Research pours cold water on alleged benefits of sports products

Study reveals there is a ‘striking lack of evidence’ to back up claims made for trainers, drinks and supplements

Claims about how trainers, sports drinks and supplements will help grassroots or elite athletes train harder and achieve better times are usually based on no or flawed evidence, researchers have revealed.

Sportswear giants, such as Nike and Puma, and manufacturers of drinks, such as Powerade and Lucozade Sport, regularly insist their products confer advantages on users. But such claims are so difficult to verify because of a lack of reliable evidence to back them up that “it is virtually impossible for the public to make informed choices about the benefits and harms of advertised sports products, based on the available evidence”, according to a study by a team from Oxford University and the British Medical Journal.

“There is a striking lack of evidence to support the vast majority of sports-related products that make claims related to enhanced performance or recovery, including drinks, supplements and footwear,” conclude researchers led by Dr Carl Heneghan of Oxford’s centre for evidence-based medicine.

Half the websites for such products provide no evidence for these claims and of those that do, half the evidence could not be critically appraised.


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8 responses to “Research pours cold water on alleged benefits of sports products

  1. It is all ‘marketing.’ Not just the trainers, foods, and beverages, but also the gear and the gyms. Marathons are won with almost predictable regularity by Kenyans who have zero access to any of these products or services.

  2. Snorbert Zangox

    However, it seems clear that isotonic solutions, especially those that replace the salts lost through perspiration, do help reduce the risk of dehydration. Even the Kenyans have access to these drinks.

    I believe that several marathon runners have died of hyponatremia because they restricted their fluid intake to water.

  3. Snorbert, the difference between “preventing harm” and “providing benefit” is quite large. It’s the same thing with vitamins. A lack of vitamin C gives you scurvey. Getting insane amounts gives you … nothing.

    Further benefits beyond preventing dehydration and hyponatria are effectively unsupported

    • Snorbert Zangox

      I did not and do not advocate the use of supplemental vitamins or sports drinks. I merely pointed out that providing hydration with a solution that replaces electrolytes in the proportions that they are lost in perspiration is a benefit. It probably does allow a runner to finish a marathon in less time.

  4. There are no cases of marathon runners dying from dehydration, but there are several cases where overhydration lead to death. You have to realise that even if the drink is isotonic this does not mean that your body will absorb the electrolytes in the needed proportion, and by drinking too much – even of an isotonic drink – you can actually encourage your body to excrete sodium and cause hyponatremia.

    You should drink when thirsty, but the manufacturers promote drinking before you are thirsty and this can be more dangerous than not drinking enough. If you don’t drink your body protects itself and you will just end up cramping well before you develop serious hyponatremia.

    • Snorbert Zangox

      The developers of Gatorade hired athletes and others to run on treadmills in warm rooms. They sampled the perspiration from the runners and prepared the solution to match the proportion of ions that they found in human sweat. The sugars and flavorings were to provide some energy and to make the salty water palatable.

      I am sure that the distribution of ions varied slightly among participants and the the final product is an average of some sort. The purpose was to minimize the types of problems that you mentioned. The previous solution was to provide salt tablets (NaCl) to athletes; that was better than nothing but not entirely satisfactory.

  5. The electrolytes can’t really hurt, and if you train 2-3hrs + a day then maybe they will help a bit, but 99% of the people who drink Gatorade etc are just wasting their money as water would be just as good.

    Even most professional athletes don’t need sports drinks. When you watch a sports event like soccer, football, hockey, basketball etc. most of those bottles that say Gatorade or Powerade are actually filled with water. A few players have their own preferred drinks but they’re just as likely to be a non-commercial drink. It’s more a superstition than anything else. Really it’s only the endurance athletes that consistently drink isotonic liquids and even they will usually water it down or alternate with water. (Another thing the commercial companies tell you not to do.)

  6. Being the cheap guy that I am, I use sodium chloride, potassium chloride and sucrose to make my own. but I only use it on HOT days when I’m doing hard labor.
    Sweat is good.

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