Most athletes do their best to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet to support their exercise performance and overall health.
However, when it comes to fueling right before and during our runs, rides, and other workouts, we sometimes don’t think twice about what we are putting into our bodies—if it’s marketed as a sports nutrition product for athletes, we assume that it’s healthy.
One of the most popular sports drinks out there is Gatorade. But is Gatorade good for you? What about Zero? Is Gatorade Zero good for you?
In this article, we will cover Gatorade ingredients, Gatorade nutrition facts, Gatorade sugar content, and whether or not Gatorade is good for you.
More specifically, we will cover:
- What Is Gatorade?
- Gatorade Nutrition Facts
- Is Gatorade Good For You, Or Bad For You?
- Is Gatorade Zero Good for You?
- Should You Drink Gatorade Or Water?
Let’s dive in!
What Is Gatorade?
Gatorade is a popular sports beverage marketed as an athletic performance enhancement drink.
Gatorade was developed back in 1965 by scientists at the University of Florida with the goal of improving athletic performance for the university football team, the “Gators.”
The Gators went on to win the Orange Bowl in 1967 for the first time in many years, helping to popularize Gatorade and kickstart its commercial success as one of the first athletic enhancement drinks.
It is an isotonic solution that contains about 6% sugar by volume.
Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium play key roles in a variety of physiological functions, such as nerve conduction, skeletal muscle contraction, and heart muscle contractions.
Since the initial inception of the original Gatorade recipe, Gatorade has also released Gatorade Zero, which contains non-caloric sweeteners as well as other formulations of the sports beverage.
Gatorade Nutrition Facts
There are different Gatorade products available, but the traditional Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains about 150 calories, 36 grams of sugar, 306 mg of sodium, and 135 mg of potassium per 20-ounce serving.
The sugar in the Gatorade ingredients list is sucrose, which is table sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose.
Is Gatorade Good For You, Or Bad For You?
There are two primary nutritional drawbacks of Gatorade or potential reasons why it is not necessarily good for you. The first problem is that it is high in sugar.
As per Healthy Eating Research, intake of sugary beverages has increased significantly in the last three decades, though this research is already 10 years old, so it is hard to say if it is continuing to get worse or has started to improve.
With that said, consuming sweetened sports drinks, such as Gatorade, is associated with an increased risk of weight gain, obesity, tooth decay, and type 2 diabetes. Let’s take a look at Gatorade sugar content compared to other beverages:
A 20-ounce serving of Gatorade’s Thirst Quencher contains 36 grams of sugar, which is significantly less in an equal-sized serving of a typical soda or sweetened fruit juice, though still significant.
For reference, 20 ounces of Coke contains 65 g of sugar and 240 calories.
There are 4.2 grams of sugar per teaspoon, which means that there are about 8 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce serving of regular Gatorade.
With that said, the simple sugars in Gatorade are not necessarily unhealthy for athletes. In fact, these readily-absorbable sugars are required by the body during exercise to supply energy to the muscles, helping to prevent glycogen depletion during endurance workouts.
Additionally, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that glucose and fructose, two simple sugars found in Gatorade and other common sports drinks, help enhance the absorption of fluid and electrolytes in the drink.
In fact, studies suggest that sports drinks, such as Gatorade, that combine fructose and glucose together are more easily absorbed during exercise than glucose-only solutions.
Moreover, the specific 6% carbohydrate solution of Gatorade has been shown to optimize fluid absorption rates during exercise.
Significant fluids can be lost during exercise, mostly through sweat, but also through water vapor in expired respiratory gasses from heavier breathing.
The balance of electrolytes in Gatorade is designed to not only replicate the concentration of electrolytes lost in sweat but also to increase fluid absorption.
Dehydration during exercise is a significant cause for concern, both from a health and performance perspective.
Proper fluid and electrolyte balance is required for numerous key functions in the body.
Dehydration of just 2% of your body weight has been shown to decrease athletic performance. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, losing 3 pounds through sweat is enough to negatively impact your physical performance.
Dehydration during exercise can result in the following consequences:
- Poor temperature regulation
- Elevated heart rate
- Dizziness and low blood pressure
- Reduced strength
- Slowed fluid absorption
- Poor motor control
- Compromised decision-making, focus, and mental clarity
- Poor recovery from your workout
- Increased muscle soreness post-workout
- Compromised athletic performance
Water is absorbed in the body by osmosis, which means that it moves from areas where there are higher concentrations of particles to ones with lower concentrations.
When there are higher concentrations of electrolytes like sodium and potassium in the bloodstream, along with higher concentrations of glucose, the water you drink will move from the small intestines into the bloodstream more easily, hydrating your body more effectively.
The other reason why Gatorade can be bad for you is that many of the formulations contain artificial flavors and dyes, such as Red No. 40, Blue No. 1, and Yellow No. 5.
These types of artificial dyes have been associated with increased hyperactivity in children and potentially increased risk of certain cancers.
Is Gatorade Zero Good for You?
There are lower-sugar Gatorade options, such as Gatorade G2 and Gatorade Zero.
Gatorade Zero contains 0 calories, while Gatorade G2 contains 40 calories in a 16-ounce serving. Although this is less than half the calories of regular Gatorade, it’s also a smaller serving size.
Research surrounding the long-term safety and health implications of artificial sweeteners is not yet conclusive, but evidence suggests that they can be deleterious to health, potentially causing weight gain, metabolic changes, and increasing the risk of certain cancers.
Finally, non-caloric sweeteners do not add nutritional value, nor do they improve performance or provide energy, so sugar-free sports drinks negate the benefits of consuming carbohydrates as you exercise.
Should You Drink Gatorade Or Water?
Deciding whether you should drink Gatorade (or another similar sports drink) or water depends on your activity level, workout, and overall fueling strategy.
If you aren’t working out at all, it’s usually better to drink plain water instead of Gatorade because you don’t need the extra sugar/calories, and your electrolyte levels should be fine as long as you are eating.
The exception here would be if you are sick and vomiting, unable to consume food, or did a workout or other heavy-sweating activity earlier in the day and didn’t replace the electrolytes.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement states that plain water should be sufficient before, during, and after workouts lasting an hour or less, provided you have a well-balanced diet, an average sweat rate, and didn’t have an extremely intense workout.
In these cases, and for workouts lasting more than an hour, drinking sports drinks like Gatorade, or other fluids containing electrolytes and carbohydrates, can be beneficial.
For longer endurance workouts, your body does need carbohydrates during your workout, but depending on your fueling strategy, this doesn’t necessarily have to be attained via a sports drink.
A good rule of thumb is to aim to replace 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour for workouts lasting from 1-2.5 hours and 60-70 grams per hour (but up to 90 grams per hour) for endurance exercise lasting longer than 2.5 hours.
You can drink water during workouts lasting 90 minutes or more as long as you are taking in other sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes at regular intervals.
Examples of good endurance fueling alternatives to Gatorade include bananas, oranges, dried dates or figs, energy bars, applesauce squeeze packets, maple syrup, dried pineapple chunks, raisins of yogurt-covered raisins, fig newtons, and bites of peanut butter sandwiches.
Therefore, as long as you are hydrating enough and fueling with enough carbohydrates, Gatorade should not be necessary, even during endurance workouts.
You can also make your own homemade Gatorade, which will be free and clear from artificial colors, preservatives, and flavorings.
To make your own electrolyte drinks, check out our recipes!