Should Athletes Shun Fruit Juice

Lately, fruit juice has been a topic of whether to be drinking or not.  It can and does have negative health implications for those with diabetes as it has the ability to rapidly increase blood sugar levels if consumed by itself, in large amounts or frequently throughout the day. And if it is overconsumed, it can contribute to weight gain.

But what about athletes or people who work out regularly?  Can fruit juice be a part of their dietary plan or should they be shunning it because of its reputation as having too much sugar? 

The quick answer to this question is if the fruit juice is 100% fruit juice it can be part of a healthy diet for athletes or anyone else as long as it is consumed within reason.  Fruit juice does contain sugar but again, if it is labeled on the package as “100% fruit juice” and not “fruit juice cocktail” or “fruit drink,” then the sugar is considered natural or what naturally comes from the fruit itself. 

In 100% fruit juice, there is no sugar added to the product.  Fruit juice cocktail and fruit drinks will have added sugar usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup which only adds in too many calories without contributing any important vitamins and minerals.  Read the ingredient list on the Nutrition Facts Label to be for sure if additional sugar has been added or not.

Juices that are 100% fruit juice, such as orange, grape, apple, cranberry or tart cherry, do have almost all of their calories that come from sugar but that sugar is beneficial to athletes in the following ways:

·         It fuels the muscles and replaces depleted glycogen stores

·         It is packaged along with many health-protective vitamins such as vitamin C and minerals like potassium, magnesium, manganese, and other bioactive compounds.  100% fruit juice is more than just “sugar.”

Some athletes deliberately shun fruit juice believing it has no place in their eating plan.  But if getting in enough whole fruit is an issue, drinking 100% fruit juice can be a good alternative.  It has been known that cranberry juice may help prevent or reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.  Pomegranate juice may improve arthritis symptoms.  Tart cherry juice may enhance recovery from exercise. 

Fruit juice should never completely eliminate an athlete’s intake of whole fruit.  But if consuming the required two cups of fruit recommended daily is tough to do, they can consider that up to half of their fruit intake or 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice can help meet their intake of fruit.

Drinking a variety of fruit juice to obtain the various amounts of phytochemicals that boost the immune system enhancing health is a smart way to do this.  Switch it up from only drinking orange juice to also including blueberry, cherry, pineapple, or apple juice.

A big concern of not just athletes but even other individuals is the belief that drinking fruit juice will contribute to weight gain.  That all depends on how much a person is consuming.  Sure, if you are guzzling glass after glass of fruit juice throughout the day, it is very likely a person will gain weight.  But if you limit yourself to an 8 ounce glass for breakfast, you should have no problem with gaining additional weight.  Research has shown most juice drinkers who follow this consumption amount are not any heavier than those who avoid juice. 

Overall, athletes along with the rest of us can enjoy an 8-ounce glass of 100% fruit juice daily. It’s a convenient, quick and healthy source of fuel for our muscles, keeping us hydrated and a convenient way to increase our fruit intake.