are sports drinks a waste of money?

are sports drinks a waste of money?

The BBC reports: "Lack of evidence" that popular sports products work. Consumers could be wasting their money on sports drinks, protein shakes and high-end trainers, according to a new joint investigation by BBC Panorama and the British Medical Journal.

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For me, personally, this has been true. I gave up Gatorade and Power Bars in favor of more natural nutrition after reading Born to Run in the summer of 2010. I haven't had more than one or two of each since then.

This spring I was training for up to 2.5 hours at a time, in the early mornings before work (and before breakfast!) I learned I could go up to an hour or so (running or biking) without eating or drinking anything at all. For workouts longer than an hour, I would keep myself charged and hydrated by eating bread (without crusts) and/or apple sauce, and drinking a mix of fruit juice and water.

From the BBC Report:

The investigation into the performance-enhancing claims of some popular sports products found "a striking lack of evidence" to back them up.

A team at Oxford University examined 431 claims in 104 sport product adverts and found a "worrying" lack of high-quality research, calling for better studies to help inform consumers.
In the case of Lucozade Sport, the UK's best-selling sports drink, their advert says it is "an isotonic performance fuel to take you faster, stronger, for longer".

Dr Heneghan and his team asked manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for details of the science behind their claims and were given what he said scientists call a "data dump" - 40 years' worth of Lucozade sports research which included 176 studies.

Dr Heneghan said the mountain of data included 101 trials that the Oxford team were able to examine before concluding: "In this case, the quality of the evidence is poor, the size of the effect is often minuscule and it certainly doesn't apply to the population at large who are buying these products.

"Basically, when you look at the evidence in the general population, it does not say that exercise is improved [or that] performance is improved by carbohydrate drinks."

This boils down to something I've said many times - what's required for the top 1% of athletes, the men and women who make their living based on the physical performance of their body, is very different from what the regular folks need - whether it's a particular technique, piece of equipment, or nutrition regimen.

The professional cyclist, riding 120 miles in a 3.5 hour race at maximum capacity (after training in a similar manner multiple times per week for months at a time), needs to replenish his body in the fastest, most efficient, and most complete way possible. The same is not true for the guy riding the lifecycle for 30 minutes, or the girl who hits spin-class for an hour.

Dr Heneghan said: "The evidence does not stack up and the quality of the evidence does not allow us to say these do improve in performance or recovery and should be used as a product widely."

Nutrition expert Professor Mike Lean of the University of Glasgow described what little evidence there is that certain amino acids, which form part of proteins, may improve muscle strength as "absolutely fringe evidence and I think that that is almost totally irrelevant, even at the top level of athletics".

Prof Lean said the market for supplements is "yet another fashion accessory for exercise… and a rather expensive way of getting a bit of milk."

The sports drink companies are going to argue the study was flawed, and their products deliver excellent benefits. But even if that were true, consider this:

You just worked out, hard. You're breathing heavy, and you're sweaty. Now that you've stopped moving, your body goes into overdrive and sweat is pouring out - you're soaked. You reach for that familiar thirst quencher, and down the entire bottle. Ahhhh - feels good, just what your body needed.

Problem is you didn't just re-hydrate, you put back into your body the same amount of calories you just burned during your workout. 50 calories per 8 oz serving, and the bottle is 32 oz.. That's 200 calories - Doh!

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Our genetic ancestors worked out lived life with higher intensity and longer durations than most of our modern day workouts, and our human race continued to grow and prosper. This means there are other, better ways to replenish your body.

-Chris Butterworth