Rather than being beneficial to your health, medics warn that popular brands including Lucozade Sport and Powerade contain too much sugar and calories, which instead encourage weight gain.
The researchers investigated 431 marketing claims of performance enhancement for 104 products, including protein shakes and energy drinks. They found that more than half of the performance enhancing products be promoted using marketing claims that weren’t based on evidence.
The joint investigation by the British Medical Journal and the BBC, broadcast in Thursday's Panorama on BBC One, suggests that those participating in sport are wasting their money on the drinks and maybe misled by the dubious claims.
Dr Matthew Thompson, from the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, said drinking such products “could completely counteract exercising more, playing football more, going to the gym more” in terms of weight loss.
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The team found that many of the drinks contained high levels of sugar. A 500ml bottle of Powerade Ion4 contains 19.6g of sugar, while bottles of Lucozade Sport and Gatorade the same size contain 17.5g and 30g of sugar respectively.
Many firms provided no evidence for their claims but GlaxoSmithKline provided 174 studies for Lucozade which they claim is “proven to enhance physical endurance”.
However, writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers said they could only find three studies in total that were high quality with a low risk of bias to support the brands’ claims.
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The team said even though rigorous studies show sports drinks improved endurance this is of limited relevance to most people because the tests were on elite athletes.
“Sports drinks carry nutritional information on the label, including the calorie content. By helping people participating in sport to perform better and to recover more quickly, sports drinks can encourage people to exercise more,” a spokesman from the British Soft Drinks Association said.
“It is well established that one of the factors that can help sporting performance is drinking the right amount of the right kind of drink.”