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BMJ Questions Science Behind Sport Drink Health Claims

July 20, 2012 — In the latest issue of the British Medical Journal, there are seven articles published by researchers and scientists who were highly critical of the science behind sport and energy drinks.

The scientists concluded that the health claims linked to these products are biased and inconclusive. More than half of the sports drinks with performance-enhancing claims (53%) had zero references to back up the claims. For the products the did cite specific studies, 84% of the studies had a high risk of bias.

Furthermore, the researchers found that 42% of the studies were not randomized, and only 27% of the studies had blinded participants who were unaware of the product they were using. Only 4% of the studies were judged to be of “high quality and at low risk of bias.”

Based on this research, the authors concluded that sports product manufacturers to not adequately warn customers about the potential risks and benefits of using products sold with performance-enhancing claims.

The BMJ editorial team also investigated the history behind the sports drink industry. They found that sports drinks companies sponsored scientists who then “developed a whole area of science dedicated to hydration.” The guidelines from these scientists have trickled down to everyday health advice, sparking fears about the risk of dehydration. Consumers are warned that they need to “hydrate” with fluids spiked with nutritional supplements — as opposed to just drinking water when thirsty during exercise.

Various studies sponsored by sports drinks companies support claims that sport drinks are superior to water, they enhance endurance, enhance performance, shorten recovery time, and more. Many of the studies advocate drinking as much fluid as is tolerable instead of drinking in response to thirst. However, the researchers found little evidence that the human body’s natural thirst response is defective.

Furthermore, many types of sports drinks contain high amounts of sugar, and they can lead to weight gain, especially in children. One bottle of Gatorade contains about 200 calories and 56 grams of sugar. Experts recommend that children get 12 grams of sugar total per day. Various American health organizations say that only individuals who endure one hour of maximum, strenuous exercise should consider using a sports energy drink to recover.

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