Lately, with the discussion of yanking soda from schools and the occasional forwarded email I get from a friend that warns of the dangers of diet soda, it gets me thinking about my own Diet Pepsi consumption. Depending upon which information you read, Diet Pepsi is either the anti-Christ or a harmless prophet sent to relieve the sweet taste buds of its devoted flock.
So, first off, why should a person, specifically a runner, not drink diet soda? Well, there are some articles that argue that aspartame, the sugar substitute in most diet drinks, causes all sorts of terrible things. The list of aspartame's evils begins with cancer and ends with growing a second head. One of my friends, who used to work for a chiropractor, said that her employer wouldn't even work with patients if they drank diet soda because he firmly believed it interferred with their muscles and their bones and essentially made his adjustments worthless to their soon-to-be mushy bodies.
There are literally thousands of sites on the Internet that support this aspartame-is-evil campaign, and thousands more that simply discuss why soda, even diet, can be detrimental to your health. One key study, that health and fitness magazines have been repeating, reports that diet soda can ruin your diet because your body gets used to its sweet taste, but knows it's calorie free, so therefore links other sweets to calorie-free cravings. And I guess we'll all just be hovering over the cake pan shoveling it in, denying that the cake has any calories. Because the diet soda has tricked not only our bodies, but our brains too.
Even though I know that soda can't be good for me (I don't know about the wicked aspartame, but carbonation and phosphoric acid can't be good for bones or muscle mass -- I acknowledge this), I don't think that a can or two a day will turn my insides to goo, and I can't blame it for my tendancy to eat a whole pan of yellow cake with chocolate frosting (I believe the yellow #5 is responsible for that).
As runners, we are constantly addressing our dietary needs, cravings, and adjustments, but what about addressing our drink needs? Clearly, we all know we need to drink a lot of water -- can't hear that enough -- and you can throw in milk and low calorie juice for effect if you like, but beyond that, so much seems clouded in mystery. Can we drink coffee? Some say yes, drink up, caffeine gives you energy! Others say no, you'll become dependent on that high. Can we drink sports drinks? Many encourage it, say an athlete needs his or her Gatorade. But then others point out that sports drinks can be worse for your teeth than soda and unless you're burning serious calories and sweating like Ron Jeremy in a XXX, you don't need the calories, sodium or electrolytes that are added to sports drinks. Can we drink alcohol? "Hells yeah!" most of us shout, but alcohol is probably a runner's worst enemy; it manages to both dehydrate and add empty calories at the same time.
In the end, any nutritionist and any trainer will tell you that what you drink will ultimately depend upon how much you drink of it, and just as the case with food, moderation is the key. So until a second head really does start sprouting from my shoulders, I'm going to keep drinking coffee, diet soda, and beer and hope that the water I drink will help me balance out. Once I start adding more miles, I'm certain I will throw in some Gatorade or Propel for good measure.
Besides, P.Diddy is a spokesperson for Diet Pepsi, am I not to believe my celebrity sponsors anymore? He ran the New York City Marathon! He wouldn't deceive me, right?