Both sweetened and diet soda lacks electrolytes, minerals you need to replace after a hard workout. Sports drinks may, on the surface, seem to have many of the same ingredients as soda. But they have a concentration of 6 to 8 percent carbohydrates -- an amount that maximizes fluid absorption and carbohydrate digestion. Soda and other carbonated energy beverages have a carbohydrate concentration of greater than 10 percent, which slows down gastric emptying and inhibits fluid absorption.

The Soda Exception

In the case of very long endurance events, such as 15-hour triathlons or 30-hour ultra runs, you can drink sodas in the later hours of the event. The high sugar content and caffeine offers an energy boost and provides a psychological salve when spirits wane and overwhelming fatigue sets in. The carbonation in the soda may also help calm stomach distress, stimulating burping that can help alleviate the bloating that occurs when you've been exercising for such a long period of time. Still, soda is not a cure-all as its high fructose content can cause diarrhea -- a real risk for ultra-endurance athletes -- and the caffeine may expedite fluid loss.

Beer for Recovery?

Adult carbonated beverages are commonly found in the recovery tent after marathons and triathlons and are a regular tradition after rugby matches. Beer naturally contains some carbohydrates and electrolytes, which aid in recovery, but it also acts as a diuretic and can hinder rehydration. Reformulating beer, though, may make this carbonated beverage an ideal recovery drink. A study published in 2013 in the "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism" found that reducing beer's alcohol content and adding extra sodium turned beer into a plausible sports recovery drink.

Sparkling Water

You probably won't be chugging sparkling water or club soda during a competition, but this calorie-free carbonated beverage offers a hydration alternative to still water at non-workout times. Registered dietitian Erin Palinski says that sparkling water counts toward your daily water intake. Watch for sparkling water with extra minerals added or included naturally, though. While the minerals can help an athlete who sweats a lot replace important nutrients -- too much can have negative health effects, especially if the water you choose has lots of sodium.

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