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Sports drinks don't improve athletic performance

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sports drinks do not improve athletic performance despite advertising claims, a University of Florida study released Monday showed.

However, the drinks do replenish needed minerals during endurance contests, the study said.

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Exercise physiologist David Criswell said advertising for many sports drinks suggests drinking a mixture of glucose and electrolytes such as potassium and sodium will enhance athletic ability. In fact, the product's effectiveness depends on the level of endurance required by the sport, he said.

'We found that the drinks did a better job at replacing the minerals,' Criswell said. 'And that promotes endurance. That's the only reason they really should drink it.

'It may not improve performance or make them a better athlete, but it's good for the body,' he said.

For example, Criswell said, the drinks work for marathon runners who rely on endurance but do not help athletes who depend on strategy and agility.

Criswell recently studied the effect of sports drinks on high school athletes and found little evidence to support advertising claims that the drinks improve athletic performance.

University of Florida researchers divided a high school football team into two groups. The players ran eight 40-yard sprints, simulating football scrimmages. Between sprints, half the athletes drank a brand name sports drink that claims to improve athletic ability while the other half drank artificially sweetened and colored water.

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'We found no difference in performance at all,' Criswell said. 'Neither team was better than the other.'

University of Florida kidney specialist Robert Cade opened the market for sports drinks in 1965 when he invented 'thirst-quenching' Gatorade, the best-selling sports drink in the country. Unlike other drinks, Gatorade ads focus on the product's ability to quickly replace the body's fluids.

Other studies of sports drinks have been conducted, Criswell said, but they have only dealt with long-distance runners.

'Football teams usually invest in these beverages because they expect them to make their players better athletes,' Criswell said. 'We wondered if it was true.'

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