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Which Is Better for Runners: Water or Gatorade?

author image Natalie Stein
Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.
Which Is Better for Runners: Water or Gatorade?
A woman drinking water while out running. Photo Credit: m-gucci/iStock/Getty Images

Good nutrition is essential for you to be the strongest and healthiest runner that you can be, and a significant part of your nutrition plan involves staying hydrated before, during and after your runs. Many runners wonder whether they should drink water or a sports drink, such as Gatorade. While Gatorade can supply electrolytes and carbohydrates, water is often sufficient.

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Stay Hydrated With Water

Nearly two-thirds of the weight of your body is water, and functions of water in your body include nutrient and waste transport, thermal regulation and lubrication of joints, according to Iowa State University. Mild dehydration can interfere with your running performance, and more serious dehydration can cause symptoms of heat illness. You need 10 to 15 cups of water per day plus the amount you lose from sweat when you run. Water is a better choice than Gatorade for meeting your general daily fluid needs because it is calorie-free and sugar-free.

Replace Your Fluid Losses after Runs

Weigh yourself before and after you run to determine how much fluid you lost through sweat during your run. Drink 16 ounces, or 2 cups, of fluid for each pound that you lost during your run. You can adequately replenish your fluids and electrolytes by drinking water or a fluid-replacement beverage, such as Gatorade. If you choose water, be sure to also consume a source of sodium and some carbohydrates to replace your losses.

Use Gatorade in Longer Events

Water is typically better than Gatorade for runs lasting less than 60 minutes, but adding a sports beverage with electrolytes and carbohydrates, such as Gatorade, can be necessary in longer events to prevent a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, or overhydration. Sticking to plain water during very long, hot runs when you sweat a lot can lead to overhydration and gastrointestinal problems, dizziness and seizures. Gatorade contains sodium to help maintain electrolyte balance and help prevent your sodium levels from dropping too much.

Stay Mindful of Sugar Consumption

Water is calorie-free and sugar-free, while each 8-ounce cup of Gatorade contains 63 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Consuming several cups of Gatorade per day can add hundreds of calories to your diet and mitigate the calorie-burning effects of your runs. An option with 19 calories and 3 grams of sugars per cup is low-calorie Gatorade. Any time you drink a sugar-containing beverage, such as Gatorade, rinse your mouth with water afterward to get the sugar off of your teeth and help prevent tooth decay.

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