You may be religiously completing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to reduce your heart attack risk, but you may be undoing all the good stuff if you choose to drink a sugary or energy drink after each session. A new study by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health has found that the benefits of physical activity do not outweigh the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with consuming sugary drinks. In other words, don’t reach for the bottle of Gatorade after your workout.
Sugary or revitalizing drinks contain added sugar. But advertisements for these energy drinks often show how fit and active people consume them for energy, implying that they have no harmful effects. Harvard research challenges this perception. Sports drinks usually contain sugar and electrolytes, intended for rapid hydration and absorption. Some athletes use them only when they have performed high-intensity exercise that lasts an hour or more. For others, it’s just another sugary drink with calorie overload.
What does the study show?
The scientists used two cohorts totaling about 100,000 adults, followed for about 30 years.
Data show that those who consumed sugary drinks more than twice a week had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of their physical activity levels. The frequency of consumption considered in the study (twice a week) is relatively low, but is still significantly associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. With daily consumption, the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases is even higher.
How does sugar affect the heart?
You can’t escape a bad diet. Both exercise and diet are pillars of heart care and must work together. Sugar is more dangerous than fat. It is an inflammatory agent, meaning it damages the endothelium or the inner lining of the walls of arteries and blood vessels, making them permeable to cholesterol.
So even if you have low levels of cholesterol circulating in your blood, they can enter porous arteries and form plaques, triggering a heart attack. Many of my patients have wondered why they had a heart attack despite their low cholesterol levels. That’s why sugary drinks can still put you at risk for heart disease despite exercise. Extra calories could also be stored in the form of triglycerides, high levels of which are a major risk factor for heart disease. They impact you regardless of whether you have diabetes or not. For those with diabetes, it could be even worse.
What sugary drinks should you avoid?
Any soft drinks and sodas (with or without caffeine), lemonades, energy drinks, fruit cocktails, packaged fruit juices, and over-the-counter health drinks, especially those promoted by gyms. The most ideal way to hydrate after a workout is to drink water alone or with electrolytes. Drink lemon, coconut water, or buttermilk, which can have complex sugars and take time to break down. What good would the exercise be if profits are destroyed by making a wrong decision?