Power Points

Too many sports drinks and energy bars can give your teeth a workout — and not in a good way

Sports and energy drinks and energy bars are big business. In 2009, the last year for which stats are available, Canadians spent more than $500 million on them. But do we need to?
For Ottawa pediatric dentist Dr. Ian McConnachie, the answer is no. “They generally have high levels of sugar, and the drinks are acidic. They also tend to be consumed between meals and will linger in the mouth for hours, so they’re particularly damaging to the teeth.”

Sports drinks are formulated to replace water and electrolytes (minerals like salt, potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium) that we can lose through sweating and are sweetened to replace the carbohydrate we use during activity. Caffeine is the main ingredient in energy drinks, which can also contain guarana extract (similar to caffeine).

“People think they need sports drinks when exercising to adequately replace essential nutrients, but this is nonsense,” says Dr. McConnachie, an ODA Past President. “For anyone who is not an elite athlete, performance is best enhanced by drinking lots of water — with a further bonus if it’s fluoridated — and a balanced diet will provide all the nutrients and electrolytes needed.”  Adds Dr. Jerry Smith, President of the ODA (2014-15), who practises in Thunder Bay, Ont.: “Many of these drinks are high in sugar and are very acidic, with pH levels between 2.3 and 4.5, which is similar to that of a soft drink. Damage to tooth enamel starts to occur at pH levels below 5.5.”  Energy bars are fortified snack bars containing mostly carbohydrates, plus protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals.  But, whatever the label might say, many energy bars are no more nutritious than a candy bar. (see “Bar Hopping”)

Whether you’re working out or not, snacking and rehydrating, says Dr. McConnachie, comes down to common sense: “Limit the amount of carbohydrate at snack time, choose snacks that aren’t sticky or processed and limit their frequency. And, drink lots and lots of water.”

Post-workout Prescription

If you have a favourite sports drink or enjoy snacking on an energy bar now and then, treat them as you would any sugary snack. Dr. Jerry Smith has this advice to lessen their damaging effects:

  •  drink the sports drink through a straw
  •  rinse your mouth well with water afterward
  •  chew sugarless or xylitol-containing gum afterward

Tip-Top Top-Ups


If you feel the need to refuel after exercise, skip that sugarloaded energy bar and fill the tank with one of these tooth-friendly snacks:

  • hard-cooked egg, split and spread with hummus
  • unsweetened banana-yogurt smoothie
  • peeled, pitted and sliced avocado spritzed with lime juice
  • drained and lemon-dressed, canned chickpeas
  • apple or pear with cheese
  • bowl of oatmeal
  • regular milk or soy milk
  • multigrain bread and cheese

Caffeine Caution

The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine and too much of it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, interrupt your sleep and cause nervousness and irritability. In 2013, Health Canada capped the allowable level of caffeine in energy drinks at 180 mg per serving, about the same as a 237 ml cup of coffee. Nonetheless, Health Canada recommends that children and teens not consume energy drinks.

Bar Hopping

granola bar
Anything you eat or drink that contains calories provides your body with energy. While some energy bars contain extra protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins, check out their calories, fat and sugar content carefully — the differences between an energy bar and a candy bar can be negligible. To comparison shop, use the calculator app on your cell phone to divide each of the figures in the nutrient panel on the packaging by the weight in grams of the energy bar. Do the same with your favourite candy bar; the results may surprise you.

Written by Julia Aitken.  Reprinted with permission of the Ontario Dental Association and YourOralHealth.ca Magazine, 2014.

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