Guest Column

by Sifu (Dr.) Rikin Patel MD

Many of you may have heard of the growing trend on the increased consumption of sports and energy drinks over the past 10 years. Due to serious health outcomes in the last few years, this topic has come into the spotlight after the Canadian Pediatric Society published a position statement on sport and energy drinks in October of 2017.

Sports drinks are flavoured beverages that typically contain a mixture of sugars and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. They may also contain added vitamins, typically vitamin C or B vitamins. A standard bottle of 20oz Gatorade has 9 teaspoons of sugar or a whopping 36 grams of sugar. Even the newer “Organic” option for Gatorade has 29g of sugar. While these drinks are marketed to optimize health performance, the truth is that the sugar content in these drinks far out weight the benefits in most situations. In fact, most of the research done for Gatorade years ago was done on athletes experiencing heat exhaustion, training in extremely hot weather. For us that may be 3 months of the year at the most. The extra sodium from sports drinks has also been shown to lead to higher blood pressure over time.

Energy drinks have caffeine from either pure or synthetic caffeine or herbal ingredients, such as guarana or yerba mate plus a tremendous amount of sugar (glucose, fructose and/or sucrose) ranging from 1g to 43g, which is up to 10 teaspoons, similar to the amount found in carbonated pop. Marketed as the drink that boosts energy, decrease fatigue and enhances concentration what the cover won’t tell you is that caffeine can increase anxiety in susceptible individuals and may induce palpitations (from elevated heart rate) in children.

In children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD) the caffeine in energy drinks may potentiate the cardiovascular side effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-stimulant medications. At even higher doses or overdosing, adverse effects can include altered level of consciousness, rigidity, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms and even death. In one 2011 Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program survey, upwards of 60% of Canadian adolescents report consuming energy drinks. In another survey 9% of the 741 respondents reported caffeine-related complications. On a final note, mixing energy drinks with alcohol is an absolute NO!

It’s important for parents and children alike to realize that this is a serious issue. As a plug, sugar in any type of juice, pop or drink promotes tooth decay, and is also a well-established contributor to the obesity epidemic in children. Sugar really impacts motility of your gut, and the general ethos of Chinese Medicine is that most health conditions can be tied back to poor gut health.

So where does this fit in with our Kung Fu training? With regards to sport drinks, the only situations where I can see these drinks being appropriate is intense work outs (sparing, bag work, forms) over 90 continuous minutes. Or, after the first 90 minutes of an adult grading. This would likely be intermediate/advanced students only getting ready for gradings. Or, maybe after the year end Christmas “Seasons Beatings” class 😊. Most individuals don’t work out hard enough to lose enough electrolytes to justify the amount of sugar and sodium consumption that sports drinks provide. This may vary somewhat on very hot days in the summer. The take home point is that simple water is still the drink of choice in most situations, inside and outside the kwoon.

In 1999, when me and Sifu were testing for black sash, I stopped drinking all carbonated drinks to be more conscientious about what I was putting into my body. It made a big difference in terms of trying to stay in optimal shape and fortunately it stuck; I never really brought it back into my diet. I’m not suggesting you have to stop all pop/juice etc.; just bring an awareness to how much sugar you are taking into your diet day to day. As martial artists we should be conscious of what we are eating and drinking. Not only does impact our potential as martial artists, it helps us become good examples for our friends, family and society with regards to our health. At WFKA every student, regardless of rank, is a leader in society in their own unique way.

About the Author – Dr. Rikin Patel MD MSc FRCPC FAAP – Sifu Rikin is a general pediatrician in the Toronto and Cambridge region. He completed his undergraduate in Health Sciences at McMaster University, Master’s in Health policy and Finance at the London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and MD at St. George’s University which took him to Grenada and New York. He completed his paediatric residency at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, and an extra year training in general paediatrics and palliative care at the University of Ottawa. He now works mainly in Toronto but continues to travel home to Waterloo to work in Cambridge. He has a special interest health, wellness and resiliency through a variety of modalities including, Kung Fu, yoga, meditation and nutrition based interventions based on body types.