Isotonic drinks are super easy to make so it does make me wonder why we aren’t all doing it! Marketing has a lot to answer for… The competition for sports drinks market share is huge with phenomenal spend per year going on research and development and communicating the ‘rehydration’ message to consumers. The sports drink industry in the UK is currently at £260m a year while in the US it is projected to reach $2bn by 2016. This rise in sports drink consumption is led by the belief that we cannot hydrate with water alone and that fluid intake is as critical to athletic performance as proper training is.
The ‘water isn’t good enough’ belief system is fed to consumers and developed through interwoven relationships with research institutes and professional athletes – all funded by multinationals. Oh the complex web! In 2001 PepsiCo bought Gatorade. Coca-Cola owns Powerade while the pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) owns Lucozade. Powerade was a partner company to the London 2012 Olympics and Powerade a service provider to the London 2012 Olympics. On a more local scale sports drinks and supplement companies aim to work with gyms and gym instructors. Virgin Active has a partnership with Powerade, for example, and the GSK owned supplement brand, Maxinutrition (previously Maximuscle), has a partnership with LA Fitness. It has become common for athletes to test and monitor hydration levels and to reason that performance was altered or hindered by dehydration – lack of hydration. Therefore the athlete needs to hydrate as quickly and efficiently as possible with the best possible combination of fluids and nutrients. The link between what they drank and what performance levels were has become a measure of success. Drinking ahead of thirst and training your gut to tolerate more fluid are added marketing bonuses…. Or are they? Where does the truth lay? Is the science being overcomplicated in an effort to increase sales? Or just over-marketed?
I will admit to being a staunch believer in pre-hydration and sports drinks for athletes or those exercising for more than an hour; I also don’t see the problem with using clinical trials and scientific evidence to disseminate information in an effort to increase sales. I aim for 3L (I usually reach 2L) per day of water to maintain optimum health so it stands to reason that athletes need even more fluid due to sweating. I will also admit however to basing my beliefs on the science of those of my generation. My bible of sports nutrition Practical Sports Nutrition written by Louise Burke PhD who works for the Australian Institute of Sport often sits on my desk as a reference tool. Many studies I read have the name Ron Maughan in them (an eminent researcher in sports nutrition and professor at Loughborough University). However my own knowledge and those of my peers may even be swayed by the multinationals - Louise Burke and Ron Maughan both have financial links (personal or institutional) to Gatorade and their book Food, Nutrition and Sports Performance II: The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Sports Nutrition, published in 2004 was supported by Coca-Cola, the makers of Powerade. While this may sound biased it isn’t necessarily so – research needs funding from somewhere and a respected professional wont want to lose any of their professional integrity by publishing research that is against their ethos even if it fits a multinationals marketing requirements.
It is however a fine line. Just as a GP can be swayed to prescribe a certain drug because the pharma manufacturer took them on a nice break to the Caribbean (for a conference of course) or gave them a free lunch a sports nutritionist or gym instructor too can be swayed by power and money.
Recently I came across Dr Tim Noakes who is viewed as a maverick in the medical world. He has a book called Waterlogged that takes you inside the science of athlete hydration for a fascinating look at the human body’s need for water and how it uses the liquids it ingests. This, like most of the conclusions I come to regarding health, brings us back to the principle that every body is different. Just as we metabolise and utilise vitamins and minerals differently so we do water. Listen to your body, find out what works for you. Which practices make you feel great and which ones do you need to change?
In the meantime here is a DIY recipe for a sports isotonic drink. This is a drink I rarely use myself as I’m not an endurance athlete but it has been trialled and is often used by athletes I work with.
DIY Sports Drink
30gm fructose aka fruit sugar
20gm sucrose aka sugar
1/4 tspn sea or mineral salt
10ml lemon juice bottled or fresh
Method: Combine and mix well. That’s it!
This costs approximately 10p or 20c to make – a few pence more if you splash the cash and use a real lemon ;)