Sports Drinks: Who Needs Them?

ByABC News
April 18, 2005, 12:56 PM

April 19, 2005 — -- Most supermarkets and convenience stores are well stocked with neon-colored sports drinks and vitamin-fortified "designer water."

These bottled drinks promise to give the drinker energy and vitality -- some even advertise vague rewards like "balance," "focus" and stress relief.

But does the average consumer derive any real benefit from the sports drinks that Americans spent over $5.4 billion on last year?

"It's a marketing gimmick, pure and simple," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Most health experts agree that sports drinks have electrolytes and sodium that are beneficial to professional athletes and marathoners, but have little value to the average user.

"There's a certain appeal in drinking what Olympic athletes drink," Ayoob said, "but it should be just water if you're doing 10 minutes on a treadmill."

And because many enhanced waters contain only small amounts of essential nutrients, Ayoob advises consumers to look elsewhere for nutrition.

"That's what we have food for," said Ayoob.

Other health experts question the sugar and calories these drinks can add to a person's diet.

"It's a way of peddling soda to the health-conscious crowd," said Dr. David Katz, physician and nutrition expert at Yale University School of Medicine.

"If you're in training for the NFL, then having Gatorade at the sidelines is reasonable," Katz said. "But most people use them badly.

"Not only are you not getting any benefit, you're also getting increased calories and sugar," Katz added. "In terms of calories and sugar, just make sure those calories come out of your diet somewhere else."

"It's very much like the commercial for a Hummer or other SUV driving up a mountainside. How many people buying those vehicles are doing that? It's absolutely ridiculous," Katz said.