TRIED&TESTED: THIRST PAST THE POST

Sports drinks claim to put the pep back into flagging gymnasts. Our hea lth enthusiasts put them to the taste
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The Independent Culture
IF YOU have a demanding squash match coming up, or are in training for a half-marathon - or if you simply do some aerobics once or twice a week - sports drinks might help to improve your performance and restore your energy afterwards. Though the claims made for some products should be taken - appropriately enough - with a pinch of salt, sports drinks are more than just flavoured water in gimmicky packaging. Their main health benefit is that, because of the salts and sugars they contain, they replace fluids lost through sweating more effectively than water can. This could help to reduce fatigue and maintain performance. Drinks described as "isotonic" - which have a concentration of solids similar to blood - are best at this. Drinks with a lower concentration of sugars will be less good at promoting fluid absorption, but better for slimmers because they have fewer calories. Those with a higher concentration of sugars will do less to aid fluid absorption, but will boost energy.

We asked a panel of sports enthusiasts from the Holmes Place Barbican Health Club in London to try out a selection of drinks. Jane Griffin, a sports dietician and consultant to the British Olympic Association, assessed how effective they would be in helping athletes to reach their peak before a big match or reviving them during or after it.

THE PANEL Michelle Dand and Sandra Mundy, aerobics teachers; Jonathan Parker, personal trainer (all three of them staff at the Holmes Place Barbican Health Club, London); John Hearn, a member of the same club.

THE TEST Panellists gave the drinks marks out of 10 for taste, how thirst-quenching they were, how much they renewed energy, how convenient they were to use and the appearance of the packaging. Jane Griffin gave her professional opinion on each one.

**ISOSTAR 25cl can, 55p As you would guess from the name, this is an isotonic drink - one with a lemon flavour. "Like Lemsip," said Michelle Dand. Our panel couldn't agree on it. According to Jonathan Parker, it was one of the best-tasting. Sandra Mundy also liked it because it wasn't fizzy: "I found it far more effective at thirst-quenching, and more suitable to drink during a work-out because it wasn't like filling yourself with gas." But John Hearn found it "disgusting, with a horrible aftertaste".

Jane Griffin commented that, like other isotonic drinks, this one would replace fluid and energy. She was sceptical about the manufacturer's boast that it replaces minerals lost during exercise: "With the exception of sodium, vitamins and minerals are probably not necessary in a sports drink. You can replace any losses from the general diet."

A more economical version of this drink, in a powder form which you mix up with water yourself, is due to be launched in the near future.

***LUCOZADE SPORT (ORANGE)

33cl can, 46p Lucozade Sport is probably still inextricably linked in the minds of many people with Daley Thompson - even though it is now Linford Christie who extols this drink's virtues in the advertisements. Our panel tried and, for the most part, enjoyed the fizzy orange version of Lucozade Sport, although some of them found it rather gassy. "The orangey taste was quite refreshing," said Michelle Dand. "The can is sporty and convenient to carry in your bag." Sandra Mundy was not so keen: "Rather sweet and sickly. I couldn't drink a lot of it. I found it too fizzy to use during a work-out."

Jane Griffin described this as "an isotonic drink, with a good formulation for both rehydration and topping up fuel. The fizziness may be a problem, particularly before or during exercise." The drink is available in other flavours, and there is a low-calorie version.

****LUCOZADE SPORT (LEMON/ LIME)

33cl sportpack, 59p This still version of Lucozade Sport was our panel's favourite - though you do pay a third more for the privilege of having it packaged in a squidgy pouch. Most of our panel rated the convenience factor of this sportpack highly: "The resealable top made this very convenient to carry around," said Sandra Mundy. "It also meant you could drink it bit by bit. Especially good during a class or when working-out, when small sips are all you need." John Hearn declared it, "the best of the test. I felt refreshed straight away. A good mixture of flavours." Jonathan Parker, however, found it sweet to the point of making him thirsty, rather defeating the object of the drink.

According to Jane Griffin, its composition is similar to the orange version, but the still drink is better for drinking during sport.

**DEXTERS 25cl can, 39p Most of the panel weren't too enthusiastic about this drink. "A mild mix of fruit juices, rather nondescript," said Sandra Mundy. Jonathan Parker pronounced it "bland", while John Hearn positively disliked it. As far as Michelle Dand was concerned, though, it was her favourite: "Loved the taste, very easy to drink. I liked the sporty look of the can, too." The main value of Dexters is probably for people who are trying to lose weight, as it has only 10 calories per can.

Jane Griffin said that Dexters would replace lost fluids, but had no energy value. "It could be most useful for those using exercise together with a diet as part of a weight-loss programme."

*ULTRAFUEL (GRAPE FLAVOUR)

47cl bottle, £1.45

This sugar-heavy drink is designed to stoke up your energy and is suitable for speeding up recovery after an endurance event such as a marathon. But Jane Griffin warned that if you drank it before or during exercise, as the manufacturers suggest, the drink's high sugar content could cause diarrhoea and vomiting. "Too much carbohydrate in a drink slows down stomach- emptying, which can be very uncomfortable if you are exercising." She also pointed out that it had no added sodium, the element that helps fluid replacement.

Nor did it appeal much to our consumers. "It's very sweet," said Michelle Dand, "so it doesn't quench your thirst. It's also quite bulky, and as the bottle is made of glass I was a bit worried about breakages. However, I did feel it gave me extra energy - maybe this was just a good day!" Other comments about the taste were that it was "bland" and that it had "a very bad aftertaste".

GLYCOSPORT 25 servings, £14.95

The manufacturers would have us believe that this product, by stimulating the body to use stored food, will give you as much energy as five tablespoons of sugar but with less than a tenth of the calories. It has also been sold as a slimming aid. But sportspeople and dieters should not start celebrating too soon. According to Jane Griffin, this claim "defies basic science. It is really not possible for one 24-calorie serving to give you quick and sustainable energy for four to six hours. Probably the greatest benefit will come from the water or fruit juice you mix with it."

Our panel could not say whether they felt any useful effects or not, as the taste of Glycosport put them off altogether. They found it virtually undrinkable: "Tasted disgusting," said Sandra Mundy. "Completely ruined my fruit juice."

**MULTISPORT TOPFORM 45g sachet, 59P The panel liked this product's citrus taste best of all the drinks. But they found it a nuisance to have to mix the powder up with water. "Nice taste, difficult to mix. I ended up licking the spoon like sherbet," saidJonathan Parker. "Not very convenient to use," said Sandra Mundy, "though the sachets are very light and easy to carry."

Multisport Topform is marketed primarily as an energy-boosting drink, though the packaging says that it will also replace fluids. Jane Griffin was concerned that the fairly high percentage of sugar it contains might cause stomach problems if it was drunkbefore or during exercise (though this would not be as much of a problem as with UltraFuel). She did not feel that this drink was the best choice to replace fluids, partly because it contains no sodium.

STOCKISTS: Isostar - health food shops, cycling and running shops, Boots, Holland & Barrett, sports centres; Multiform - gyms, health clubs, health food shops, Holland & Barrett; Lucozade Sport (both still and fizzy types) - widely available; Dexters - Holland & Barrett, Tesco and some branches of Savacentres; UltraFuel - Holland & Barrett and all good health food stores; Glycosport - Holland & Barrett, and Boots.

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