menu-spacer.pngSports Drink Industry and Dubious Science

The authoritative British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published seven important articles concluding that sports drinks are being marketed on the basis on bad science funded by the food industry.  Below are links to the articles and a brief synopsis:

1.     Research: The evidence underpinning sports performance products: a systematic assessment.  There is no compelling scientific evidence that sports drinks improve athletic performance. When the cited literature from websites of sports products were critically analyzed, researchers found 143 of 146 articles were either absent or scientifically worthless. The 3 articles that were scientifically valid each found no benefit to sports drinks.

2.     The truth about sports drinks.  BMJ's Investigations Editor Deborah Cohen explores the funding and financial ties between the big food companies who market sports drinks and professional sport organizations and expert advisory panels.  The companies bankroll research to support sports drink friendly findings that eventually are incorporated into official medical and sport recommendations, often by advisory boards with multiple members on sports drink payrolls.

3.     How valid is the European Food Safety Authority’s assessment of sports drinks? The authors were highly critical of the two claims approved by the EFSA, that sport drinks, "improved water absorption during exercise" and that they helped with "maintenance of endurance performance.  The scientific studies for both claims were of poor quality and did not include performances in a race or sporting event.

4.     Role of hydration in health and exercise.  This article by Tim Noakes can be summarized as follows:  Dehydration is a normal biological response to exercise.  You lose water; you get thirsty, you drink.  End of story.  And, over-hydration is a much more common and dangerous risk to the athlete than dehydration.

5.     Forty years of sports performance research and little insight gained.  The authors' conclusion says it all:
From our analysis of the current evidence, we conclude that over prolonged periods carbohydrate ingestion can improve exercise performance, but consuming large amounts is not a good strategy particularly at low and moderate exercise intensities and in exercise lasting less than 90 minutes. There was no substantial evidence to suggest that liquid is any better than solid carbohydrate intake and there were no studies in children. Given the high sugar content and the propensity to dental erosions children should be discouraged from using sports drinks."

6.         Mythbusting sports and exercise products.  Among the busted myths:
- The color of urine accurately reflects hydration (No)
- You should drink before you feel thirsty (No)
- Energy drinks with caffeine or other compounds improve sports performance (nothing other than possible benefit from caffeine)
- Carbohydrate and protein combinations improve post-workout performance and recovery (No)
- Compression garments improve performance or enhance recovery (performance probably not, recovery yes)

7.     Commentary: To drink or not to drink recommendations: the evidence. Four conclusions on how to stay hydrated:
1. There’s a wide range of hydration within which our bodies work wonderfully.
2. Freely chosen rates of fluid intake among elite athletes match sports body recommendations (14 to 20 fluid ounces per hour).
3. Intake at rates higher than sport body recommendations offer no advantages.
4. Athletes who gauge fluid intake solely by thirst perform better that those drinking fluids based on prescribed sweat-loss formulas.