The Pros and Cons of Gatorade

Gatorade works in the body by providing it with carbohydrates and electrolytes, but the drink is not necessarily critical to performing your best.
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When exercising for a significant period of time, your body needs fuel and hydration to keep going.

This can come in the form of a sports drink such as Gatorade, which was created in the 1960s for the University of Florida football team — the Gators (hence the name).

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Not everyone needs to refuel with a sports drink, however, which can be high in calories and sugar. While there are benefits to the drink, there are also disadvantages of Gatorade.

Here, we'll look at who and what Gatorade is good for, Gatorade's nutrition and additional information about the sport's drink to help you determine whether it's a good pick for you.

Gatorade Nutrition Facts

There are many different types of products that fall under the Gatorade brand. You can find 0-calorie, low-sugar, protein and organic options as well as Gatorade powders, shakes and bars.

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The following chart examines the nutrients of some of the most popular Gatorade sports drinks in a 12-ounce serving.

Nutrition and Electrolytes in Gatorade Sports Drinks

Type

Calories

Total Carbs

Sugars

Sodium

Potassium

Gatorade Thirst Quencher

190

51 g

48 g

380 mg

110 mg

Gatorade Endurance

180

44 g

26 g

620 mg

280 mg

G Zero

0

2 g

0 g

380 mg

110 mg

G2 (lower sugar)

70

18 g

16 g

380 mg

110 mg

Gatorade Juiced

40

9 g

8 g (zero added sugars)

160 mg

60 mg

Source: Gatorade

Note that Gatorade sports drinks are fat-free, which is why the table below does not include the macronutrient. G Zero, Gatorade's zero sugar options, uses sucralose, a zero-calorie artificial sweetener that's found in Splenda.

The Benefits of Gatorade

Hydration

It's important to stay hydrated, especially while exercising.While drinking water can help you accomplish just that, drinking Gatorade can help as well.

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Staying hydrated helps you maintain optimal athletic performance, which can drop if you lose as little as 2 percent of your body weight due to sweating, drops if you lose as little as 1 percent of your body weight due to sweating, according to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Since Gatorade tastes sweet and palatable, it may encourage you drink more than if you were drinking plain water. With this line of thinking, Gatorade may promote extra hydration.

Still, there's no evidence that sports drinks hydrate any more effectively than water.

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Carbohydrates

Unlike water, Gatorade and similar sports drinks contain carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates provide the fuel your body needs to function every day, but they're especially important for supporting muscle activity.

When you exercise for more than an hour, drinking beverages that contain 13 to 19 grams of carbs per 8-ounce serving helps boost your endurance, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Gatorade can be useful in this case, since it gives your body the energy it needs to continue to exercise.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are salt minerals that conduct electricity and balance essential body fluids, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Electrolytes affect how your body functions in several ways, including:

  • The amount of water in your body
  • The acidity of your blood (pH)
  • Your muscle function

Electrolyte imbalances, from dehydration or excessive sweating, can have serious health consequences. Gatorade contains three electrolytes — sodium, potassium and chloride — to help replenish lost electrolytes and keep your body running smoothly and efficiently during intense exercise.

When we sweat, our bodies lose both water and electrolytes. In general, you won't need to replenish your electrolytes unless you're exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes, according to ACE Fitness.

For this reason, unless they are professional athletes or fitness pros, most people don't really need beverages with electrolytes during exercise.

Electrolytes in Gatorade

Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains 380 mg of sodium and 110 mg of potassium, which is 17 percent and 2 percent of the daily values (DV), respectively. ​

Gatorade Endurance contains the most electrolytes, with 620 mg of sodium and 280 mg of potassium.

Sodium: ​Sodium is one of the major electrolytes found in Gatorade as well as other sports drinks. Sodium the sweat at a much greater quantity than other electrolytes, per Sanford Health.

Sodium plays a large role in regulating fluid balances in your body and conducting electrical impulses in the nervous system. In relation to exercise, it stimulates sugar and water uptake in the small intestines and activates the thirst mechanism to keep individuals hydrated.

While most Americans get more than enough sodium in their diet, sports drinks with sodium can be beneficial to those exercising for more than 90 at a time or in especially hot conditions.

Hyponatremia, or low sodium levels, can cause nausea and vomiting, fatigue and muscle weakness, confusion and, in more severe cases, seizures and loss of consciousness.

Potassium:​ Potassium, which may be less important than sodium for exercise, is another electrolyte present in many sports drinks. It’s important for rehydrating and maintaining fluid balance and muscle contractions, per the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Chloride: ​Chloride is a negatively charged electrolyte found primarily on the outside of cells. Working with sodium, potassium and water, chloride primarily functions in regulating the balance of fluids in your body.

