Fruit Juice for Athletes: Yes or No?
Many athletes and sports-active people shy away from fruit juice, believing it has “too much sugar.” Can 100% fruit juice fit into a sports diet? For certain!
True, almost all of the calories in juice come from sugar, but that sugar
1) fuels the muscles and replaces depleted glycogen stores.
2) is accompanied by a multitude of health-protective vitamins (such as C), minerals (such as potassium) and bioactive compounds.
If you are an athlete who has trouble consuming adequate calories or eating enough whole fruit, you really want to reconsider your “anti-juice” stance. Instead, take a look at these headlines:
Cranberry juice curbs urinary tract infections
Pomegranate juice may help improve arthritis symptoms
Tart cherry juice enhances recovery from exercise
Of course, eating the whole fruit is always best. But too many busy athletes fail to eat, let’s say, oranges because oranges take too much time to peel (to say nothing of leave you with sticky fingers and the need for a place to toss the peels). Drinking OJ can be a convenient alternative to eating (or is that, not eating) the whole orange—plus a tasty way to consume the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C, to say nothing of boost your intake of potassium and folic acid.
Research suggests that juice drinkers do not replace whole fruit with juice, but rather they consume juice in addition to their daily fruit intake. This boosts their overall nutrient intake. The current Dietary Guidelines suggest that half of your fruit servings can appropriately come from 100% juice. Hence, drinking 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice provides one cup of the two cups of fruit recommended per day.
You want to choose from an assortment of colorful juices (red cherry juice, yellow pineapple juice, blue blueberry juice, purple grape juice, orange orange juice). By consuming a variety of colors, you get a variety of powerful phytochemicals that can boost your immune system and enhance your health.
If you are very lean and have trouble eating enough calories to achieve your desired weight, I recommend quenching your thirst with 100% juice instead of water. (Juice is 99% water.) That’s how one of my clients, a high school soccer player, easily gained 13 pounds over the summer. Plus, the natural sugar in the juice replenished his depleted muscle glycogen stores, and the potassium replaced sweat losses of that electrolyte. He felt good and was able to play well, despite his rigorous training schedule.
If you are concerned that drinking 100% juice will contribute to undesired body fat, most research indicates that juice drinkers are not fatter than those who avoid juice. Of course, anyone who guzzles juice (or overeats any food) can over-consume calories. But enjoying a glass of OJ at breakfast is less fattening than devouring a bowl of ice cream at night…and the juice boosts your overall fruit intake for the day. That’s a good thing!
The bottom line: Athletes might want to think of 100% fruit juice as a liquid food, a convenient and healthful source of muscle fuel, and an easy way to boost fruit intake. It’s far more than just “sugar.”