Feature Sports Drinks

The truth about sports drinks

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4737 (Published 18 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4737

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Deborah Cohen, investigations editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. dcohen{at}bmj.com

Sports drinks are increasingly regarded as an essential adjunct for anyone doing exercise, but the evidence for this view is lacking. Deborah Cohen investigates the links between the sports drinks industry and academia that have helped market the science of hydration

Prehydrate; drink ahead of thirst; train your gut to tolerate more fluid; your brain doesn’t know you’re thirsty—the public and athletes alike are bombarded with messages about what they should drink, and when, during exercise. But these drinking dogmas are relatively new. In the 1970s, marathon runners were discouraged from drinking fluids for fear that it would slow them down, says Professor Tim Noakes, Discovery health chair of exercise and sports science at Cape Town University. At the first New York marathon in 1970, there was little discussion about the role of hydration—it was thought to have little scientific value.

So how did the importance of hydration gain traction? An investigation by the BMJ has found that companies have sponsored scientists, who have gone on to develop a whole area of science dedicated to hydration. These same scientists advise influential sports medicine organisations, which have developed guidelines that have filtered down to everyday health advice. These guidelines have influenced the European Food Safety Authority, the EU agency that provides independent advice on the evidence underpinning health claims relating to food and drink. And they have spread fear about the dangers of dehydration.

Much of the focus on hydration can be traced back to the boom in road running, which began with the New York marathon. Manufacturers of sports shoes and the drink and nutritional supplement industries spotted a growing market.

One drink in particular was quick to capitalise on the burgeoning market. Robert Cade, a renal physician from the University of Florida, had produced a sports drink in the …

Sign in

Free trial

Register for a free trial to thebmj.com to receive unlimited access to all content on thebmj.com for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial

Subscribe