Exercising Australians may be drinking too much

In Health and Nutrition by LivingNowLeave a Comment

Expert slams Gatorade for dangerous fluid levels during exercise.

South African hydration expert, Professor Tim Noakes, slammed the likes of Gatorade and the role of sports drinks in setting the agenda on fluid intake during exercise, saying Australians are more likely to do damage by over-consumption of fluids than suffer any ill-effects of dehydration.

Prof Noakes addressed over 800 exercise physiologists from across Australia at Exercise & Sports Science Australia’s (ESSA) ‘Research to Practice’ Conference recently. In his keynote address he shared beliefs that the ‘science’ of drinking during exercise was commercially manipulated, with some fatal consequences, and, predictably, that these guidelines were associated with a ten-fold increase in annual turnover for Gatorade from $217 million in 1985 to $2.69 billion, 18 years later. Here’s a summary of what he shared.

While the likes of Gatorade have us believe we need to be drinking 1.2 litres per hour during exercise, there is no clinical research that proves this; in fact over-consumption of fluids could be detrimental.

These claims have had athletes across the world believe that drinking any less would negatively impact on performance, which is completely unfounded. Some of the most successful athletes in the world are the ones who drink the least. The dreaded ‘dehydration’ disease had to be created only to produce a commercial windfall that would result from this radical change in the drinking behaviour of athletes.

Drinking too much during exercise in fact negatively impacts on performance due to the excess weight carried by the athlete and, more seriously, the potentially fatal complication, Exercise-Associated Hyponatraemic Encephalopathy (EAHE).

In 1965 Dr Robert Cade developed the world’s first sports drink at the University of Florida. He believed that only by drinking during exercise could athletes optimise their performances and protect themselves from heat stroke. This is despite the absence of any evidence, then as now, that dehydration plays any role in the development of heat illness during exercise.

Despite the absolute absence of any evidence to support this attractive hypothesis, within a short time this new dogma was accepted by US Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine (USARIEM), the US Military and a cadre of industry-supported scientists advising important international thought-leaders such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Several Position Statements on Thermal Injuries during Distance Running were developed by ACSM in the years that followed, proposing that athletes should drink at high rates during exercise to optimise their performance and reduce their risk of developing ‘heat illness’. These Position Statements and 2007 updates represent an interesting collaboration of the ACSM, funded since 1992 by the US sports drink industry (Gatorade), USARIEM and the US Military – perhaps the single largest user of Gatorade – since all the senior authors were either trained at, or are currently employed by, USARIEM or the US Army.

This is not a conspiracy theory – just following the facts and differentiating between guidelines developed for commercial gain and those clinically proven.


Timothy David Noakes (born 1949) is a South African professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town. He has run more than 70 marathons and ultramarathons, and is the author of the running book Lore of Running. He addressed a conference for Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) members in Australia recently. ESSA is the peak professional body for exercise and sports science in Australia and provides national leadership and advocacy on key issues.

Share this post

Leave a Comment