According to Gatorade’s website, the drink was “born in the lab” when researchers looked at why athletes were falling ill after strenuous exercise in the heat.
They found that these athletes were losing electrolytes and fluid with exertion but not replacing them. Gatorade was developed to replace crucial electrolytes and carbohydrates while hydrating at the same time.
While it’s marketed as a sports drink, athletes aren’t the only ones drinking Gatorade. Children drink it at lunch or after soccer practice, and it’s even developed a reputation as a hangover cure.
But while Gatorade may contain less sugar than soda, is it actually good for you?
When you exercise, it’s important to stay hydrated. Water is the most logical form of hydration. However, sports drinks like Gatorade contain sugar and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Sports drinks can help replace what we lose during longer duration exercise, especially in the heat.
Electrolytes are minerals that maintain your body’s ionic balance. This balance is essential for nerve, muscle, and brain functioning. An imbalance may lead to an electrolyte disorder.
Examples of electrolytes include:
Electrolytes and carbohydrates help athletes refuel and rehydrate. This is what makes sports drinks popular. Electrolytes help regulate the body’s fluid balance while the carbs provide energy. Gatorade claims their product hydrates better than water because of these additional ingredients.
Some research backs their claims. A report from the University of California at Berkeley says that sports drinks might be better than water for children and athletes who engage in prolonged, vigorous physical activity for more than one hour, especially in hot conditions.
However, you should note that people exercising for less than 60 to 90 minutes may not need Gatorade to maintain or improve performance.
So, what about use of sports drinks for the average person?
The vast majority of people who drink Gatorade aren’t athletes. And according to the Berkeley study, most people who drink sports drinks at least once a day aren’t as physically active as they should be.
A 20-ounce serving of Gatorade’s Thirst Quencher contains 36 grams of sugar. While that’s a bit less sugar per ounce than your average soda, it’s not exactly healthy.
In fact, Berkeley researchers say the sugar in sports drinks may be contributing to the child obesity epidemic by increasing caloric intake.
When consumed often, the sugar content of Gatorade can also contribute to tooth decay, especially in children.
For people who are less active, getting extra sugar and sodium throughout the day isn’t necessary or recommended. The extra calories from a sports drink could contribute to weight gain. The extra sodium could increase the risk of high blood pressure over time.
Gatorade’s low-calorie version, G2, substitutes acesulfame and sucralose for sugar. G2 contains 40 calories for every 16 ounces, which is fewer than half the calories of regular Gatorade. Research on the long-term safety of these artificial sweeteners is ongoing, but not yet conclusive.
Also of importance to note is that Gatorade contains food dyes, such as Red No. 40, Blue No. 1, and Yellow No. 5. These artificial dyes are derived from petroleum and may increase the risk of hyperactivity in children. They’ve also been linked to cancer.
While Gatorade can help you stay hydrated, it’s best to only drink it when needed.
For people who aren’t exercising for at least one hour, five days per week, water is the best bet for staying hydrated. Electrolytes coming from natural sources without added sugars and dyes are recommended.
Experts suggest parents limit their children’s consumption of sports drinks like Gatorade due to their sugar content and artificial colorings.
A researcher who’s worked with Gatorade in the past told NPR that Gatorade shouldn’t be singled out as the “bad guy.” She emphasized that parents need to evaluate sugar consumption from all sources when helping their child make the healthiest decisions.
For most children, water remains the best source of hydration. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are the best source of carbohydrates and electrolyte replacement. You can also make a healthier sports drink at home with this recipe.