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UT-Austin Researcher Says Some Sports Drinks Are Not Your Friend

Wall of Gatorade
Image courtesy Jeremy Brooks
A UT researcher says drinking sugary sports beverages like some versions of Gatorade might be hindering your weight loss goals.

If you loaded up on Thanksgiving food over the long weekend, you might be thinking about how to work off those extra ounces before the next round of holiday binging begins in December.

University of Texas scientist Dr. Lisa Ferguson-Stegall just conducted a study as part of her dissertation work, and it revealed that guzzling sugar-rich sports drinks while working out might not be helping your waistline.

Ferguson-Stegall's findings were published in October's edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. She spoke with KUT News by telephone.
KUT News: Your research into sports beverages would be interesting to a lot of people who exercise. Can you describe your findings?

Lisa Ferguson-Stegall: As you know, there are many commercial products on the market, and many of them are expensive and hard to find. Many of them contain a lot of calories and carbohydrates, which most people think is a great idea for when you're exercising, but not everyone needs a huge amount of calories, especially if they're doing a short endurance workout.

This study was interesting in that it showed you could actually extend performance using fewer carbohydrates and fewer calories, which I think is really important for people who are seeking to get fit but also to maintain or lose weight in the process.

KUT News: People are bombarded with advertising and multimillion dollar sponsorship deals involving sports beverages. It can get a little confusing to know what to drink.

Ferguson-Stegall: Oh absolutely. As an athlete myself, a cyclist and runner, I hear questions from my friends who aren't scientists, "Is this product better than that one? Which should I take when I run? Which should I take when I cycle?"

There's so much misinformation and cloudy information on what you really need. It's marketing, and whatever the latest coolest packaging is out there tends to garner a lot of attention.

There are lot of complicated formulations out there on the market and many of them are loaded with calories. If you're riding the Tour de France, that's not a bad thing at all. But for most of us who are out to do a few hours of exercise, it's really not necessary to have that huge amount of caloric intake.

Science supports that you do need intake of something when you're exercising, particularly for a long time. If you're going out for a thirty minute run or ride, you really don't need to take in anything.

But if you're out there for a long time or doing intense work, an hour or more, you certainly need some energy intake, be it carbohydrate or carb-protein. But the benefits of carbohydrate with added protein I think far outweigh just a carbohydrate alone beverage, for sure.

KUT News: And that was another aspect of your research. Can you explain how adding protein to a sports beverage could make it more effective?

Ferguson-Stegall: For several years, our lab and some others have looked at the effects of added protein to a carbohydrate beverage, and we have seen this potential to increase endurance performance time, in terms of time-to-exhaustion. Other labs have also shown reduction in muscle damage that occurs during and after exercise, which is very important when you think about recovering from one bout in order to adequately exercise again the same day or the next day.

It's a very interesting concept when you think about adding protein to a sports beverage because for so many years everything was carbohydrate only. Carbs and more carbs. What we're finding is that adding protein has substantial benefits beyond just carbohydrates alone.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.