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Evidence-based mythbusting - a foray in sports products

Peter Gill
Last edited 19th September 2012

Myths are everywhere. Haunted forests. Greek Gods. You name it and there’s probably a myth for it. But what about myths related to sports? Surely athletes and consumers would not spend millions of dollars per year purchasing sports drinks, protein shakes and energy drinks if they didn’t work?

As outlined in the previous blog post on sports performance products, the CEBM team in Oxford looked at the evidence behind sports products. While completing the systematic assessment of the evidence underpinning claims six claims continually re-emerged.

Rather than use our traditional skills of evidence-based medicine, we experimented with a foray in evidence-based mythbusting (EBMythbusting).

Did your coach ever tell you to drink more fluid if the colour of your urine was dark? If they did, they better have provided you with a “urine colour chart” as athletes are less reliable than trained investigators at distinguishing the colour of their urine. Well if not, consider yourself lucky by having avoided many unnecessary trips to the toilet. The evidence is scarce to suggest that using urine colour is a useful or accurate as a marker of hydration. Best-case scenario is that first morning urine can tell you your hydration status.

Despite sport companies wanting you to believe that “Your brain may know a lot, but it doesn’t know when your body is thirsty. You need to drink during exercise before you feel thirsty in order to get enough fluids in your body to maintain your performance level”, the evidence suggests that drinking before you are thirsty may worsen performance and puts athletes at risk of hyponatraemia (low blood sodium levels). Apparently the human body worked before sports drinks were invented.

Does Red Bull really give you wings? Well the company at least states that “in extensive studies it has been repeatedly proven that Red Bull increases performance”. In reality any caffeine slightly improves performance (not flying), but is this surprising? Why else do we drink coffee in the morning?

Surely if protein and carbohydrate combinations after working out stimulates “increased uptake of glucose by the cells, resulting in faster glycogen storage” then it must improve performance. Unfortunately EBMythbusting has revealed that the effect is inconsistent and probably no better than a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Apparently Mom was right all along.

Pure branch chain amino acids. These just sound like they must work. Apparently they, amongst other things, can “help to sustain a healthy immune system during periods of intense training and play an important role in fatigue and performance”. Maybe, at best, and only to potentially reduce muscle soreness. But isn’t feeling sore after the gym a reminder that you exercised!

Sick of your skin? Do you want a second skin? Well here is the answer for you: “this ultra-tight, second-skin fit delivers a locked-in feel that keeps your muscles fresh and your recovery time fast”. Might as well stick to a massage or hot/icy cold-water therapy as these tend to work just as well to improve recovery.

EBMythbusting has challenged these common sports myths. Maybe practicing evidence-based medicine is really just an exercise in mythbusting. Why don’t you give it a try?

*Note: this blog has also been posted on Evidence Live Blog.

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