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Sports drinks- are they necessary or just a waste of money?

Ink has not dried after I blogged about cancer-causing chemical in Coca Cola. You can read that article here. I am at it again, castigating another drink produced by Coca Cola company, this time, it is the sports drink, Powerade.

Powerade is a drink specifically manufactured with intention for use by athletes to rejuvenate and replenish lost water and electrolyte following a rigorous exercise or competition.

In the market today, powerade is not the only sports drink. There is a plethora of them including Lucozade by Glaxo-Smithkline and Gatorade by Pepsico.

These three sports drinks are marketed on the premise that they hydrate better than water. However, a thorough research carried out by Deborah Cohen and published in British Medical Journal in July 2012 paints a different picture.

A team of researchers at Oxford University analysed 431 performance claims in adverts for 104 sports drinks. Their findings were startling. Most of the claims although insinuated to be backed by concrete scientific data, were far cry from the truth; it was only GlaxoSmithKline that provided scientific data to back up their claims on Lucozade. But their data was wanting because only 3% of it was without bias and of high quality.

The meteoric rise in use of sports drinks lies in coupling of science with creative marketing. It is now common to see an array of coloured bottles of all sorts being offered to athletes particularly in football. All these are sports drinks.

Habit of sports drinks has permeated to common people. It is possible to see people sipping different types of sports drinks in the gym or while exercising outdoors. The use of these drinks has even penetrated into offices to give that much needed boost especially in the afternoon.

Sports drinks are marketed in such a way that they seem to be health or an essential kit for a team that is hungry to win. However, research shows that they are no better than water especially if used by common person.

It has been known that rigorous exercise can lead to death especially if the athletes drink a lot of fluid. This condition is called hyponatraemia. There have been 16 recorded deaths and 1600 people taken critically ill during a competitive marathon running due to a drop in their blood sodium levels. Companies that manufacture sports drinks capitalize on this to suggest that their products can help prevent hyponatraemia because they have sodium and other electrolytes. This has been widely debated and researched and it is agreed that the best way to avoid hyponatraemia during Marathon running or any other intense exercise is to avoid positive fluid balance. Therefore the real problem is not the type of drink but the volume.

The fact that these drinks are promoted by elite athletes but marketed to common person who exercise, on average, for two hours in a week is misleading. This is because most of research on their benefits is carried out using elite athletes and not ordinary people who rarely sustain high intensity exercises for long periods.

In normal circumstances people take drinks especially water to quench thirst. Therefore thirst is the key indicator of a need for a drink whether water or otherwise. However, sports drinks companies market these drinks with the idea that you need to hydrate before or after a sport and for you to successfully hydrate, their drinks is better than water.

Sure sports drinks have electrolytes and help to replenish those that are lost during a sport or exercise and they give a sudden boost of energy when taken. The sudden surge in energy is not a surprise because sports drinks are high in sugars. For example a 500 ml bottle of Lucozade contains 17.5 g of sugar while Powerade Ion4 has 19.6 g and Gatorade perform contains 30g. To put this in perspective, a teaspoon of sugar weighs 4 g. So Gatorade perform contains more than 7 tea spoons of sugar. Due to the high sugar content these drinks are a real concern especially when taken by children considering the effects of sugar on adding weight.

What do you think, are sports drinks really necessary? Leave a comment below.


Deborah Cohen (2012). The truth about sports drinks. British Medical Journal, doi:10.1136/bmj.e4737(Published 18 July 2012),

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