Sports Drinks

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Sports Drinks are a segment of drinks marketed to athletes to replenish fluids and electrolytes after strenuous exercise. Gatorade (sold by PepsiCo) and Powerade (sold by Coca-Cola) are two such products. Sports drinks are sometimes discussed together with energy drinks such as Red Bull.

"Marketing strategies for sports drinks suggest optimization of athletic performance and replacement of fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat during and after exercise, and marketing strategies for energy drinks purport a boost in energy, decreased fatigue, enhanced concentration, and mental alertness. Sports drinks are different products than energy drinks; therefore, the terms should not be used interchangeably. Sports drinks are flavored beverages that often contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes (eg, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium), and sometimes vitamins or other nutrients. Although the term “energy” can be perceived to imply calories, energy drinks typically contain stimulants, such as caffeine and guarana, with varying amounts of carbohydrate, protein, amino acids, vitamins, sodium, and other minerals."[1]

A 2014 study found that 14.1% of calories consumed by Americans over age 6 came from added sugars and that "soda and energy and sports drinks were the largest food group sources of added sugars (34.4%)."[2]

Consumption Trends

"Traditionally, bodybuilders and athletes were the only consumers for sports nutrition products. In recent years, new user groups (recreational and lifestyle users) have increased their market share. The market is also witnessing a shift from major markets (North America) towards developing markets in Europe and Asia Pacific."[3]

Between 1989 and 2008, consumption of sports drinks among school-aged children (ages 6-11) increased from 2 percent to 12 percent.[4]

For the year ending April 20, 2014, U.S. sales of sports drinks totaled more than $5.5 billion. This represented less than 2 percent growth over sales from the previous year. Together, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo account for 99 percent of market share, with Pepsi's Gatorade and Propel brands making up 77.7 percent of the market and Coca-Cola's Powerade making up 21.3%. The industry believes the stagnant growth is because consumers are increasingly turning to nutritional drinks like protein drinks and meal replacement drinks instead of sports drinks.[5]

Corporate PR

A study sponsored by Coca-Cola compared sports drinks to water in their abilities to hydrate and nourish athletes and found that "Drinking plain water can improve performance in endurance exercise, but there are further performance improvements when carbohydrate and electrolytes are added" and "The current generation of commercially available sports drinks are generally a good compromised formulation to meet the needs of many athletes in many different situations."[6] Another study, funded by the industry front group the International Life Sciences Institute, noted that although "During high-intensity 1-hour exercise duration, research has shown that fluid intake is not important for maximization of endurance performance," they recommend that athletes "mouth-rinse" with sports drinks.[7] Likewise, in Japan, Asahi Soft Drinks Company supplied the sports drinks used in a study that was co-authored by an Asahi employee.[8] The study found that "hypotonic sports drinks are appealing for athletes to drink during exercise, and may help to offset fluid losses and attenuate some inflammatory responses to exercise."

Comparatively, another 2014 study found that "Ingestion of a 6% CHO-electrolyte beverage [sports drink] before and during soccer match play did not benefit blood glucose concentrations throughout the second half of exercise."[9] Pediatrics published findings that "Pediatric athletes can benefit from using sports drinks that contain carbohydrates, protein, or electrolytes; however, for the average child engaged in routine physical activity, the use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the school lunchroom is generally unnecessary... Excessive regular consumption of carbohydrate-containing beverages increases overall daily caloric intake without significant additional nutritional value. Therefore, frequent consumption adversely affects the appropriate balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes needed for optimal growth, development, body composition, and health."[10]

Resources and Articles

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" Pediatrics, May 29, 2011.
  2. Drewnowski A, Rehm CD, "Consumption of added sugars among US children and adults by food purchase location and food source," Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul 16.
  3. "Sports Nutrition Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 - 2019," PR Newswire US. May 6, 2014.
  4. Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM, "Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008," Nutr J. 2011 Oct 2;10:103. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-103.
  5. "Sports drinks work to maintain market share," Beverage Industry, July 1, 2014, Vol. 105 Issue 7, pSOI-6-SOI-7.
  6. Shirreffs SM, "Hydration in sport and exercise: water, sports drinks and other drinks," Nutrition Bulletin (NUTR BULL), 2009 Dec; 34 (4): 374-9.
  7. Goulet, Eric DB, "Dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes," Nutrition Reviews (NUTR REV), 2012 Nov; 70: Supplement: S132-6.
  8. Suzuki K1, Hashimoto H, Oh T, Ishijima T, Mitsuda H, Peake JM, Sakamoto S, Muraoka I, Higuchi M, "The effects of sports drink osmolality on fluid intake and immunoendocrine responses to cycling in hot conditions," J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2013;59(3):206-12.
  9. Russell M, Benton D, Kingsley M, "Carbohydrate Ingestion Before and During Soccer Match Play and Blood Glucose and Lactate Concentrations," J Athl Train. 2014 Jun 16.
  10. Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" Pediatrics, May 29, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles