Sports drinks are used to improve performance in pretty much every sport, but this practice has been called into doubt in recent years. In a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers examined the effects of sports drinks on tennis players to find answers.
The researchers chose tennis due to its variability and long, grueling season. Tennis matches could be either short and intense or prolonged beyond three hours. It’s not uncommon for a player to have more than one match a day for several days in a row.
In this study, each athlete performed several tests to see how both tennis play and beverage choice impacted performance. They were tested for grip strength, power, fatigue, sprinting speed, and anaerobic endurance via a repeated sprint ability test.
The players also engaged in three full tennis matches of about two hours each. All three matches took place over the course of a day and a half. There were three total conditions the researchers used:
- In one of the trials, each player drank a sports drink before, during, and after the matches.
- In another trial, the players drank a placebo instead, but in the same amounts and at the same times as the sport drink.
- In the final condition, they didn’t play any tennis and only engaged in the tests.
The only significant difference between taking a sports drink and drinking the placebo was in upper body fatigue. Only the lateral head of the triceps was more fatigued when not consuming the sports drink.
Although it wasn’t significant, there was a trend toward improved but less consistent sprinting ability without the sports drink. In the 10m, 20m, and repeated sprint ability tests, performance was best in condition number two, the placebo condition. Since sprint performance was even better in the placebo condition than it was in condition number three, when the athletes didn’t play tennis at all, the tennis game may have potentiated the sprinting.
For whatever reason, during the sports drink condition the athletes clocked slower times. Performance varied more in the non-sports-drink group, indicating that the drink may have had a stabilizing effect on performance.
The researchers concluded the study with an important consideration for all athletes. Even in a game situation as rigorous as these study conditions, with six hours of competitive play spread out over a day and a half, the sports drinks weren’t particularly important. So long as the athletes remained hydrated and ate healthy, balanced meals when they were able, it seems they took care of all of their nutritional needs.
1. Thibault Brink-Elfegoun, et. al., “Effects of sports drinks on the maintenance of physical performance during 3 tennis matches: a randomized controlled study,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014, 11:46
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