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.
Does Gatorade G2 have zero nutritional value?
And what about Lucozade? Sadly, it seems to be just the same thing: sugar water. For the brand, the solutions seemed clear, just remove the sugar, right? Well, they tried that and to say it didn’t work would be an understatement. Sales of the sports drink plummeted after Lucozade cut its sugar content to meet new UK guidelines. Seems that consumers might have been buying it as a soft drink, not a sports drink.
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.”
Is Gatorade good for hydration?
Okay, but what about hydration? Surely we need to be reminded to hydrate, right. That stuff can sneak up on you until you are lying on the field and cramping. Well, not really.
“We have a 300 million year developed system that tells you with exquisite accuracy how much you need to drink and when you need to drink. It’s called thirst,” Dr. Timothy Noakes argued in “Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports.”
Others says that there is something to Gatorade’s claims that you hydrate better with carbs and electrolytes, but only under rare conditions.
Some research backs their claims,” says Anna Schaefer, writing for Healthline. “A report from the University of California at Berkeley says that sports drinks might be better than water for children and athletes who engage in prolonged, vigorous physical activity for more than one hour, especially in hot conditions.
Since my last Peloton ride was an exhilarating 15 minute cool down, I probably don’t need it.
Is Gatorade full of salt?
Gatorade is famous for talking about the importance of replacing electrolytes. But what does that mean? Mostly, it means sodium, which is the main electrolyte in the drink. Should you worry about this? Probably not. Gatorade contains 270 milligrams of sodium it its 20 ounce serving, which is about 11 per cent of the Recommend Daily Allowance.
How much sugar is in Gatorade?
What you might be more concerned about regarding Gatorade is not the salt but the sugar content. A twenty ounce Gatorade contains a whopping 36 grams of sugar. According to Diabetes Canada that is most of your daily allowance. They recommend no more than 50 grams for the entire day. A couple Gatorades a day will railroad that completely.
The fact is that although Gatorade operates under a “health halo”, it is clearly part of the dreaded SSB group. SSB’s or Sugar Sweetened Beverages are simply one of the worst food items you can consume on a regular basis.
“With every additional sugary beverage a child drinks daily, the odds of becoming obese increase by 60%,” notes Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Children who consume sugary drinks during infancy are more likely to have obesity within six years. There is emerging research to show that drinking 100% fruit juice regularly at a young age increases the odds of becoming overweight in later years.”
What is the history of Gatorade?
But what about the legendary origin story of Gatorade? Didn’t the drink prove that it was different by winning championships? Well, sorta…
Gatorade was invented in the mid-sixties at the University of Florida College of Medicine after the team’s football coach asked scientists there to help out the team’s recovery. The earliest version wasn’t anything exotic, really, just a mix of lemon juice, phosphate, sugar potassium and sodium. Did it help? Even the team’s players didn’t know.
“I don’t have any answer for whether the Gatorade helped us be a better second-half team or not,” said quarterback Steve Spurrier. “We drank it, but whether it helped us in the second half, who knows?”
But the Gators did win their first Orange Bowl on the stuff and loosing coach Bobby Dodd or the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets did help the hype train when asked about why his team lost.
We didn’t have Gatorade. That made the difference,” he told reporters. Hard to write ad copy better than that.
The “secret” Gatorade that was way more effective
One interesting part of the Gatorade story is that its inventors did not stop with the drink that we all know today. In fact, they created another sports beverage that actually had some science behind its claims of improved performance.
Robert Cade. the leader of the research team of scientists from the University of Florida, created a drink called TQ2, or Thirst Quencher 2 in 1989. Cade said his tests on cyclists found a 30 per cent improvement over Gatorade.
So why isn’t Sidney Crosby knocking bottles of TQ2 off the top of a hockey net today? Like many disappointing stories, the answer is lawyers. After pitching the product to Pepsi, Cade was sued by Quaker, which owns Gatorade. They promptly buried the product, never to see the light of day again.
“In a recent interview, Cade said TQ2 would allow an athlete to exercise 60 percent longer than if he drank water before the workout, reported the New York Times back in 1990. “He said TQ2 would extend workout time by at least 30 percent over an exercise period fueled by another isotonic, or solution-based, drink like Gatorade. He bases his TQ2 performance claims on laboratory tests in which colleagues measured the endurance of seven bicycle riders. Each rider was tested on different occasions after drinking the various solutions and water.”
Cade died in 2007 at the age of 80.
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