It is somewhat expected that businesses and organizations in Great Britain would try to capitalize on the attention the upcoming Olympic Games will bring. The British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) left little question behind the timing of its attack on sports products, namely sports and energy drinks. These functional beveragepopular with athletes of all classes around the worldhave had their critics in the U.S. government (see recent Sen. Durbin (D-IL)-led initiatives), but for a prominent world medical journal prominent around the world to come out with such a scathing series of critiques (see: "The BMJ's Amazing Shock and Awe Assault on Sport Drink Science" at Forbes) is significant.
In a nutshell, BMJ's investigation of sports drink found benefit claims for most sports and energy drinks were based on weak scientific evidence, and existing research used to support these claims suffers from numerous design flaws. It pointed a disappointed finger at the European Food Safety AUthority 9EFSA), which upheld several product claims certain sprots drinks are better hydrators thatn water alone, after reviewing the submitted evidence. BMJ noted EFSA relied, in part, on American sports medicine experts influenced by sports drink companies.
The journal argued the overstated advice on hydration stems from company-sponsored scientists who have been in the ears of sports medicine organizations, sports leagues and trainers. Gatorade is listed as one of the pioneers of this movement. It argued Gatorade's influence on the US military and several medical journals were catalysts for furthering the calls for increased hydration during exertion. Glaxo's Lucozade is also highlighted, including its origins as a glucose supplement.
Beyond products, BMJ also looked at prevailing wisdom and advice on hydration in sports. There is little evidence to support urine-checking (for color) as a field test for hydration sufficiency. Unlike the modern hydration mantra, BMJ said thirst is indeed an reliable indicator of hydration during exercise.
BMJ further cited recent results from the Centre of Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University assessment of evidence behind hundreds of performance-enhancing claims in advertising for sports drinks, protein shakes and footwear. Of the studies submitted by companies upon requesta good portion of which was on Lucozadethe centre reported only about three percent were of high quality and a low risk of bias. "There was no substantial evidence to suggest that liquid is any better than solid carbohydrate intake and there were no studies in children," wrote Debra Cohen, Investigative editor for BMJ, which also reviewed submitted studies. "Given the high sugar content and the propensity to dental erosions children should be discouraged from using sports drinks."
BMJ also argued there is a difference between the highly trained and active endurance athletes used in many studies and the scores of weekend warriors who don't train or compete nearly as hard or as often. "Yet its precisely these people that companies are targeting," BMJ said. The journal also argued the sugar content of some sports and energy drinks could be contributing to obesity.
A few days later, the United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned citizens to avoid illegal sports supplements after the agency found 84 sports products sold in the kingdom were adulterated with steroids, stimulants and hormones. MHRA asked major supplement companies to submit their products for review. They were especially focused on anything that might contain ephedrine, synephrine and yohimbine.
Further deepening the sports supplement claims and adulteration discussions in England during the Olympics UK boxer Enzo Maccarinelli, who recently won the British cruiseweight title, responded to his positive doping test (for the stimulant methylhexamine) and ban by saying he took a fat-burning sport supplement he now believes was not marketed as a fitness booster, but as an "approved supplement for fighters." He may sue the company behind the product, which he said made him sick and kept his use of it to four days. ""There wasn't a high level in my test and in the email I had from UK Anti-Doping agrees with the fact I didn't knowingly put this stuff in my body, they agreed that I didn't intend to enhance my performance in any way and they agreed there wasn't enough substance in my system to be any sort of use on fight night," he told the BBC.
As exciting as the Olympic competitions are likely to be, supplement industry insiders may do well to keep an eye out for continued criticisms of sports products, including drinks and supplements, during the opportunistic window the Olympic Games provide.