You don’t have to be a professional athlete to know that staying hydrated is essential during physical activity, preventing dehydration and the effects it has on your body. Water was the beverage of choice among athletes until 1965, when the University of Florida's medical adviser created Gatorade to help athletes improve their physical performance through hydration.
How It Works
The way Gatorade works is based on a simple concept: When you are physically active, you sweat. If you have ever gotten sweat in your eyes, you know it’s not just water you’re losing, but also a form of saltwater. Gatorade can rehydrate as water does, but also has 110 mg of sodium sodium per 8-ounce serving, whereas water has none. Gatorade also contains carbohydrates and electrolytes, the latter of which are ions that fuel your body's cells.
Water is a more basic option, containing no carbs or sodium. Its sole job is to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can range from mild to severe, and can cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and muscle cramping, along with other ailments. So for athletes who are losing significant amounts of water, replenishing their body is imperative, not only for athletic performance but also in terms of overall health.
The Average Athlete
The Texas Medical Association performed a study that concluded that for the average athlete, there are no significant benefits from drinking Gatorade or any other sports drink as compared to water. This conclusion stems from the theory that most individuals already ingest a sufficient amount of salt and carbohydrates in their diet to replenish what they might have lost in normal physical activity.
The Extreme Athlete
Serious athletes and those who are physically active for long periods of time in extreme heat naturally lose more water and salt than they can make up for in their diet. To balance the larger amounts lost, they can benefit from the added nutrients in Gatorade and other sports drinks.
In addition to the physical effects of water vs. Gatorade, there are other differences. Gatorade comes in different flavors, while water is tasteless. But with the flavor comes 50 calories per 8 oz. of Gatorade, as opposed to zero in water. Gatorade costs more than water, unless you are using brand-name bottled water, which can be almost as expensive.