The allegedly vast importance of "hydration" in exercise is now almost a cliché. (AP)

Hydration myth exposed

Oliver Thring
Anyone who has visited the Olympic Park will not have missed the ubiquitous branding of two of its sponsors, McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

But in the athletes' village you are likely see a few bottles of Powerade or Lucozade, respectively a "partner" and "service provider" to the Games. Coca-Cola owns Powerade and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Lucozade.

The allegedly vast importance of "hydration" in exercise is now almost a cliché. But the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published a long analysis of the science behind the claim, which shows how the hydration fanaticism has been established in large part through studies funded by GSK, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which owns Gatorade. The BMJ severely criticises much of this, citing small sample sizes, poorly designed research, data dredging and significant financial conflicts of interest from study authors.

The research suggests that, once again, marketing and bad science can establish myths in the public mind that can change its shopping habits and make millions for conglomerates. Sports drinks, if they "work" at all, work for endurance athletes, not for an ordinary person puffing about on a cross-trainer twice a week, or for teenagers having a Saturday kick-

about. According to Tim Noakes, professor of exercise and sports science at Cape Town University: "Over the past 40 years humans have been misled, mainly by the marketing departments of companies selling sports drinks, to believe that they need to drink to stay 'ahead of thirst' to be optimally hydrated."

It is worrying when doctors have to remind us that water is enough to quench our thirst. – © Guardian News and Media 2012

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