Here's the latest on what science has to say about fitness, nutrition and overall health.

Are Sports Drinks Unhealthy?

Dear Davey,

I was wondering if sports drinks are actually unhealthy? They seem to have lots of sugar and I’m trying to lose weight.


sports-drinks-shutterstock_29236237The answer is both yes and no.

Much like soda, sports drinks are loaded in added sugar. As such, they are high in calories. If you’re not engaged in rigorous exercise, then they’re not the healthiest choice. Water, perhaps with a splash of lemon for flavor, makes a lot more sense – especially if you’re counting calories.

But if you are actually engaged in rigorous exercise, like a game of soccer or a class of crossfit, sports drinks could be a smart choice. The answer is two-fold.

First things first, studies have found that consuming carbohydrates (which is what these sports drinks contain) during a workout means eating fewer calories after the workout and throughout the day. According to a study by Colorado State University, people who consumed 45 grams of carbohydrates during exercise consumed total fewer calories during the day compared to individuals who consumed no carbohydrates during a workout.

Second, carbohydrates are fuel for our body. And when you’re exercising, your body needs lots of fuel to power through a given workout. By consuming sports drinks or other beverages with simple carbohydrates, you may boost the intensity of your workout – and thus, burn even more calories and get a better overall workout.

Of course, you can also get those carbohydrates from other, more natural sources. Personally, I prefer eating a banana or some other high-sugar fruit. But sports drinks can certainly work!

The bottom line is that there can be a time and a place for sports drinks. And that time and place is when you’re exercising intensely… and not sitting on the couch watching Orange is the New Black.


Study: Organic Produce Has More Antioxidants, Less Pesticides.

??One of the more hotly contested nutrition issues is whether or not organic foods are better for your health.

When it comes to nutrient content, the research is mixed. A Stanford study concluded that there’s probably not a nutritional advantage to organic foods. Meanwhile, other studies have found otherwise. Organic milk, for example, was found to have higher levels of beneficial fatty acids.

This week, a large new study is making waves in the debate over conventional versus organic foods. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Newcastle University, examined more than 340 peer-reviewed studies that examined conventional versus organic crops. Based on the data, researchers found that organic produce contains 19% – 69% higher concentrations of certain antioxidant compounds. Researchers also found that organic produce contains lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides.

Of course, researchers don’t know if those higher concentrations of antioxidants translate to health benefits – or if they’re even absorbed by the body. And when it comes to pesticides, it’s important to remember that the amount of pesticide residue left on produce is limited to levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency. These levels are considered safe by the government, but many consumers aren’t willing to take the chance.

Are organic foods better for your health? It seems that the debate will continue. However, one thing is certain: Most of us need to eat more fruits and vegetables, organic or otherwise.

Study: Product Packaging Misleads Consumers.

Cherry 7upLast week, I shared 5 misleading nutrition marketing words that you should ignore on product packaging. Of course, the reason that marketers use those words in the first place is that they’re effective in generating sales. And now, a new study by researchers from the University of Houston is showing how effective those words really are.

For the study, researchers recruited 318 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the nutrition of various products. Students were able to examine the packaging and nutrition information for products including Chocolate Cheerios (labeled whole grain), Cherry 7-Up (labeled antioxidant), Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (labeled organic) and more. All the marketing terms actually appear on the product packaging.

Researchers digitally removed the buzzwords from some of the packaging, and randomly presented students with the products. For every single product, students rated foods with the marketing words to be significantly healthier than if the word wasn’t included. In other words, including the word “antioxidant” made participants view Cherry 7-Up as healthier.

According to the researchers:

It is perhaps time that the food industry take responsibility for how they market their foods and acknowledge the role they play in keeping consumers in the United States misinformed about what is healthy to eat. Healthy foods exist, many of which are organic, whole grain, natural and all of those other things that many foods today are being labeled. However, using those labels on foods such as soda only serve to sell a drink rather than inform consumers about the actual health content of the product.

While it’s unlikely that the food industry will take responsibility for their role in consumer misinformation, perhaps we have more hope in getting the FDA to regulate such buzzwords – or even take the basic step of defining what “natural” really means.

Clearly, consumers need better education when it comes to nutrition. And by reading this article, you’ve already demonstrated that you’re one step ahead.


Study: Nights Owls Find It Harder To Exercise.

24-hour-gymPeople love to make fun of my early bedtime. By 10PM, I’m starting to turn down the sheets – and rarely make it past 11PM. But by 6:30AM, I’m already on my way to the gym. Undoubtedly, I’m a morning person.

As they say, if you hoot with the owls, you can’t chirp with the birds.

According to a new study, morning person tendencies may come with benefits beyond just bird chirping. Researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago found that night owls reported more barriers to exercise. These obstacles include a lack of time and being unable to stick to an exercise schedule, regardless of what time they woke up.

The study sampled 123 healthy adults that reported sleeping at least 6.5 hours per day. Sleep variables were measured and physical activity was evaluated. And according to researchers, “Even among those who were able to exercise, waking up late and being an evening person meant exercise was perceived as more difficult.”

Rather than serving as an excuse for inactivity, night owls, trainers and healthcare professionals alike can use this study to better understand how sleep timing can impact exercise participation. And while night owls may find regular exercise more difficult, working out is a great opportunity to prove your strength – both in body and in mind.

Go get it!

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Are Fitness Bands Accurate?

1600x900q80Wearable fitness devices are all the rage. By attaching the device to your body, key performance measures are monitored. A number of such products are flooding the market – but do the fitness bands measure up and are they accurate?

According to researchers from Iowa State University, not all fitness bands are created equal.

For their study, researchers recruited 30 men and 30 women and had them wear eight popular devices through 13 difference activities including computer work, Wii tennis, basketball and running. By wearing the devices through these various activities, the researchers aimed to simulate real world conditions.

The data from each device was then compared to the data from a portable metabolic analyzer to gauge accuracy. Most of the devices were reasonably accurate and had a margin of error less than 15%. Here’s what they found:

  • The BodyMedia FIT (most accurate): 9.3% error rating
  • The Fitbit Zip: 10.1% error rating
  • Fitbit One: 10.4% error rating
  • Jawbone Up: 12.2% error rating
  • Actigraph: 12.6% error rating
  • Directlife: 12.8% error rating
  • Nike Fuel Band: 13.0% error rating
  • Basis Band: 23.5% error rating

The researchers noted that wearable fitness devices aren’t some magic solution. In and of themselves, they don’t help people achieve fitness goals. To achieve fitness goals, changes in behavior are required – and wearable devices are merely a tool in helping to measure those changes.

In other words, measuring how many steps you took isn’t the same thing as taking more steps.