Your body can lose chloride through excessive sweating, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of low chloride, or hypochloremia, may include high levels of sodium in your blood and dehydration, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Gatorade does not list how much chloride is included in its formulas.

Muscle Cramp Prevention

The most common cause of muscle cramps during sports activity is dehydration, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Working out when you're dehydrated or when you have low levels of minerals, like potassium and calcium, can make you more likely to have a muscle spasm.

Drinking water is sometimes enough to ease the cramping, while other times, the addition of salt can provide relief. The salt in sports drinks, which helps to replenish lost minerals, can sometimes be helpful.

The Disadvantages of Gatorade

If you're wondering what Gatorade does to your body, know that weight gain is one possible result.

While Gatorade has solidified its reputation as a sports drink, despite its clever messaging, not every person playing sports needs to drink Gatorade.

An August 2014 research review from the University of California at Berkeley, Atkins Center for Weight and Health found that most researchers are basing their results on the performance of serious athletes — not everyday people who may exercise moderately.

Calories

Consuming excess calories is tied to weight gain — and consuming those calories in liquid form may have a more significant effect.

Sugary drinks don't fill you up as quickly as solid foods do, so it is easy to take in more calories than you really need, according to MassGeneral.

Liquid calories are easier to consume more quickly, and they don't send the same fullness signals to the body. July 2011 research in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care shows that eating carbohydrates in a solid form from food promotes a feeling of fullness, verses consuming a liquid form of carbohydrates, which can leave you feeling hungry.

Similarly, sugary drinks can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall quickly, which makes you feel hungry and leads to consuming more calories, per MassGeneral.

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Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

There are documented negative health effects associated with consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, per the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which include a greater risk for obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease.

Excess calories:​ The more ounces of sugary beverages a person has each day, the more calories they take in later in the day, per Harvard Health Publishing. As we know, consuming excess calories is closely tied to weight gain.

These findings are not just limited to sugar-sweetened juices and sodas; drinks like Gatorade, Pocari Sweat, Powerade and beyond are also considered sugar-sweetened beverages, even if they are marketed as spoors drinks.

Increased risk for obesity:​ Among people with a genetic predisposition for obesity, those who drank sugary drinks were more likely to have obesity than those who did not, found a large October 2012 study in the ​New England Journal of Medicine​ that examined the diets of 33,097 people.

On the flip side, studies in both children and adults have found that reducing sugary drink consumption can lead to bette weight management among those who have overweight, per Harvard Health Publishing.

Increased risk for diabetes:​ Sugar-sweetened beverages are also linked with an increased risk for diabetes.

A November 2010 analysis of 11 studies in ​Diabetes Care​ found that people who consumed one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day were 26 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who drank one or fewer sweetened drinks per month.

Even sugar-free drinks that are artificially sweetened — like Gatorade's G Zero — are associated with detrimental health effects.

A November 2020 letter in the ​Journal of the American College of Cardiology​ investigated the relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and consuming sugary drinks and artificially sweetened drinks.

The researchers found that both higher consumers of sweetened beverages and artificially-sweetened drinks had higher risks of first incident cardiovascular disease, after taking into account a wide range of confounding factors.

Gatorade vs. Water

Gatorade provides advantages over water if you need to replenish sodium, or if you're working out for a significant period of time (think 60 minutes or more), especially if that's in a hot or humid climate.

For most people, however, water works great. Water keeps you hydrated without adding extra calories or sugar to your diet.

If you do choose to drink Gatorade, remember that everything's best in moderation.

How to Decide if You Really Need Gatorade

Before you turn to Gatorade as your recovery drink, consider what your body really needs.

First, check your sweat rate. If you arrive home after a run or workout dripping in sweat, then you're more likely to have lost electrolytes during your workout. But you can replenish lost electrolytes in ways beyond drinking Gatorade.

Most American diets include more than enough sodium, but every body is different.

As a September 2015 paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests, different individuals sweat and lose electrolytes at different rates. A person's acclimation to heat and humidity, along with their speed, body weight and even their genes all influence their sweat rate.

A good rule of thumb is to consider the duration of your workout. You likely won't need to replenish electrolytes until at least an hour into a strenuous workout.

The carbs in Gatorade gives you energy, but if you had a pre-workout meal, you likely don't need any extra carbs for at least 60 to 90 minutes.

If you're a heavy sweater and are working out for long periods of time, you may be interested in getting the benefits of Gatorade without as many drawbacks. Fortunately, there are ways to mix up a healthy sports drink without all the sugar.

See this guide for making a healthy and hydrating sports drink at home.

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