Can Gatorade Elevate Potassium Levels in the Blood?

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Athlete drinking a sports drink (Image: vladans/iStock/Getty Images)

You may have heard the story of how Gatorade got its start. PepsiCo recounts the 1965 tale about a University of Florida assistant coach who sat down with university physicians and asked why his players were so affected by the heat. Instead of providing the obvious answer -- that players were affected by the heat because they had been attempting to do super-human feats in the sweltering Florida sun -- a new product was born. Players were offered a sugary beverage to replace fluids lost on the field. After a rough hot day you might give in to media suggestion and grab a Gatorade. It's important to distinguish this marketing hype from science -- especially if you already have elevated levels of potassium in your blood.

Potassium

Potassium is a positively charged ion that circulates in the blood. The concentration of potassium on either side of the membrane of the neuron, or nerve cell, must fall within a very narrow range, or the nerve will not fire. The body regulates potassium to keep it within a healthy range. As they filter the blood, the kidneys remove excess potassium, which is excreted when you urinate. If you are healthy, your potassium levels will stay relatively constant regardless how much Gatorade you drink because the kidneys just get rid of the excess.

Dietary Sources

Potassium is everywhere in the food supply. Even ordinary tap water has potassium in it. Potassium deficiencies are almost unknown except in starving people, anorexics or those who take diuretics. Athletes playing in the hot sun wouldn't have a potassium deficiency because their potassium levels would quickly equilibrate once they stopped sweating.

Gatorade

An 8-ounce bottle of the original, fruit-flavored, ready-to-drink Gatorade has only 37 milligrams of potassium. Even by the standards set by the National Kidney Foundation, this is a very small amount of potassium. By way of comparison, 8 ounces of nonfat liquid milk have 382 milligrams of potassium.

Low Potassium Diets

Patients with advanced kidney disease are often unable to remove excess potassium from their blood. This is dangerous because elevated potassium levels cause irregular heartbeats and heart attacks. While individual recommendations vary between patients, nephrologists generally recommend that adults with high potassium levels limit their intake to less than 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams of potassium per day. Drinking Gatorade fits easily within this recommendation. Even if you are a kidney patient, Gatorade won't raise your potassium levels as long as you follow your nephrologist's advice regarding potassium intake.

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