Researchers Take On Energy Drinks and the Marketers Behind The Curtain


This morning, I came across an interesting link while perusing the Internet (thanks for the link, Ken). On his site Weighty Matters, Yoni Freedhoff summarized seven journal articles in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The over-arching theme of these articles? That there is little to no credible evidence demonstrating any real or tangible benefits of taking sports drinks in preparation for or during exercise. So marketing people are full of shit -- probably not ground-breaking news, right?

Well, the fact that there were seven peer-reviewed journal articles published on the subject at hand is pretty astounding -- in a journal that consistently ranks in the world's top ten general medical journals (measured by Impact Factor) no less. There's gotta be some meat there for this much to be written on the topic -- and there is.

For an early summary, I'll defer to Freedhoff's conclusion (he's a medical doctor, which I am not. Also, as an assistant obesity professor at the University of Ottawa, he certainly knows far, far more about these topics than I do. It's clear that Freedhoff has his own opinions on food, marketing, and health that are very aligned with these articles, but that's certainly not a large issue):

These articles are all unbelievably important, both in regard to the recommendations we give ourselves and our children, as well as in regard to just how unwise it is to let Big Food push an agenda. They are not our friend.

Huge props to the BMJ and to their investigative partner BBC Panorama for this groundbreaking series.

I'm going to need to digest the articles individually and make notes on them to get a better sense of what's going on, but I thought the studies are worth everyone's attention for a number of reasons, especially because the authors of the articles very clearly did their homework. Standard caveat: I'm not a medical doctor, nor am I giving any advice based on these articles. The authors very clearly state in many cases that much more data is needed before anything definitive can be said -- and that's the big takeaway, I think. (That, and never trust a marketer and their pseudo-scientific BS.)

Ok, so what did the authors find that is so interesting?

1) The piss test isn't all that useful. (in 'Mythbusting sports and exercise products')

Evidence is lacking to suggest that urine colour is a useful, safe, or accurate marker of hydration.

2) Drinking needs to only be done to thirst. (in "To drink or not to drink to drink recommendations")

This evidence and the finding that the athletes who lose the most body mass during marathon or ultra-marathon races and Ironman triathlons are usually the most successful, would suggest that there exists a tolerable range for dehydration that may not negatively impact on running performance.

3) Advertisers tend to reference suspect studies. This should not be news to anyone. (in "The evidence underpinning sports performance products: a systematic assessment")

4) Researchers are often put in positions where their credibility is compromised by corporate contributions. (in "The truth about sports drinks)

In America, the sports drinks industry also made a push into the area of clinical science. In 1992, the American College of Sports Medicine—the “premier organization in sports medicine and exercise science” with over 45 000 members—accepted a $250,000 donation from Gatorade.

Four years later, in 1996, the American College of Sports Medicine produced guidelines that adopted a “zero % dehydration” doctrine, advising athletes to “drink as much as tolerable.” This guidance grew out of a roundtable meeting in 1993 “supported” by Gatorade.

5) User-generated reviews and data give marketers a lot more leeway in what they can claim (i.e. your Facebook-submitted "photo reviews" really are the worst thing). (in 'Miracle pills and fireproof trainers: user endorsement in social media')

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There's a whole lot more in the articles, all linked and summarized by Freedhoff over at Weighty Matters. Most of the articles are free (maybe all of them, but I'm not 100% certain about that; I got the PDFs through a university library today). So have a look for yourself -- I'd love to hear what you guys think about them.

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