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Sports Drinks Are Neither Safe Nor Effective

14 min read

Commercial influences might have corrupted the American College of Sports Medicine’s hydration tips.

If you needed to identify the best medical advance over the previous two centuries, what would you choose? Smallpox vaccine jumped to my thoughts, then I remembered it was found again within the 1700s. The British Medical Journal compiled a listing of 15 contenders, however which might take the crown? Would or not it’s anesthesia, which makes it potential to be asleep throughout surgical procedure? Would it be antibiotics? Another sturdy selection. One of the 15 contenders might shock you, although: the medical marvel of water with sugar and salt.

The discovery that sugar and salt are absorbed collectively within the small gut “was potentially the most important medical advance this century. It opened the way to oral rehydration treatment for severe diarrhea—the main cause of infant death in the developing world.” Simple packets of sugar and salt in the appropriate ratio may very well be added to water and save the lives of kids who had been shedding electrolytes via extreme diarrhea from illnesses like cholera. In a hospital or physician’s workplace, we’d simply hook you as much as an IV and provide you with intravenous rehydration remedy, however that isn’t a chance for a lot of around the globe. Cheap, simple, oral rehydration has saved thousands and thousands of kids’s lives yearly, such that UNICEF can put out experiences just like the one titled One Is Too Many: Ending Child Deaths from Pneumonia and Diarrhoea to assist eradicate this downside as soon as and for all. Oral rehydration remedy solely prices pennies, too. If solely producers may determine a approach to promote salty sugar water for 2 bucks a bottle… 

Enter the sports activities drink. As I focus on in my video Are Sports Drinks Safe and Effective?, sports activities drinks are a multibillion-dollar trade fueled by Coke and Pepsi, however even drug corporations are getting in on the motion now. Researchers went on-line to see what sort of hydration recommendation folks had been getting. Ready to take a pop quiz? 

  1. True or false: Fluid consumption throughout train must be primarily based upon thirst.
  2. True or false: Electrolyte consumption shouldn’t be typically essential throughout train. 
  3. True or false: Dehydration shouldn’t be typically a reason behind exercise-associated muscle cramping.
  4. True or false: Exercise-associated muscle cramping shouldn’t be typically associated to electrolyte loss. 

The reply is every is true. If you stated false to any of them, you’re improper—however in good firm. A whopping 93 % of the highest web sites obtained the primary query improper, 90 % obtained the second query improper, 98 % obtained the third one improper, they usually all obtained the final one improper. “To make matters worse, those websites that would generally be perceived as being more trustworthy by the public”—such because the websites of medical or skilled organizations—“appear to be no better than other websites at providing accurate hydration-related information.” So, you shouldn’t really feel unhealthy if you happen to obtained any improper. No marvel “athletes often have misunderstandings about proper hydration during exercise.”

Doesn’t dehydration harm efficiency, although? Surprisingly, when researchers checked out triathletes, they didn’t find a correlation between dehydration and marathon ending instances. In reality, some athletes who misplaced essentially the most water truly had among the many quickest instances, as has been famous in different research, as nicely. 

Your physique’s not silly; it’ll tell you when you have to drink. “There is now ample evidence that drinking to thirst, even during prolonged exercise under hot ambient conditions, will allow maintenance of proper hydration,” that means, we will simply drink to thirst even whereas understanding for a very long time within the warmth. And, we shouldn’t have to drink electrolytes. But if we’re sweating and simply drink pure water, don’t we danger washing out an excessive amount of sodium and ending up with “exercise-associated hyponatremia” (EAH), too little sodium? It seems that may be attributable to consuming an excessive amount of of something, whether or not it’s water or sports activities drinks. In one excessive profile case, a highschool athlete who died from EAH had drank two gallons of Gatorade. How will we stop such deaths? “Simple: drink according to thirst.” These “don’t wait until you feel thirsty” statements may very well be doing extra hurt than good. 

We’ve identified this because the early Nineteen Nineties, but it surely was ignored. Instead, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) began telling athletes they “should drink ‘as much as tolerable’ during exercise. What followed was an epidemic of cases of EAH and its associated encephalopathy (EAHE).” What’s extra, industrial pursuits might have performed a job in delaying the acknowledgement of those findings for many years.

The present ACSM assertion now not recommends consuming as a lot as tolerable. In reality, it emphasizes how harmful consuming an excessive amount of could be, but it surely nonetheless plugs sports activities drinks as typically preferable to water. Curious who got here up with this assertion? Funding help was granted by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s Science Advisory Board and Speakers Bureau, the Gatorade Science Institute’s Science Advisory Board, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s Sports Medicine Review Board, The Coca-Cola Company, and the record goes on, as you’ll be able to see at 5:00 in my video.

Circling again to the start, which of the 15 medical marvels won? Was it oral rehydration to forestall deaths from cholera? Antibiotics to kill off the cholera bugs? No, our best medical miracle over the past two centuries was sanitation, preventing the cholera from moving into our consuming water within the first place.

This is of one among my favourite subjects that I’ve coated. It has all of the issues I like: sweeping historic context, company malfeasance, and fantasy busting. Hope you loved it as a lot as I did!


  • The discovery that sugar and salt are absorbed collectively within the small gut could also be one of the essential medical advances within the final 200 years as a result of it led to oral rehydration therapy for extreme diarrhea, the primary reason behind toddler dying within the creating world.
  • Inexpensive and easy oral rehydration has saved the lives of thousands and thousands of kids every year.
  • Sports drinks, typically salty and sugary, are a multibillion-dollar trade.
  • During train, fluid consumption must be primarily based on thirst and electrolyte consumption isn’t typically essential; exercise-associated muscle cramping shouldn’t be typically attributable to dehydration or associated to electrolyte loss.
  • We’ve identified we must always drink to thirst because the early Nineteen Nineties, however the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggested athletes to “drink ‘as much as tolerable’ during exercise,” which might trigger exercise-associated hyponatremia, too little sodium, and its related encelphalopathy.
  • Currently, ACSM emphasizes the risks of consuming an excessive amount of. However, it nonetheless plugs sports activities drinks as typically preferable to water and has obtained funding help by Gatorade Sports Science Institute amongst different trade teams.

What about utilizing coconut water? I coated that in Coconut Water for Athletic Performance vs. Sports Drinks and Flashback Friday: Coconut Water and Depression.

Thirsty for extra movies on hydration? See:

In well being,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t but, you’ll be able to subscribe to my free movies right here and watch my dwell displays:

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