The sodium in Gatorade is the ingredient that offers the most benefit to athletes. Why? The salt added to Gatorade and other power drinks helps restore electrolytes after exercise.
According to the Merck Manual, electrolytes are needed to ensure that the body maintains appropriate fluid levels. Electrolyte imbalances can occur when you become dehydrated or over-hydrated, leading to potentially harmful conditions or even death.
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Can the level of sodium present in Gatorade be harmful, though? According to a September 2014 study of 40 adult participants published in the Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences, it's important for anyone engaging in intense or prolonged exercise to drink as much fluid as possible to compensate for the electrolyte loss through sweat.
Yet, those who aren't engaging in intense exercise regularly don't need to rely on sports drinks like Gatorade to replace it.
A 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 270 milligrams of sodium, or 11 percent of the recommended daily value.
Sodium in Gatorade
The main electrolyte in Gatorade is sodium. The 270 milligrams of sodium in a 20 ounce serving aims to replenish the body after an intense workout. In other serving sizes, the sodium amount differs slightly. For instance, the 12 ounce serving provides 160 milligrams of sodium, which equates to 7 percent of the recommended daily value.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. It also states that consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day is even better. Still, the majority of Americans eat too much salt — on average consuming more than 3,400 milligrams every day.
According to the Sanford Sports Science Institute, for those who exercise no more than 30 to 60 minutes per day, there's no need to increase your dietary sodium intake. However, for athletes who exercise for 90 minutes or more — or exercise multiple times per day in conditions where they are losing a lot of sweat — limiting salt in the diet isn't as big of a concern.
Sodium may be one of the main Gatorade ingredients, but it's also high in sugar. Furthermore, the sugar-free versions aren't necessarily healthier due to the use of artificial sweeteners. The takeaway? If you're looking for a nutritious beverage, you won't find it here.
Read More: Gatorade vs. Soda
Can Gatorade Help Hyponatremia?
According to Mayo Clinic, hyponatremia happens when the concentration of sodium in your blood levels reaches an abnormal low. The sodium in your body can become diluted as a result of any number of factors, including drinking too much water. In hyponatremia, the body's water level rises and causes the cells to swell.
Luckily, hyponatremia isn't a concern for most people. For athletes doing intense workouts though, it's important to be aware of the signs. Symptoms include headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting, loss of energy, seizures, muscle cramps, weakness or spasms and even coma.
According to March 2017 Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia (EAH) Update published in Frontiers in Medicine, consuming sodium through drinks like Gatorade during exercise may reduce the decline in blood sodium concentration. However, it will not prevent hyponatremia that occurs as a result of drinking too much fluid.
Read More: Healthy Alternatives to Gatorade
Gatorade and Blood Pressure
Regardless of the serving size or flavor you choose, Gatorade's ingredients will always include sodium. If you're not sweating during long periods of exercise, it's possible that it will raise your blood pressure. Therefore, if you consume the drink as part of your regular diet but do so without exercising, factor it into your overall daily sodium intake. Why? Too much sodium in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure.
According to the AHA, cutting sodium intake by 1,000 milligrams per day can lower your blood pressure and may even prevent hypertension from developing in the first place. That means, in most cases, opting for a glass of water instead of a bottle of Gatorade is a great idea.
- Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Overview of Electrolytes"
- Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences: "Effect of Physical Exercises on Serum Electrolyte"
- Pepsico: The Facts About Your Favorite Beverages: "Gatorade Lemon-Lime"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"
- Sanford Health: "Sodium 101 for Athletes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyponatremia"
- Frontiers in Medicine: "Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia"d
- American Heart Association: "Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure"