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2824 Views 4 Replies Latest reply: Mar 19, 2010 4:44 AM by vanessaruns1
Martin Spierings Amateur 19 posts since
Jun 16, 2008
Currently Being Moderated

Nov 20, 2009 3:26 PM

Should low calorie 'sports' drinks have a place at marathons?

Here's an article I wrote for a local paper. What do people think?

In the Long Run: A time and place for 'sports' drinks

There are so many "sports" and "energy" products out there that I don't blame athletes for getting confused sometimes.

It seems preying on this confusion is the very intent of marketers desperate to find a point of difference for their product.

A wealth of independent scientific research and knowledge is available on sports nutrition and physiology, but it too often gets buried and muddled under the weight of money, marketing and promotions.

At the California International Marathon in two weeks, Ultima Replenisher will be available on the course as the official sports drink of the event.

On the company Web site, a professional triathlete admonishes other sports drinks for using sugar and salt and flaunts Ultima as being packed full of electrolytes.

While excess consumption of sugar -- a carbohydrate -- in your day-to-day diet is bad for your health, it is widely accepted that carbohydrate supplementation during prolonged exercise delays the onset of fatigue.

Kind of a useful thing during a marathon, don't you think?

Just as bizarre is the demonizing of salt -- or sodium chloride -- which is also an electrolyte. Most of you know during exercise you lose sodium chloride in the form of sweat. Replacing this sodium is recommended by scientists to avoid muscle cramps and hyponatremia [a condition of low sodium which has in some cases led to death in marathons].

Otherwise, low concentrations of other electrolytes are found in sweat, so it follows that sodium may be the one electrolyte of some use in a drink designed for endurance sports. I agree sports/energy drinks are over consumed in America by the general population but let's not forget why and for what they were developed for in the first place.

While I understand money margins are tight for race directors, professional athletes and coaches, they have a responsibility not to mislead the athletes they serve by promoting products that make unscrupulous claims.

Martin Spierings won the Santa Cruz Sprint Triathlon this year and coaches endurance athletes. His column on running and triathlon appears monthly in Outside. Contact him at or try the discussion on his blog at

Spierings, M. (2009, November 20). In the Long Run: A time and place for 'sports' Drinks. Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved from

  • BZEns Amateur 15 posts since
    May 11, 2009

    At the Portland Marathon a month ago, they were serving the Ultima Replenisher as the drink on the course. It had no taste, and I really thought I was drinking water during the race. (I still wonder if I was...). At mile 20 I cramped up as bad as I ever had, and struggled my way to the finish. I was caked with salt at the end, and people told me the Ultima did not replace the salts like the drinks I was used to. The post race analysis was to stay with the energy drink I trained with.



  • minx623 Rookie 2 posts since
    Nov 17, 2009

    Good points, sports drinks are substantially over consumed, and finding non-propagandist information sports nutrition takes some effort. From what I remember my Anatomy teacher’s lectures, the body does process energy differently while exercising than at rest. Sodium and calcium are two basic chemicals involved in regulating muscle contraction and significant imbalance causes cramping. Cramping as a result of electrolyte imbalance is going to present itself body-wide, it won’t be isolated to a single muscle or limb. Glycogen (sugar) already stored is our primary source of energy while lipids (fats) are our backups. Lipids are a “dirty” fuel producing by products that our body’s have to remove and process (like lactic acid). So I’d guess that if you want to run fast, long, and recover quickly you want to supplement with a sports drink. If you want to burn off some extra lipids that are weighing you down and don’t mind a little soreness or sluggishness the next day do without or very little.


    I hardly use the sports drinks on or off a course, I really prefer a combination of water and gels or chews. Though, I have heard there is clinical research about sports drinks including protein having measurable benefits on endurance and recovery.

  • EnlytenRunner Amateur 10 posts since
    Mar 9, 2010

    I now preload my electrolytes before running long distances with Enlyten's Electrolytes Strips. 90% absorption... worked so well for me, I became a distributor.   code: DB10

  • vanessaruns1 Expert 40 posts since
    Mar 19, 2010

    Hi guys! I'm a nutrition student also studying to be an athletic trainer. You can learn about natural, holistic sport nutrition here (plus the role of sport drinks and how to make carbs your friends!):

    Vanessa Rodriguez

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