Leading the charge in the $8 billion dollar sports drink industry, Gatorade and Powerade (owned by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola respectively) have long claimed that their drinks hydrate better than water, replenish electrolytes lost in sweat, and are absolutely essential for the best athletic performance.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding sports drinks. Let’s dispel some of these myths.
1. Sports Drink Makers Rely Heavily On Science For Marketing
The origin of the sports drink began in 1965 when a team of scientists were asked to create a hydrating drink for a college football team in Florida – the Gators. Made from water, sugar, sodium, potassium, phosphate, and lemon juice, the drink was attributed to the team’s 1967 Orange Bowl win and further entrenched the idea that electrolyte water had an impact on physical performance.
Interestingly, the researchers had first considered naming the drink “Gator-Aid” but decided against it since they had planned to bring the product to the commercial market and the “aid” suffix would have required them to prove that it had a clear medicinal use.
Despite this, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) opened its doors in 1985 with the mandate of researching and studying the effects of exercise and nutrition on the human body. The GSSI has been criticized for being a powerful marketing arm for Gatorade products, making several unsubstantiated claims that endure to this day…
2. Your Body Knows When It’s Thirsty
In spite of 200,000 years of human survival, a 2005 report published by the GSSI stated that “the human thirst mechanism is an inaccurate short-term indicator of fluid needs…Unfortunately, there is no clear physiological signal that dehydration is occurring.”
While other sports drinks manufacturers have made similar claims – presumably to sell more products – independent studies have proven that we can, indeed, trust our thirst to signal the need to drink. In a meta-analysis published in 2011, researchers found that drinking water when thirsty maximized endurance performance during cardiovascular exercise. Furthermore, other studies have shown that the brain is quite adept at telling us when to start and stop drinking.
3. Sports Drinks Don’t Prevent Hyponatremia
Hyponatremia is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when sodium levels in the bloodstream are too low. Although it may be caused by an underlying medical condition, hyponatremia can happen from drinking an excess of fluids which dilutes sodium in the body and overwhelms the kidneys’ ability to excrete water. Taking part in endurance activities, like a marathon for example, may place runners at higher risk of hyponatremia since we lose sodium through sweat.
Because they contain sodium, the notion of drinking sports drinks instead of water to prevent hyponatremia has been pushed by the industry. An article on the GSSI website states that the risk of hyponatremia can be lessened by ensuring fluid intake does not exceed sweat loss and by drinking sodium containing beverages to help replenish sodium levels. This narrative has trickled down to many notable health and wellness websites.
A review of the existing scientific literature published in 2006 found no evidence that sodium containing sports drinks can prevent or decrease the risk of hyponatremia.
4. Sports Drinks Don’t Hydrate Better Than Water
This bold claim – that sports drinks hydrate the body more effectively than water – is made on both the Gatorade and Powerade websites. With little by way of science to back up this idea, both simply state that you will drink more of it because it tastes good.
5. Sports Drink Companies Are Buoyed By Flawed Research
When researchers from the British Medical Journal (the BMJ) requested a list of the studies performed by the major sports drink producers for peer review, only one company (Lucozade) responded with references to 100 clinical studies. In assessing the quality of these studies, the BMJ found a series of problems with the methodology used in the majority of the studies. These include small sample sizes, poorly designed models, data dredging, and biased results.
6. Sugary Sports Drinks May Be Contributing To Obesity Rates
Because sports drinks are often associated with fitness, exercise, and athletics, the amount of sugars they contain are often overlooked.
A 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar. A 32 ounce bottle of Powerade has 21 grams of sugar. To compare with soda, a 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar.
Because sports drinks and other sugary beverages are directly marketed toward children and parents, one study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that over 25% of parents surveyed believed that fruit drinks and sport drinks were healthy.
7. Sports Drinks Contain Only A Limited Number Of Electrolytes
The major selling point of sports drinks is that they contain electrolytes. Although there are six major electrolytes found in the human body – calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, and phosphate – sports drinks typically only include two: just potassium and sodium.
3 Recipes To Make Your Own Electrolyte Drinks
Why purchase sports drinks when you can replenish the full spectrum of electrolytes using all natural ingredients?
There are many foods like spinach, apples, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, leafy greens, and celery that are naturally enriched with these electrically charged minerals.
It’s easy and inexpensive to make your own refreshing electrolyte water. Here are three of our favorite recipes:
Combine ¼ cup of lime juice, ¼ cup of lemon juice, 1 ½ cups of water, ½ teaspoon of sea salt, and 2 tablespoons of raw honey.
Mix ½ cup of fresh orange juice with ¼ cup of lemon juice, 2 cups of coconut water, 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup, and ? Himalayan pink salt.