BSDA off blocks to chase down 'alarmist' media on sports drinks

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Picture Copyright: Jon Ross
Picture Copyright: Jon Ross

Related tags Sports drinks Drink Drinking

Media reports suggesting that mainstream consumers are putting their health at risk by consuming sports drinks are ‘inaccurate and alarmist’ according to the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA).

One such story in the Daily Express​ was based upon research from the Natural Hydration Council (NHC), which warned in its 'Sports Drinks Misuse' survey based on 2,000 people surveyed, that 11m UK adults – and over a quarter of all men – were drinking sports drinks sitting at office desks.

Meanwhile, 18% of respondents - surveyed by Research Runner for the NRC from February 24-29 - said they consumed the drinks to ward off a hangover, while 19% drank sports drinks, either in ‘energy’ (calories, sugars, salt) or ‘isotonic’ (extra salt) forms, to combat tiredness.

But the NHC said it was surprised that 160m litres of sports drinks were drunk each year, since the target population for sports drinks – according to the European Food Safety Authority – in a June 2011 scientific opinion on carbohydrate-electron solutions - was "active individuals performing endurance exercise”.

Having surveyed 2,000 UK adults, the NHC said it had uncovered further “worrying attitudes”​ towards hydration methods during exercise.

Water was the most suitable rehydration drink for any physical activity lasting less than 45 minutes, the NHC said, but despite this 35% of respondents chose sports drinks over water for 'extra energy', 21% for 'better hydration' and 20% because they 'prefer the taste'.

'Shocking' nice trainer preference

“Shockingly, when asked what was the most essential for exercise, water sits at the bottom of the priority list ranked below ‘nice sportswear’ and ‘specialist trainers’," ​the NHC said.

The NHC also had hard words for an undeniably mainstream energy/sports drinks category that market research firm Mintel said was worth over £1bn (€1.2bn) in 2011 (£625m: 2006).

Speaking on behalf of the NHC, Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University, said: ”The consumption levels and situations in which people are consuming these sports drinks are worrying.

“These products are designed for highly active sportspeople undertaking regular high-intensity training and performance exercise lasting for more than 45 minutes,”​ he said.

Gately added: “What’s even more concerning is that this insight is paired with people not drinking enough water or at the right times.”

Desk-bound sports drink fans

We asked Richard Laming, BSDA media director whether he agreed with the NHC that there was a problem with desk-bound adults drinking energy drinks?

He told “Consumption of any food or drink has to be understood within the context of diet – you can’t talk about any food or drink as being healthy or unhealthy, it’s always about overall diet and lifestyle.”

“I think the thing to take from the NHC project is that people who are exercising often don’t think about drinking fluids at all – that’s what they found. The NHC is encouraging people to drink bottled water, and for a lot of people that’s obviously the right thing to do.”

The BSDA said in a separate statement that, while many sports drinks were designed to meet specialist needs of elite athletes, that is not to say that no-one else should drink them.

Other sports drinks were designed for lighter training sessions or low intensity gym workouts, while others were more suited for endurance exercise, the body added.

“Some are high in carbohydrate, others contain very little. Choosing the right drink to suit your exercise session is as important as choosing the right footwear,” ​the BSDA said.

Mintel’s September 2011 research on UK sports and energy drinks tipped premium private-label energy/sports drinks brands to benefit from recession-hit consumers, and further price competition given affordable products from newcomers such as Monster and Relentless.

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