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What a Sports Dietitian Says About Coca-Cola

Jun 28, 2024

When it comes to sports nutrition, athletes are often bombarded with a plethora of choices. From protein shakes to energy bars and salt tablets, the options seem endless. But what about Coca-Cola as a performance enhancer? You probably didn't see that coming on a sports nutrition blog! But what does a triathlon dietitian have to say about incorporating Coca-Cola into your sports nutrition plan? My opinion may surprise you...

The Role of Sugar in Sports Nutrition

First, let's talk about sugar. Carbohydrates are our primary source of fuel as endurance athletes. During prolonged endurance events, our carbohydrate stores (e.g. glycogen in our muscles) can run low. Making fast acting, simple sugars that are easy to digest a great way to provide quick energy.

Coke contains these simple sugars and can provide us with a quick energy boost. In Australia, for example, Coca-Cola has 10 grams of carbs per 100 ml, making it a more potent source of carbohydrates than a standard sports drink.

Sodium and Hydration

Managing your hydration and electrolyte balance is incredibly important for endurance athletes as we know your performance will decrease if you become too dehydrated.  While water is generally sufficient for shorter workouts, longer endurance events require fuel and electrolyte replacement. Coca-Cola does provide some sodium: 10mg/100ml in Australia or 12mg/100ml in the US. Depending on your needs, coke doesn’t contain enough to replace significant electrolyte losses during extended exercise periods. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a valuable part of your bigger hydration and electrolyte plan.

The Caffeine Factor

Coca-Cola's biggest advantage over standard sports drinks is its caffeine content. Caffeine is well-known to boost alertness and reduce fatigue, which is crucial during endurance activities. With about 10 mg of caffeine per 100 ml, a regular can of Coke can offer that extra edge late into your endurance event. However, remember that caffeine needs vary from person to person and too much caffeine can have a negative effects. Like so many things in sports nutrition, you need to match your intake to your individual needs.

The Downsides

While Coca-Cola can be a handy tool for endurance athletes, it lacks other nutrients and is known to be harmful to your teeth, so you want to use it intentionally and sparingly.  Here’s some tips to incorporate Coca-Cola into your sports nutrition plan effectively:

Expert Recommendations from Triathlon Dietitians

So what do triathlon dietitian's recommend? Here’s a balanced perspective:

  1. Use Sparingly: Reserve Coca-Cola for specific scenarios where you need an immediate energy boost or taste reset.
  2. Combine with Other Nutrients: If using Coke, pair it with nutrient-dense foods.
  3. Monitor Your Body’s Response: Everyone's body reacts differently; pay attention to how you feel after consuming Coke during training sessions before trying it on race day. Never introduce Coca-Cola for the first time during a race.
  4. Prioritise Whole Foods: Whenever possible, prioritise whole foods and specialised sports drinks designed specifically for athletic performance. I wouldn't try to fuel an entire race with just coke.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Ensure you’re meeting your hydration needs with water and electrolytes rather than relying solely on soft drink / pop. Consider degassing Coke before consuming it during events to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort from the carbonation.


Conclusion: A Balanced Approach

So, was this what you expected to hear about Coca-Cola and sports nutrition?

Maybe not, but if used strategically Coke can be a great addition to your nutritional strategy! Just remember that nutritional strategies are highly personalised, so consult a professional to find what works best for you!



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