The Surprising Benefits of a Pink Pre-run Drink

Research suggests a way to hack your brain for more motivation.


  • Drinking a beverage with a pink colour before a run may boost your endurance and power as opposed to reaching for regular, clear water, new research shows.

  • Psychologically, it’s common to associate the colour pink with sweetness, and we tend to reach for sweet tastes before exercise in anticipation of using the glucose to fuel muscle activation.

Just before you head out on your next run, you decide to reach for a pink-hued drink for hydration instead of just regular water. How much of a difference can it really make? According to a small study in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, the answer might be surprising.

Researchers recruited 10 participants to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes, allowing them to select their own speed. Throughout the run, they rinsed their mouths with an artificially sweetened drink that was either pink or clear—the drinks were the same except for a few drops of food dye to achieve the pink tint. During a second session, they had the other drink.

“The relationship between colour and our mental and physical response has long been known,”

When rinsing with the pink selection, they showed more endurance and intensity than when they drank a clear drink—on average, they ran 212 meters further and increased their speed by 4.4 percent. They also reported higher levels of enjoyment in their efforts during the pink-fueled run.

Although the study was limited by the small sample size, lead researcher Sanjoy Deb, Ph.D., a lecturer in sport and exercise nutrition at the University of Westminster in the U.K., told Runner’s World that the results are in line with previous studies.

“The relationship between colour and our mental and physical response has long been known,” he said, adding that the visual appearance of food has a significant impact on its palatability, for example. “Similarly, the effect of colour in sport is not new, with red in particular thought to provide a performance advantage.”

Pink was used in the study because of its perceived sweetness, he said. We tend to reach for sweet tastes before exercise in anticipation of using the glucose to fuel muscle activation, Deb said.

An earlier taste study by the researchers found that when participants drank both pink and clear beverages, they reported the pink drink to be sweeter even though they were the same. That’s a powerful placebo effect that can be harnessed for better running, Deb said.

“The effect is largely cognitively driven, as receptors in the mouth detect the sweet sensation, and this activates areas of the brain linked with reward and motivation,” he stated. “When these areas are activated during exercise, it can lead to exercise feeling more enjoyable and easier. Individuals may therefore increase their speed and intensity based on this feeling.”

That can be true even if you swish instead of gulp, the way the participants did. Deb said rinsing your mouth with sweet sugars and carbohydrate drinks has been shown to improve exercise performance during events lasting less than an hour.

Of course, making sure you’re hydrated is important if you’re running for real, particularly on runs that are over 60 minutes.

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