In an article published in the November 2007 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (volume 39), Ajmol Ali and colleagues and Loughborough University in England found that drinking a sports drink duirng a match my improve soccer skill performance, especially under a unique, but common set of circumstances.
They used a rather interesting approach, one that simulates the diet habits of many youth players. On the first day of their testing, the subjects performed an exercise bout designed simulate the energy expended during a match. The goal was to deplete the players’ muscle energy stores (i.e. muscle glycogen). The subjects then ate a low carbohydrate dinner to prevent complete replenishment of the energy used during exercise. On the second day, the subjects reported to the laboratory in the morning without having eaten breakfast and then performed a set of tests designed to measure technical performance. What makes this approach interesting is that many youth players often play matches late on afternoon then early the next day. Some follow a proper diet, eating a high carbohydrate dinner and a good breakfast. Unfortunately, some don’t. This study focused on performance of those who don’t.
On day two of the study, the researchers measured both shooting and passing skill. After the initial testing, the subjects again performed an exercise bout designed to simulate match conditions (sprinting, jogging and walking). During the bout, half of the subject periodically drank a sports drink similar to Gatorade, the other half drank water. The researchers found that after the bout, the sports drink group was better able to maintain their shooting and sprint performance compared to the water group. The effects were not substantial but the drink was effective. The research seems to suggest that if players don’t eat a proper high carbohydrate meal between matches, drinking a sports drink during the match might help maintain performance.
Bottom line, this study confirms what many of us already know. Drinking a sports drink during a match is certainly not harmful to performance and may actually provide some benefit, especially if you don’t eat properly between matches. However, players should remember that it is very important to eat properly between and before matches. They should not rely on sports drinks to make up for a poor diet.
Ali A, Williams C, Nicholas C, Foskett A (2007) The influence of carbohydrate-electrolyte ingestion on soccer skill performance. Med Sci Sports Exer, 39:1969-1976.