In a commercial that ran in high rotation during the most recent NHL season, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby cuts across a sheet of ice and delivers a backhand shot that rattles a Gatorade bottle resting on top of the net.
“Scoring the big goal is easier if you make the right decisions. Water or fuel?” says the voice over, which is supplied by Crosby.
Crosby is the consensus best hockey player in the world, and everyone from minor leaguers to beer leaguers are seen as targets for his considerable influence. The all-star is viewed as the perfect pitchman for Dempster’s Bread, Reebok hockey sticks and Tim Horton’s TimBits.
But those taking Crosby’s cue on sports drinks might be placing too much faith in Gatorade’s “fuel” claims. A new study from Brock University, published in the June issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, says sports drinks don’t improve athletic performance.
Steve Cheung, professor and a Canada research chair in environmental ergonomics and the lead author of the study, says the message that dehydration affects performance simply did not stand up to scrutiny.
“Your body is more stressed with dehydration. So no questions there,” he said. “But the performance was not different. And also none of these competitive elite athletes were at any (health) danger.”
The study looked at 11 cyclists who wore IV drips with saline that kept them hydrated or a placebo that did not. Researchers found no difference in the performance between the groups. Cheung said that even at a 3% body mass dehydration, performance was not affected.
The idea that dehydration does in fact affect performance is a part of the marketing of sports drinks like Gatorade. A commercial from The Gatorade Sport Science Institute of Canada looked at the effect of dehydration on ice hockey performance by withholding fluids to create a 2% reduction of their body mass. The organization said it measured indicators such as core temperature, heart rate and the salt concentration of the players sweat.
“We’re hypothesizing that it’s important to stay hydrated while playing ice hockey if you want to perform at your best, and secondly that it’s important that you stay hydrated with a sports drink like Gatorade,” said Dr. Lawrence Spriet from the University of Guelph, who conducted the exercise.
Another study from the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley says a larger trend is at play. While sales of sodas are falling rapidly, a new category of drink has emerged under the glow of a “Health Halo”. The study claims to be the first scientific look at 21 popular sugary drinks that make health claims.
“Despite the positive connotation surrounding energy and sports drinks, these products are essentially sodas without the carbonation,” said Dr. Patricia Crawford, the lead author of the study. “Rather than promote health as claimed in advertising, these drinks are putting our children’s health at risk.”