Spitting is a repugnance. Sometimes we see someone slosh saliva as they eat, or sometimes, people purposefully hurl wet globs onto the sidewalk. Whatever it may be, it’s not something I’d stretch to witness. It may be a cultural preference or my meandering dogma, but I find it an unpleasant act.

I was recently reminded of this unpleasant feeling upon seeing a runner take a gulp of water, only to then spit it back out. This is something I’ve seen several athletes do and wondered why they’d take part in such a wasteful practice. Though the logic of this spitting technique is unclear, the science behind it offers some insight.

Apparently, some athletes swish the drink in their mouth just enough for them to feel the electrolytes and improve their performance. This is an idea encouraged by studies (one of which is sponsored by a large sports drink company, so heed the claims) after finding a quick swish in the mouth was enough for a carbohydrate-laden drink to boost performance. Swishing plain water won’t do much, by that reasoning, except to moisten a dry mouth.

I wonder, then, whether drinking the liquids instead of spitting them out would worsen performance? Wouldn’t water also need to be replenished as we sweat it out? Another study from the University of Birmingham explains that swallowing a calorific drink would increase calorie intake, so by just rinsing with a ‘sports drink,’ one would limit their calorie consumption while still extracting the energy boost. This improves performance, but once again, this technique would only work with a carbohydrate-drink, and not with plain water.

While this incremental improvement may be needed for the elite athlete, the science is unconvincing to support this spitting for everyday use.

Also, if you see anyone drink water and spit it out, let them know it’s a load of hogwash.

 

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