We’ve been pumping our bodies full of multicoloured sports drinks for decades now, and the athletes among us have been practically brainwashed into swigging one down post-workout, run, or game.
Even Canadian golden boy and NHLer Sidney Crosby stands behind sports drinks, and he is a spokesman for Gatorade.
But it seems like we may have been duped. The promise that sports drinks’ most coveted ingredient, the oft-misunderstood electrolyte, helps us perform better may not be true at all. To make matters worse, dehydration may not even be that big of a factor when it comes to performance.
A new study from Brock University, published in the June issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, suggests that sports drinks don’t improve athletic prowess.
Steve Cheung, a kinesiologist, professor, Canada research chair in environmental ergonomics and the lead author of the study, says the idea that dehydration affects performance does not stand up to scrutiny.
“Your body is more stressed with dehydration. So no questions there,” he said. “But the performance was not different. And also none of these competitive elite athletes were [in] any danger.”
The Brock study analyzed 11 cyclists, some of whom wore saline IV drips that kept them hydrated, and some who were administered a placebo that did not. Researchers found no difference between the groups when it came to performance.
“Even at up to 3 per cent body mass dehydration, no impairment was seen in exercise in the heat,” said Cheung. “We’ve just proven that it’s not so. This also supports why elite marathoners, even in the heat, rarely drink if at all.”
So it might not even matter if you’re dehydrated or not — effectively rendering sports drinks useless.
Meanwhile, another study from the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley says the link between athleticism and sports drinks is more problematic. While sales of soft drinks are decreasing rapidly, energy and sports drink popularity has been on the upswing. The study, led by Dr. Patricia Crawford, claims to be the first scientific examination of popular sugary drinks that also claim health benefits.
“Despite the positive connotation surrounding energy and sports drinks, these products are essentially sodas without the carbonation,” said Dr. Crawford. “Rather than promote health as claimed in advertising, these drinks are putting our children’s health at risk.”
The lesson from both of these studies is pretty clear: if you’re thirsty before/during/after exercising, it’s probably best to just stick to plain ol’ water.