Jan 29, 2015
Examining Protein in Sports Drinks

An independent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2004 found that adding protein to sports drinks consumed during exercise improved performance. Now, another study in the same journal has refuted that conclusion, finding that the presence of protein offers no performance benefit.

The double-blind study, which was funded by Gatorade, Inc., and published in the journal’s August edition, tested 10 experienced male cyclists in three separate 80-km time trials on stationary bikes. For one ride, the athletes were given a sports drink containing carbohydrates but no protein; for another, they were given a drink containing carbohydrates and two-percent protein; for the third, they were given a placebo that contained neither additive. The researchers found that while the carbohydrates did provide a performance boost, there was no additional performance benefit from the protein.

In explaining why this study reached a different conclusion than some earlier ones, the authors pointed to two possibilities. First, they noted that the rate of carbohydrate ingestion in previous research was “less than what is considered optimal for endurance performance.” They also wrote that earlier studies measured performance using exercise time to exhaustion, instead of assigning a fixed amount of work to be performed as quickly as possible (such as the 80-km time trial). The fixed work, they said, more closely simulates typical athletic competitions.

“Sports drinks improve performance during prolonged exercise because of two key ingredients: carbohydrate, which provides fuel for working muscles, and sodium, which helps to maintain fluid balance,” Martin Gibala, PhD, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University, told the Ancaster (Ontario) News. “Research also supports the practice of consuming protein after exercise to promote muscle recovery. However, the alleged benefit of consuming protein during exercise is controversial.”

The study, “Failure of Protein to Improve Time Trial Performance when Added to a Sports Drink,” appears in the Aug. 2006 edition (Volume 38, Issue 8) of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. It can be downloaded for a fee, and the abstract can be viewed for free, by visiting: www.ms-se.com and clicking on “Archive.”

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