Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hydration & Sports Drinks: The Science Vs. Selling It

In the July issue of the British Medical Journal provided a very insightful look into the science of sports drinks, marketing, and our new fascination with dehydration, which the journal coins the term "the disease of exercise".  You may read the full article here.

During the road running and marathon boom of the 1970s, drinking fluids during exercise was cautioned against as it was thought to slow the athlete down.

Over the years, scientists have been sponsored by companies to develop an area of science entirely for hydration.  This has funneled down entirely to every day fluid consumption.

In the 1960s, Robert Cade, a renal physician, developed a drink with sugar, water, salt, and monosodium phosphate which was mixed with some lemon juice to become Gatorade.

On the marketing side, CocaCola (who acquired Gatorade in the early 2000s) and GlaxoSmithKline (who have their own line of sports drinks) have kept the buzz around sports drinks as a staple.

"The key behind the meteoric rise in consumption of sports drinks lies in the coupling of science with creative marketing. What started life as a mixture of simple kitchen food stuffs has become an “essential piece of sporting equipment."

Outside of hydration, studies have been shown that consumption of glucose with electrolytes can impact longer duration exercises exceeding an hour with also intensity being taking into account.  The marathon 
runner during a 12 mile tempo run has different needs than the group aerobics class participant.

Athletes and avid exercisers alike are blitzed with conflicting advice about hydration (drink x number of 8 oz glasses of water...weigh yourself after activity and drink a pint of water for every pound loss, make sure your urine is a pale yellow).

Another concern is hyponatremia which is a drop in sodium levels and has taken the lives of 16 marathoners and has sent 1600 to the hospital during events.  Hyponatremia is caused from drinking too much (usually water) or having a positive fluid balance.  

The industry has also been reaching out into the school system, where carbonated beverages are now bad, sports drinks have snuck into the lunch rooms, soccer fields, and other practice fields.

This young targeted audience has health care professionals concerned about weight gain and ties to obesity.  Most people overestimate their calorie burn as is while repleting with a 150-200 Calorie beverage when the probably only expended 200-300 Calories, great to maintain weight yet not for weight loss.    

The article is very detailed and covers several more areas about 'scaremongering over the effects of dehydration' (this is the British Journal) and whether the real target audience is the everyday consumer that might causally jog or do a few workout tapes.  

Food for thought: has dehydration been an issue in your practice?  What recommendations have you used in your career?