How Sports Drinks Affect Our pH Balance

The other day I was on a MTB ride with the Grass Roots Race Team from the Auburn area, and lucked out into a pretty interesting conversation with one of their riders. She happened to be a Registered Dental Hygenist with 12 years of experience. We got to talking sports drinks and the affects they have on the gums, teeth and mouth with prolonged use.


Naturally, I was pretty curious. I asked Amy Bertuzzi Rondoni, RDH to provide me some information for an article, and she was kind enough to answer my questions. This is great information and very much food for thought regarding which sports drink you use and how it affects your performance.


Al: What’s the best drink an endurance athlete can use during training/competition from the pH balance perspective?

ABR: Water, because it had a neutral pH of 7.0 and won’t cause dental erosion. I can argue that for sport purposes that the coconut water is the best if you are looking for electrolytes and hydration. Another option would be energy chews like FRS or sport beans. That way people can drink water and still get what they need as far as carbs/electrolyes.


Al: What’s the worst drink they can intake?

ABR: Anything with a pH less than 5.0 This is where we start to see enamel erosion. i.e. our tooths minerals (2 ex.’s calcium and phosphate) start being leached out and break down the integrity of the tooths structure. This leads to high risk for cavities and mild-extreme sensitivity


On a pH scale the lower the number the more acidic. The higher the number the more alkaline with 7.0 being neutral. May help to insert a pH scale in your article. Acids start breakdown around 5.0


Drink type & pH

  • Filtered Ionozed Alkaline H2O 10.0
  • Water 7.o
  • Odwalla Carrot juice 6.2
  • Odwalla Vanilla Monster 5.8
  • Unflavored Pedialyte 5.4
  • Vita coco 5.2
  • Aquafina,Dasani, Smart water 4.0
  • GU2O 4.29
  • Powerade 3.89
  • Accelerade 3.86
  • Gatorade Endurance 3.22
  • Monster 2.7

Al: What about nuun, Hammer Nutrition and Cytomax? These are pretty popular choices for a lot of endurance athletes.


ABR: Cytomax has a pH of 3.79  Hammer Heed has a pH of 7.04 (love this product because it also has Xylitol (a sugar that cavity causing  bacteria can’t feed on… genius) so this is my new choice on “BEST” sports drink for your teeth.


Couldn’t find info on Hammer Perpetuem or nuun, although I sent inquiries to both companies. The first ingredient in nuun is acid but the second is sodium bicarb. It may or may not be too acidic, I’d have to research it to find out more.





Al: How are the gums affected?

ABR: Dentistry isn’t concerned with gums and energy drinks. It’s more the enamel. While sports drinks are a neccesary tool to achieve sufficient carb/electrolyte intake to postpone fatigue during exercise, in contrast a matter of real concern is the potential for dental erosion related to the low pH value of the drinks.


To take it one step further sports drinks concentrate on flavor which is achieved with high levels of sugar. So you take dangerously high levels of acid ( citric acid,ascorbic acid, acetic acid and vitaminc)and break the tooth down and feed the s. mutans bacteria (one of the main cavity causing bacteria)their favorite food and it a recipe for MANY cavities.



We ride/run long distances for many hours and we sip constantly on these drinks so we never get a chance for our saliva to bring our mouths back to neutral. After each sip the first 20 minutes is the most volital time of break down.


Ask yourself how often you drink while your riding? Probably ever 20-30 minutes!!! OK back to gums… people with gum recession have exposed roots. Roots are softer than enamel and these are the people who will have a lot of cold sensitivity.


Al: Does ride distance matter?

ABR: The longer we ride, the longer our mouths are in a state of acidic break down.


Al: What about pH balance and cramping?

ABR: This isn’t my area of expertise :0) I’m going to guess there’s not much of a relationship. The only thing I can think of is that the human body functions properly in an slightly alkaline state.


Our blood is around pH 7.35-7.45. These drinks are trying to lower our pH and the body fights to keep an equilibrum (or we die). I’m guessing the more alkaline the drink the better we will absorb the necessary essential minerals and trace elements therefore experience less cramping.


Al: I’ve heard that’s is a good idea to brush your teeth immediately after a ride due to all of the gels, bars, drinks we use. Whats the best strategy?

ABR: Rinse with water or a Fluoridated mouthwash. DO NOT brush immediately after consuming these drinks (or throwing up if you’ve gone that hard).


The acid will make teeth softer and brushing will cause enamel to be lost. Best to eat something or chew gum to get saliva flowing to buffer the mouth and then brush. Also when brushing stay away from pastes that have tartar control or whitening properties. It’s like brushing with sand paper. Stick to plain pastes or better yet, gels.


Encourage people to talk to their dentist or dental hygienist to eval if their teeth are showing signs of erosion. The signs/symptoms are smooth enamel on the back of the upper six front teeth, pitting of the enamel on the biting surfaces of the back teeth, notching on the roots and cold sensitivity. If this is the case I highly recommend a persription type paste like MI Paste or Clin Pro. Even people without signs or symptoms should discuss it with their dental professional to be preventive.


A good analogy would be… When we exercise we replenish the lost nutrients our body needs. We should aslo replenish the lost minerals our teeth need. I’m sure you can make that statement sound prettier.


Al: What’s one of the best ways to prevent all of this from happening?

ABR:Carry two water bottles one with sport drink one with water and  swish and spit the water after  sipping the sport drink to get rid of residual acids and help bring on a neutral pH.


Also, it’s never a good idea to swish or hold the sport drink in ones mouth. Ask your dentist to do a Fluoride varnish at every cleaning. Stats show four Fluoride treatments a year are best.


Ultra marathoner Dan Olmstead says:

An over-acidic body reduces the amount of oxygen entering the cells, which accelerates free-radical damage and speeds lactic acid buildup. 


Joint pain and muscle ache An over- acidic body leaches vital acidic-buffering minerals such as magnesium and calcium from bones. These minerals are forced to be redeployed into the blood in an attempt to balance the pH of the body by increasing alkalinity. The depletion of these minerals affects a myriad of body functions that are vital to athletes, including energy, endurance and recovery.


Amy, thanks for the all of the great information!


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