The body of evidence surrounding sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade isn’t small; for as long as these sugary, electrolyte-loaded beverages have been around, scientists have been trying to decide if they’re better or worse than water. And pretty much across the board, the consensus has been that, for the way most people exercise, sports drinks just aren’t necessary. Which is why findings from a new study by researchers at Oxford is no surprise at all–they’re found that energy-enhancing drinks rarely, if ever, deliver on their claims, and, because they’re so high in sugar, they may lead to weight gain.
The study looked at the performance claims of over 100 sports products, and the information or evidence that the manufacturers used to back them up. But, the Oxford researchers say, the drink manufacturers provided little to no sound evidence or research to support their claims, and that the drinks themselves have a “minuscule” effect on athletic performance or energy. And, said the researchers, because the drinks are mostly sugar and water, they may even lead to weight gain, particularly when consumed by children, because people tend to assume they’re more active than they actually are.
Sports drinks contain vitamins and minerals that are supposed to aid in performance, and replace the electrolytes that are lost with sweat–which means they’re high in sodium. They’re also loaded with sugar, artificial colors, and flavors, leading to a very processed, highly caloric drink. Unfortunately, very few regular exercisers actually sweat enough or burn enough calories to truly need “recovery” fuel, let alone justify drinking a 20-ounce drink beverage that’s basically non-carbonated soda.
Consider this: one bottle of regular Gatorade has about 200 calories and contains 56 grams of sugar. 200 calories is about the same amount the average person would burn running two miles–and 56 grams of sugar is about the same amount of sugar as two and a half candy bars. That’s also nearly three times the amount of sugar the average adult woman is recommended to consume. So while you may burn it off with a solid 30 minutes of running (depending on how fast you are), it’s unlikely you needed almost 60 grams of sugar to do it. In fact, according to the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and American College of Sports Medicine, only individuals who work out at maximum, strenuous effort for a full hour should consider sports drinks as a method of replenishment.
In the cast of children and high school athletes, who frequently consume sports drinks, the sugar contained in the drinks is a huge concern. Children are recommended to get just 12 grams of sugar per day. One bottle of Gatorade, then–which, by the way, is four servings–is almost five times as much as a child needs in a day, with little to no nutritional payoff. No fiber, no fruit, no pretense of health.
Sports drinks are a multi-million dollar industry with powerful forced behind them (Gatorade is owned by Pepsi, and Powerade, by Coca-Cola), so they’re probably not going away any time soon. But research like this, which is attempting to hold manufacturers accountable for their claims, is a step in the right direction.
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