Don’t believe what you read about sports drinks and other performance enhancers

Makers of sports drinks and other performance enhancing products such as supplements and clothing regularly make performance claims that are presented as firm evidence. A new analysis reveals that the evidence is usually weak or entirely absent.

I’m not really surprised by this. People want to believe a sugary, tasty Gatorade is better for them than water or Coke even when there’s no solid reason to think that’s true. Market these products right –by showing professional athletes relying on them, for example– and you’re all set. I’m not a strong proponent of regulating such claims, but it’s worthwhile to encourage consumers to think critically and not take such claims for granted.

To me, the situation is a cautionary tale for those who would have the FDA reduce its oversight of drugs and devices. Imagine if pharmaceutical makers could put out such flimsy claims. I bet many would do it.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Fewer than half of products making performance enhancement claims had references to studies backing them up
  • When there were studies, 84 percent had a “high risk” of bias
  • Only 74 of the studies referred to in 431 claims were appropriate for such claims
  • Only 3 of the 74 studies were judged “high quality and at low risk of bias” and none at all had undergone systematic review

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