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Is Your Sports Drink Ruining Your Workout? The Facts About a Common Food Additive

Is Your Sports Drink Ruining Your Workout? The Facts About a Common Food Additive

  • According to a new study, inorganic phosphate — a common additive in prepared and processed foods — is ruining your workout and keeping you on the couch.
  • In mice and human trials, researchers found that phosphate-dense diets were correlated with less physical activity, reduced cardiac fitness, and literal changes in genes involved with fat metabolism.
  • Organic phosphate naturally occurs in foods, and it’s an important source of an essential mineral called phosphorus. Inorganic phosphate is different because your body absorbs more of it.
  • To reduce your exposure to inorganic phosphate, avoid processed foods, drinks, and convenience items like packaged baked goods. Read your labels — if you see “phos-,” put the food back on the shelf.

Bad news first: According to a new study, an insidious food additive is ruining your workout and keeping you on the couch.[1] It’s called inorganic phosphate, and it’s found in everything from convenience foods to so-called “thirst-quenching” sports drinks.

The good news: Inorganic phosphate mostly exists in kryptonite foods you want to avoid anyway, like packaged meat and bread. If you follow a low-toxin, nutrient-dense diet like the Bulletproof Diet, you’ll reduce your phosphate exposure — and you’ll feel great in the process. Here’s what you should know about phosphate, where it’s found, and what it’s doing to your workout.

Learn more about the foods that are holding you back with the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap Guides to Dairy, Cooking, and Spices

What the study found

Person wearing fitness tracker

Scientists examined the link between inorganic phosphate, exercise intolerance, and physical inactivity. Inorganic phosphate is often added to foods as a preservative and flavor enhancer, but previous research has found that at high enough levels, it can damage your vascular system — aka your arteries, veins, and lymphatic circulation.[2] 

In this new study out of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, researchers fed two groups of mice similar diets, but gave one group a dose of phosphate equal to the amount U.S. adults consume. After 12 weeks, the mice on the phosphate-dense diet spent less time on the treadmill, had lower cardiac fitness, and expressed changes in the genes involved with fatty acid metabolism.

The results were similar in human trials. Researchers gave over 1,600 healthy participants fitness trackers and monitored their exercise levels over one week. Higher levels of phosphate in the blood were correlated with reduced physical activity and more sedentary behavior — which means more time sitting on the couch instead of busting out some burpees.

Look, I’m the first one to say that spending hours at the gym every day probably isn’t the best use of your time (HIIT workouts are way more efficient). However, your body was built to move, and early studies paint an alarming picture about this common food additive.

If your motivation and energy levels are holding you back from exercise, your diet might be to blame if you regularly enjoy prepared, processed, or fast foods. Excess phosphate impairs your body’s ability to perform during a workout, and that’s a serious problem.

I believe you deserve to be an informed consumer, so here’s the scoop on how you can avoid phosphates.

How to avoid inorganic phosphate

Woman shopping

Organic, naturally-occurring phosphate contains phosphorus, an essential mineral that pretty much every cell in your body needs to function properly. Phosphate occurs naturally in foods, especially meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products.[3] Your body doesn’t absorb organic phosphate completely, so it won’t overload your system.

Inorganic phosphate is different. Your body absorbs more of it, which means eating a Twinkie will elevate phosphate concentrations in your blood more than eating an apple would. On top of that, inorganic phosphate is used in excess in processed foods to extend shelf life and enhance flavor. Here are a few of the biggest offenders when it comes to inorganic phosphate:

  • Cola drinks
  • Prepared frozen foods
  • Dry food mixes
  • Packaged meat
  • Bread and bakery products
  • Instant coffee
  • Processed cheese
  • Prepared cocoa powder
  • Flavored sports drinks

The problem is that phosphate can hide in food and drink labels because there currently aren’t any official labeling regulations. Read your labels, people — if you see any mention of phosphates or ingredients containing “phos-,” like “calcium phosphate,” put that kryptonite food back on the shelf and eat something that’ll actually make you feel good, like these keto snacks.

Oh, and you can still power through your workout without throwing back a bunch of phosphates. Proven workout supplements like creatine, BCAAs, and whey protein actually help you work out harder, support muscle repair, and promote muscle growth. And instead of drinking a pre-made protein shake after your workout, enjoy these pre- and post-workout meals — they’re loaded with all the protein you need to help your muscles and joints recover, including nutrient-dense carbs to replenish your glycogen-deprived muscles. Plus, they taste better than anything you’ll find on a grocery store shelf.

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