If you played sports as a kid, you probably grew up on the delicious, refreshing beverage called Gatorade (or Powerade, although I think Gatorade is better). Originally invented at the University of Florida (Go Gators) to hydrate the football team during hot summer games, Gatorade now produces a regular and low calorie drink, “natural”versions of these beverages, as well as energy chews and nutrition bars. And their marketing has been stellar – watch any Gatorade ad and you’re pretty much convinced that you should drink this stuff because that’s what the badass athletes do (and who doesn’t want to be a badass athlete). They’re all about that inspiring stuff like hard work and determination. Well, at least most kids probably think that. As adults, we’re just trained to crave it. If I go running in sub 75 degree weather for longer than 30 minutes, I come back craving a blue Gatorade (because maybe the flavor is inspired by some kind of fruit, but in all likelihood it contains no part of said fruit, and we just know it by the color anyway. Yellow is a close second for me). Of course, Gatorade has also gotten some negative press surrounding their use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) – which they’ve since discontinued using – because it had been patented as a flame retardant and is banned in Japan and the European Union. But, is it OK to drink or should you avoid it?
Sports Drink Pros
Sports drinks are great – and have been successful over the past 40 years – because they provide the unique combination of dilute carbohydrate and electrolytes in an easily digestible format. Sports drinks have essentially been formulated by scientists to provide EXACTLY what athletes need during exercise to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The average regular Gatorade has 80 calories, 21 grams of sugar, 160 mg of sodium, and 45 mg of potassium. The G2 series is usually 30 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate with the same electrolyte content as the original.
Other Gatorade perks:
- Helps prevent hyponatremia (salt deficiency), which generally happens when athletes over hydrate.
- The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. When you’re working out for a long time (over an hour) in very hot conditions, that can be a plus.
- It tastes good. Sometimes water gets old.
Sports Drink Cons
Despite loving Gatorade as a kid/teen just kidding I still love it now, this is the part that always makes me sad: the ingredients list. The Blue G2 flavor (apparently called “Glacier Freeze) that I like so much contains the following: Water (fine), sugar (OK I was expecting that), citric acid (not a big deal), sodium citrate (OK that’s the sodium, just with a different companion than table salt), mono potassium phosphate (potassium source), sucralose (commonly known as Splenda, because I guess 7 grams of sugar wasn’t enough to make it appealing to the American palette), acesulfame potassium (anOTHER artificial sweetener) and Blue 1 (that would be an artificial color. Ugh). So, most of the ingredients are fine, not everything that isn’t 100% natural is going to kill you, although I really try to avoid artificial colors.
In addition, a few other sports drink drawbacks:
- It often gets misused or overused. Pretty sure Lebron James needed some Gatorade in San Antonio when the AC broke, and it’s very useful during a half marathon or other endurance activity. But a lot of kids, adolescents, and even adults nowadays are drinking it while playing video games or at school. Unless you’re sweating your butt off during a workout, you don’t really need an electrolyte drink.
- The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. Yes, I realize this was also a pro. But when I return from a 45 minute run, I could benefit from 8-12 ounces and end up drinking nearly the whole bottle before it occurs to me to put it away. That’s a lot of sugar I probably didn’t need.
So, should you drink Gatorade?
My answer is yes, when it is appropriate and if you prefer it over other options. When is it appropriate?
- When you’re working out for over 60-90 minutes or in extreme heat conditions
- When you complete a WOD like last week’s 1K test on the erg and need a little extra sugar before the second WOD. However, in this case you only need a small amount.
What are some other options? Coconut water, diluted juice (full concentrated juice can make you fee sick to your stomach by adding too much sugar – compare 21 grams of carbs in 12 ounces of Gatorade to over 40 grams in the same amount of Naked Juice or OJ).