Gatorade is sold as an exercise enhancement drink. It contains rehydrating electrolytes but also has a high concentration of sugar. With this in mind, is drinking Gatorade good or bad for people’s health and sports performance?
Gatorade is classified as a “sports drink.” Scientists at the University of Florida developed the drink in 1965 with the aim of boosting the performance of their football team, called the Gators. In 1967, the Gators won the Orange Bowl for the first time in years.
Gatorade contains electrolytes to rehydrate people and provide energy. However, it also contains high levels of sugar, which can increase people’s health risks.
According to Healthy Eating Research in 2012, people’s intake of sugary drinks has increased significantly in the last 3 decades. Drinking sugary sports drinks, such as Gatorade, is associated with:
Still, this alone does not mean that Gatorade is bad for a person’s health. People can consume moderate amounts of Gatorade or other sports drinks and experience no negative effects.
Serious athletes and people who do heavy exercise may even see benefits from drinking Gatorade, as well as water.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the benefits and the risks of drinking Gatorade.
Both Gatorade and water will help the body regain fluid lost through exercise and other physical activity. The difference is that manufacturers add additional elements, such as sugar and electrolytes, to Gatorade and other sports drinks.
Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium and sodium, that have an impact on a person’s muscles, brain, and nerves.
When a person exercises, they lose not only water but also electrolytes through their sweat. Gatorade, because of its electrolyte content, helps to restore the lost electrolytes and keep a person hydrated, during intense activity. It can also replace electrolytes, during times of illness, such as stomach viruses.
Gatorade was designed to help serious athletes perform better on the field. There is no shortage of research, largely funded by Gatorade and other sports drinks, to support these claims.
According to SugarScience by the University of California, Berkeley there are more than 300 research articles about sports drinks available. Of these, it is difficult to find research not funded heavily by industry stakeholders, including Gatorade. When these bodies fund research into their own products, reviewers widely regard it as a conflict of interest.
For example, an independent review of research from 2007 discovered that fully industry-funded research studies were significantly more likely to find favorable results than studies with no industry funding.
A research review from the University of California, Berkley in 2014 points out that most researchers are basing their results on the performance of serious athletes. Therefore, serious athletes competing or exercising for longer than an hour at a time may find Gatorade offers benefits that water does not.
However, scientists do not recommend Gatorade or other sports drinks, in most circumstances, for the average person or child, exercising or competing for less than an hour.
The manufacturers have designed Gatorade for serious athletes and those involved in extended, vigorous activities. In addition to adding electrolytes to the person’s fluid consumption, it also adds sugar.
Typically, serious athletes and people involved in long, strenuous activities can handle the added sugar, as they will burn it off, during their normal routines. Extra sugar is more likely to cause health complications in people who exercise less often or only for an hour or less.
Central Washington University compared calorie counts of Gatorade and other drinks per serving:
- Gatorade contains 50 calories
- Powerade and All-Sport contain 70 calories
- Coca-Cola contains 103 calories
- orange juice contains 104 calories
According to the same information, Gatorade offers 14 grams (g) of carbohydrates per serving compared to 27 g in Coca-Cola and 25 g in orange juice.
The University of California, Berkeley’s 2014 paper concludes that children’s increase in sugary drink consumption, including energy drinks, may be contributing to weight gain in adulthood. They also link this to chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The researchers suggest sports drinks may be using misleading labels and advertising to promote health benefits that science has not fully proven.
For most people, including children and adolescents, the extra sugar, sodium, and calories found in sugary drinks are not necessary. In fact, these calories may be replacing calorie intake from more nutritious sources.
In addition to calories, people should conside some other factors. Lower calorie versions of Gatorade contain artificial sweeteners that some research indicates may lead to ongoing weight problems.
One study published in 2010 suggests that artificial sweeteners may increase weight when consumed regularly.
A final consideration, especially for those with allergies and sensitivity, is the presence of food dyes in Gatorade and other sports drinks. This caution is because some research has linked artificial dyes to health issues, such as hyperactivity and, potentially, cancers.
Gatorade may offer a good drink to complement water for athletes involved in intense exercise and activity. Gatorade may also be helpful to replace electrolytes lost during an illness that involves bouts of vomiting or diarrhea, or after prolonged exposure to excessive heat.
But Gatorade contains high levels of sugar and food dyes, which may increase people’s risk of certain health conditions, including weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
Gatorade and other sports drinks are not inherently healthy or healthier than other beverages. When consumed regularly, Gatorade may lead to, or contribute to, problems such as obesity.
More research is needed to fully understand the positive and negative impacts of Gatorade and other sports drinks.