Bowels all bound up? When you're constipated, try guzzling a glass of good old Gatorade. Though it may not solve your stubborn stool problem immediately, this well-known sports drink that's popular among athletes for its hydrating powers may also have a little laxative effect.
Here, Amanda Sauceda, RDN, CLT, a gut health dietitian, explains why Gatorade can be good for a sluggish gut in certain cases, plus how much to drink to combat constipation (spoiler alert: like any beverage containing sugar, moderation is key).
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How Does Gatorade Help With Constipation?
1. It Keeps You Hydrated
If you read the ingredients list in Gatorade, water is always number one. That means it's the most plentiful ingredient.
Here's why that matters for bowel movements: H2O helps you stay hydrated. And when you're dehydrated, you're more prone to constipation, Sauceda says.
That's because during digestion, your colon (i.e., large intestine) absorbs water (and nutrients) from partially digested food to meet your body's needs, per the National Cancer Institute. So, if you're lacking water, only a scant amount will remain for your stool, which will turn your turds dry and hard (read: passing poops will be difficult).
Indeed, water helps to soften your stool to support more seamless bowel movements, Sauceda says.
What's more, the mucus that lines the digestive tract (and helps keep stool moving through your GI system smoothly) is water-based, she adds. So if you're dehydrated, this will affect your mucus — and bowel movements — too.
2. It Contains Electrolytes
Gatorade is a great source of electrolytes, i.e., minerals such as sodium and potassium that play a pivotal part in many bodily processes, such as balancing your pH levels and controlling nervous system function, according to Cedars-Sinai.
"Electrolytes are [also] important for muscle contraction," Sauceda says. And this is fundamental for facilitating your feces as electrolytes help your intestinal muscles contract to move poop through your GI tract.
So, if you have an electrolyte imbalance (we typically lose electrolytes through sweat, urine, vomiting and diarrhea), this may lead to muscle weakness and, consequently, constipation, Sauceda says.
In particular, potassium plays a role in water balance and muscle contraction, so if you're missing this mighty mineral, your bowels might become backed up, she adds.
Along with keeping your intestinal muscles moving, electrolytes also promote hydration. The sodium in sports drinks like Gatorade helps your body hold onto H2O, Sauceda says. Though "if you are [already] adequately hydrated, electrolytes aren't going to help you absorb water any better," she points out.
But if you've lost a lot of water and salt through sweat, say, after a strenuous workout or during a sweltering summer day, Gatorade is a good option for replacing electrolytes like potassium and sodium.
Similarly, this is one of the reasons why your doctor may recommend glugging Gatorade prior to a colonoscopy (a procedure where a doctor uses a scope to look inside your colon and rectum), Sauceda says. ICYDK, colonoscopy prep involves drinking a laxative liquid to clear out your colon (put simply, you'll poop a lot beforehand).
But in the process, there's a risk of becoming dehydrated and losing essential electrolytes. So by drinking Gatorade (the clear or light-colored kind that won't interfere with the test), you can replenish electrolytes that are lost during the prep, Sauceda explains.
How Much Gatorade Should You Drink?
Gulping down Gatorade can get your fecal matter flowing. But how much should you sip?
While Gatorade can help you reach your hydration goals and maintain a proper electrolyte balance (especially if you sweat a lot), you still need to be mindful of the sports drink's sugar content, Sauceda says.
For reference, a 12-ounce serving of Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains 21 grams of added sugars (and, keep in mind, there are 2.5 servings per bottle).
Sweetened beverages like sports drinks are the top source of added sugars in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Problem is, the habit of having too much sugar in your cup is connected to chronic health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, dental problems and gout (a type of arthritis), per the CDC.
And while some sodium in sports drinks like Gatorade can help you stay hydrated, drinking too much can put you at a greater risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
All this to say, "you don't want [Gatorade] to be your sole source of hydration," Sauceda says. The smartest strategy is to sip it as a supplement. In other words, add it to your menu of hydrating liquids, with water being the top choice.
If you're set on drinking Gatorade but want to avoid added sugars, opt for Gatorade Zero Sugar ($13.49 per 12-pack, Amazon), which has 5 to 10 calories (depending on the flavor) and is sweetened with artificial sweeteners.
Other Drinks to Curb Constipation
When it comes to keeping constipation at bay, once again, H2O should be high on your hydration list.
"You'll want water to be a go-to but … let's be honest, sometimes we get tired of just drinking water," Sauceda says.
In addition to Gatorade, "there are [other] options to add to your routine to help hydration and [enhance] taste," she says:
- A splash of juice in your water. Incorporating a little cranberry, pineapple or apple juice adds some flavor and will help meet your hydration goals, Sauceda says.
- Coconut water. This is an excellent electrolyte-rich drink. "You can even add a small pinch of salt," Sauceda says. Remember, a sprinkle of salt can help you absorb water and stay hydrated.
- Prune juice. For more fast-acting constipation-curing effects, you might prefer prune juice to get your juices going, Sauceda says.
While water needs vary by person, try this equation to figure out how much you should swig per day for overall health (including keeping constipation in check):
Body weight (in pounds) ÷ 2 = minimum ounces of H2O you should drink a day