Taken during an Iowa State men’s basketball game.
Photographer: Emma Dau | Source: Unsplash

Gatorade is one of those drinks that splits opinions.

Some people see the colorful bottles and vibrant labels and assume it must be chock-full of harmful ingredients. Other people associate the beverage with pictures of sports stars re-hydrating and assume that it must be healthy. Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There are both positives and negatives to the energy drink. The devil is in the details, so let's delve into it, shall we? In this article, we will cover the benefits, the risks, and the recommended intake amounts.

What Are Electrolytes In Drinks

Gatorade is marketed and sold as an exercise drink. It was developed back in 1965 in Florida by a team of scientists. They wanted to create a beverage that could boost the performance of the University of Florida football team, the Gators, hence the name “Gatorade”. Two years later, the team won the Orange Bowl for the first time in years.

The drink is packed with electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals and compounds with an electric charge. Electrolytes are crucial for the body’s functionality, as they produce energy and help the muscles function properly. It’s incredibly important that our electrolyte levels stay within a specific range. We get them from our food and beverages, and we lose them through sweat or urine.

What Happens If We Have An Electrolyte Imbalance?

It’s incredibly important that we maintain healthy levels of electrolytes. Symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Twitching
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Change in blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle spasms

We tend to lose electrolytes when we lose excessive amounts of liquid. This can be through sweat, urine, or vomit. For this reason, there are specific times when you may need to think about replenishing your body’s electrolytes, for instance after a tough workout, in humid temperatures, or after a severe illness.

Gatorade’s high electrolyte content was designed to help athletes who had lost electrolytes during a game. The drink can also replenish electrolytes that have been lost for other reasons.

Is Gatorade Good For You?

It can be in the right context. Aside from replenishing our lost electrolytes, Gatorade doesn’t have many other benefits. While the drink can help athletes maintain energy and alertness, when it’s consumed for no real reason, it can actually be bad for you.

However, there are some examples of times when you find  this particular sports drink is very helpful:

When Sick

If you’ve ever had a nasty stomach bug, you’ll probably know the feeling of weakness and shakiness that come after you’ve vomited. When we vomit, we lose lots of fluid. With this fluid, we also lose important electrolytes. That’s why your muscles can feel so fragile after an illness. Gatorade is one of the drinks that can help make you feel like yourself again.

There is even some evidence that suggests that Gatorade can help minimize the symptoms of a cold.

After a Workout

Because we lose electrolytes through sweat, Gatorade can be a great beverage to drink after a workout or during a sports match. If you find yourself feeling faint, dizzy, or you notice cramping while you're exercising or straight afterward, try drinking Gatorade to help rebalance your electrolyte levels.

In Humid Climates

In very humid or hot weather, we lose electrolytes through sweat. It’s important to stay well-hydrated in these temperatures. Try drinking an alternative to water, like Gatorade, to help with your electrolyte levels as well.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Gatorade?

White sugar on a spoon.
Photographer: Sharon McCutcheon | Source: Unsplash

So, we’ve covered the benefits of Gatorade. But what are the downsides of sipping on the tasty sports drink? Is Gatorade bad for you in some instances?

Well, Gatorade was designed to taste good. In fact, it’s so tasty, it’s become almost as popular as soda. Its delicious taste comes from, you guessed it, added sugars.

From an ingredient perspective, the main ones are water, sugar, and sodium. One bottle contains a whopping 34 grams of sugar. To put this into perspective, there are 65 grams in a bottle of Coca Cola, and 20.8 grams in a mars bar, so Gatorade falls somewhere in the middle.

Consuming this amount of sugar regularly can have  detrimental effects on your health, including

  • Weight gain
  • Risk of diabetes
  • Energy crashes
  • Risk of heart disease

How Much Gatorade Is Too Much?

Like any food or beverage, Gatorade should be enjoyed in moderation.

Because of the high sugar content, Gatorade can quickly become harmful if consumed too frequently.

For instance, if you drink three Gatorades a day, this will add 474 calories to your diet. Based on the recommended 2,000 calories per day rule, this amount would constitute roughly 25% of your daily calorie intake!

If you do choose to drink Gatorade, pay attention to the sugar and sodium quantities you are consuming to make sure you are drinking a healthy amount.

What About Gatorade Zero?

Gatorade Zero is a fairly new release. This product contains all of the electrolytes of Gatorade without any of the sugar. Instead, the drink is artificially sweetened with sucralose.

There is some debate as to whether sucralose is a dangerous ingredient or whether it is harmless. Sucralose is a manmade product made in a chemical process. Some evidence suggests sucralose may increase blood sugar and insulin levels. However, there is little conclusive research on the subject.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other beverages that are also full of electrolytes without the added sugar. Drinks like juice, coconut water are just a few. If you do choose to drink Gatorade, pay attention to the sugar and sodium quantities you are consuming to make sure you are drinking a healthy amount. As with everything, moderation is key.

FAQs About Gatorade

Is Gatorade better than water for hydration?

Gatorade claims that the added electrolytes and carbs in the beverage make it better than water for hydration. It’s important to note, however, that this only applies when the body needs electrolytes. One study clarifies the claim by saying that Gatorade may be better for hydration, but only when children or athletes are engaged in prolonged and vigorous physical activity.

What are the electrolytes in Gatorade?

The main electrolytes in this sports drink are sodium and potassium. These are two of the most important electrolytes for the human body. The maker of Gatorade chose these as they are particularly helpful for hydration and muscle functionality.

How quickly will Gatorade work?

Will you start feeling the effects of Gatorade immediately, or will you have to wait? On an empty stomach, the beverage will be absorbed into the bloodstream within a few minutes. In most cases, the body will absorb the drink within 15-20 minutes.

Is Gatorade safe for children?

More and more children are drinking Gatorade on a daily basis. However, medical professionals have warned against this rising trend. When children consume Gatorade regularly, this habit can contribute to obesity and tooth decay. Instead, children should drink lots of water, some juice, and a few glasses of low-fat milk.