A SINGLE sports drink can contain more than 12 teaspoons of sugar.
A survey by the Irish Independent found that sports drinks on sale in Irish stores contain between 17g and 50g of sugar per bottle.
The World Health Organisation recommends people consume a maximum of 50g of added sugar a day, though it's about to issue a new recommendation that "ideally" that should be cut to 25g.
The highest level we found was in Glanbia's Nutramino Protein XL drink sold in sports shops with a 500ml bottle containing 50g sugar - or more than 12 teaspoons worth.
Most of the sports drinks sold in convenience stores and supermarkets contained around four or five teaspoons of sugar in a 500ml bottle.
Lucozade Sport's 750ml bottle contained 27g of sugar, or seven teaspoons worth.
But some nutrition experts say sports drinks should be avoided, particularly by children, with dentists also critical of their damage to teeth.
Obesity expert Dr Donal O'Shea said that last year's major EPIC study had proven that regularly drinking sugar-sweetened drinks directly increased the risk of getting diabetes.
"If you're a gold medal Olympian who's burning 6,000 calories a day and can't eat enough to replace that, maybe a sports drink is okay, but for everyone else they have no benefit," said the consultant endocrinologist.
"These are marketed so cleverly that you have seven and eight-year-olds who think they can't play a game of football without having a sports drink at half-time. But parents need to know they are no use, they are harmful, and children should be drinking water instead," he said.
Dietitian Gaye Godkin agreed that sports drinks have "no place" in the diet.
"The evidence suggests that chocolate milk is the best thing for recovery," she said.
Irish people spend around €27m a year on sports drinks, but a recent UK study found that 55pc of sports drinks are consumed at home.
Sports drinks are designed to help people rehydrate during or after sport by providing sugar, salt and minerals at specific quantities which the body can absorb quickly.
Glanbia performance nutritionist Dr Crionna Tobin said that Nutramino Protein XL was "not a sports drink as most consumers would understand the term", but a "recovery product for those who take part in rigorous exercise".
Carbohydrate was an important nutrient to aid recovery post-exercise and European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) guidelines indicated usage of 4g per kilo of body weight in the first four to six hours after exercise, equating to 280g for a 70kg person. The 50g of sugar in Nutramino was "comfortably inside this level", Dr Tobin said.
Lucozade Ribena Suntory referred a query to Ibec's Beverage Council, which said an EFSA report in 2011 had confirmed a relationship between sports drinks and maintaining endurance performance. "Sports drinks are designed to supply carbohydrate energy and minimise the impact of the loss of water and electrolytes during exercise," a spokesperson said.