Powerade and Gatorade are the two big names in sports drinks today. The benefits come from the carbohydrates and electrolytes in a Gatorade or Powerade drink, such as ingredients for improving performance and maintaining hydration during long sessions of intense aerobic activity.
What Is a Sports Drink?
Sports drinks are defined by these primary ingredients, carbohydrates and electrolytes, generally with the addition of a substantial amount of water. Each of these ingredients is important for its own reasons, but all are connected to the effects of physical activity.
Carbohydrates are burned during activity. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that you should consume carbohydrates before any exercise exceeding one hour, with limited fat, which slows down digestion. They also recommend consuming carbohydrates during exercise if your workout exceeds an hour and is intense.
This might include very difficult hiking, marathon running or playing a very active sport like soccer. The recommendation for consumption of sports drinks is 150 to 200 milliliters for every 15 to 20 minutes of activity beyond your first hour. Carbohydrates are also important after exercises for recovery.
Electrolytes, according to a different page on the U.S. Library of Medicine website, are "minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge." Electrolytes play very important roles in a number of physical processes, including muscular function, your body's regulation of pH levels and your hydration levels.
Read more: How to Increase Electrolytes in the Body
You lose electrolytes in your sweat, so physical activity is especially taxing. The most common electrolytes in the body include: calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride and phosphorus.
Powerade Ingredients and Nutritional Information
Powerade has two main products: an original sports drink and a zero sugar variety. Powerade original ingredients include water, high fructose corn syrup, mono-potassium phosphate, magnesium and calcium chlorides, gum acacia, natural flavors, glycerol esters from wood rosin, colors, ascorbic acid and vitamins B3, B6 and B12. The powerade electrolytes complex "ION4" includes sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
In a 946 milliliter bottle, you will find:
- 210 calories
- 55 grams of carbohydrates, all from sugar
- 395 milligrams of sodium
- 92 milligrams of potassium
- 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of each of vitamins B3, B6 and B12
- Despite the calcium electrolytes, it is "not a significant source of calcium"
One bottle of Powerade original contains just under 18 percent of the recommended daily intake of carbohydrates. Powerade Zero Sugar has the same four-electrolyte complex but is sweetened with calorie-free sugar-alternatives sucralose and acesulfame K. It also includes 395 milligrams of sodium and 92 milligrams of potassium in a 946 milliliter bottle.
Gatorade Ingredients and Nutritional Information
Gatorade has a number of different products. Their classic and new flavor sets (Fierce, Flow and Frost) are based on the original recipe. Gatorade also produces a sugar-free option, an organic line and a "lower sugar" line with fewer carbohydrates, a high potency product and mix-your-own powders.
The primary ingredients in Gatorade products include water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, sodium (chloride and citrate), potassium (as monopotassium phosphate), gum arabic, glycerol esters (from wood rosin), flavor and color. Lower-sugar and sugar-free varieties contain sucralose and acesulfame potassium in addition to or in place of sugar.
Gatorade's organic products contain only water, organic cane sugar, citric acid, organic natural flavors, sea salt, sodium citrate and potassium chloride, so it may be better for people with sensitivities. The lower sugar G2 line also contains starch, made from corn, wheat, rice, potato or tapioca, so it could be an issue for anyone with allergies.
Gatorade Original and the new flavor sets are 581 milliliters and contain:
- 140 calories
- 36 grams of total carbohydrates, 34 from sugar
- 270 milligrams of sodium
- 75 milligrams of potassium
Gatorade Organic is more fluid, at 500 milliliters, but contains only:
- 120 calories
- 30 grams of carbohydrates, 29 from sugar
- 230 milligrams of sodium
- 65 milligrams of potassium
The G2 "Lower Sugar" Thirst Quencher (355 milliliters) contains:
- 30 calories
- 8 grams of carbohydrates, 7 from sugar
- 160 milligrams of sodium
- 45 milligrams of potassium
Gatorade Zero (591 milliliters) contains:
- 5 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates, not from sugar
- 270 milligrams of sodium
- 75 milligrams of potassium
Gatorade Prime "sports fuel drink" is only 100 milliliters and contains a full:
- 100 calories
- 25 grams of carbohydrates, 23 from sugar
- 110 milligrams of sodium
- 10 percent of the RDA of Niacin
- 10 percent of the RDA of vitamin B6
Powerade vs. Gatorade vs. Water
Gatorade and Powerade ingredients are comparable but not identical. Gatorade offers a number of different options with varying potency and carbohydrate levels, but the electrolytes in their Thirst Quencher products are limited to sodium and potassium. Powerade, while limited to standard and sugar-free versions, includes sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Read more: Dehydration and Water Vs. Gatorade
The current American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) position stand on exercise and fluid replacement was published in February 2007 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Their recommendations, which were an update from the previous publication in 1996, remain unchanged in 2019.
According to the ACSM, there are a number of individual and environmental factors which go into determining the best way for you to hydrate during activity. A personalized approach is recommended. Factors that will influence your hydration and electrolyte balance include the heath, the duration and intensity of your activity and how well your clothing or uniform allow you to cool down.
Your need for hydration and electrolytes during physical activity may also be affected by genetic predispositions, your fitness level and how acclimatized you are to the environment, says the ACSM: "Exercise can elicit high sweat rates and substantial water and electrolyte losses during sustained exercise, particularly in warm-hot weather ... If sweat water and electrolyte losses are not replaced, then the person will dehydrate."
Carbohydrates, the ACSM says, can also be beneficial to keep your energy up during long bouts of high-intensity exercise or even longer periods of less intense activity: "To achieve a carbohydrate intake sufficient to sustain performance, an individual could ingest one-half to one liter of a conventional sports drink each hour ... along with sufficient water to avoid excessive dehydration."
Danger! Dehydration vs. Water Intoxication
If you can't afford or don't enjoy sports drinks during your workouts, this does not mean you are stuck with subpar athletic performance or doomed to dehydration. A July 2012 post on the Harvard Health Blog by former Executive Editor Patrick J. Skerrett suggests that overhydration may be the more likely danger.
According to the Harvard blog, "There is no evidence that dehydration has ever killed a marathoner." But, the post says, quoting Dr. Arthur Siegel, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and medical advisor to the Boston Marathon, "the drumbeat that athletes must stay fully hydrated and drink before they become thirsty has spawned a new problem."
This problem is hyponatremia, a chemical imbalance caused by too much water which, unfortunately, does not appear to be avoidable by drinking sports drinks instead. Trust your thirst, quoted Harvard doctors say. Your body knows when you need to drink.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Nutrition and Athletic Performance"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Electrolytes"
- Powerade: "Orange"
- Powerade: "Fruit Punch Zero Sugar"
- PepsiCo Beverage Facts: "Gatorade Lemon Lime"
- PepsiCo Beverage Facts: "Gatorade Zero Lemon-Lime"
- PepsiCo Beverage Facts: "Gatorade Organic Lemon"
- PepsiCo Beverage Facts: "Gatorade G2 Lemon-Lime"
- Gatorade: "Thirst Quencher Original"
- Gatorade: "Thirst Quencher Organic"
- Gatorade: "G2 Thirst Quencher"
- Gatorade: "Gatorade Zero Thirst Quencher"
- Gatorade: "Sports Fuel Drink"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Position Stands"
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: "Exercise and Fluid Replacement"
- Harvard Health Blog: "Trade Sports Drinks for Water"
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: The Role of Carbohydrates in Exercise and Physical Performance