Years ago, water was the only thing the average athlete took to quench thirst. Today, there are different sports drinks looking for an audience. They come in various shapes, colors, and sizes. But they all promise one thing: to give you “energy” and “power” to perform better and play harder.
The first sports drink was invented in 1965. At that time, University of Florida researchers were looking for something to replace the sweat lost by members of the Florida State Gators football team.
“The scientists knew that playing football under the hot Florida sun can cause substantial fluid loss. The new formula was designed to prevent dehydration. It was also supposed to supply carbohydrates to the players’ muscles and to replace their electrolytes – important minerals such as sodium that are lost through sweat,” according to the editors of Consumer Reports.
When the Gators went on a winning streak, observers credited their success to Gatorade as the formula was called. By 1967, that sports drink was introduced to consumers and it remains the market leader today.
It wasn’t long before other sports drinks flooded the US market with sales of over $1 billion. At present, about 20 companies in the United States alone have their own special performance drinks with familiar names like Gatorade and Powerade competing with the lesser-known energy drinks like Blue Thunder (which happens to be pink) and Exceed.
Of course, people aren’t buying them for taste. Tests made by Consumer Reports on popular brands show that many sports drinks taste bad – the reason perhaps why manufacturers are adding more sugar and less sodium to new products. Of all the sports drinks, those that are protein-packed or vitamin-enriched seem to have the most problems when it comes to taste.
“Had we rated sports drinks as we usually rate foods and beverages, none would have scored better than fair. One drawback was their candy-like flavor, which was more similar to an orange or lemon-lime lollipop than real fruit. The electrolytes in these drinks give them unpleasant off tastes: most tasted slightly salty, bitter, and astringent, and left a metallic aftertaste,” according to taste-testers at Consumer Reports.
Athletes and other people, however, buy these drinks because they believe these will help them perform better and improve stamina. After all, who can argue with basketball star Michael Jordan who reportedly received $18 million to endorse Gatorade? If Mike drinks it, shouldn’t we too?
But does science support these claims? Can sports drinks really make a difference or are you better off with plain water instead? Let’s examine the evidence.
“The more familiar sports drinks generally contain simple carbohydrates, water, and a little sodium and potassium. You’re not likely to morph into Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Jordan by drinking them, but nutritionists say they can help replace energy burned and water lost during an hour or more of rigorous exercise on the soccer field or during a long-distance swim, run or bike ride. They provide some readily available energy if consumed a few minutes before a workout,” said the editors of On Health magazine.
So if a kid runs straight to the soccer field after school, he or she may be better off with the carbohydrates found in Gatorade or Powerade. In that particular instance, the body’s energy is low and a good sports drink can remedy that. But that’s about as good as they get. (Next: Can sports drinks effectively replace sweat?)
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