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Gatorade Sports Drink: Good or Bad? (+ Homemade Recipe)

Gatorade is a snack/sports drink that gets an all around “thumbs down.” Unfortunately, the general public (particularly athletes) have been duped into thinking that gatorade is the best choice for refuelling and rehydrating, but that is simply not the case.

Gatorade. The iconic sports drink that everyone knows the name of. But is it healthy? Or just hyped up sugar water? Read to find out.

Sports drinks like Gatorade claim to provide maximum, unparalleled hydration, boosted energy and higher athletic performance. In fact, the sports drink industry brings in almost $8 billion per year. Due to heavy marketing campaigns, these products have come to be accepted as the best and only choice for sports drinks, but they actually can cause far more harm than good.

What’s in Gatorade?

sports drinkFirst of all, let’s take a look at the nutrition facts for Gatorade (1):

  1. 150 calories
  2. 0 grams of fat
  3. 250 mg. of sodium
  4. 38 grams of carbohydrate
  5. 35 grams of sugar
  6. 0 grams of protein

Ingredients: water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, salt, sodium citrate, mono potassium phosphate, gum arabic, ester gum, color.

Given there are essentially no natural ingredients in a bottle of gatorade, why should we believe that it is a healthy and hydrating beverage?

What’s wrong with Gatorade?

Let’s take a closer look at why Gatorade (and other similar sports drinks) are not a good choice for anyone, athlete or not.

1. Tooth decay

Dentists and other tooth experts have learned that gatorade causes serious tooth decay and corrosion. This is because these drinks are very acidic (generally citric acid is used to increase shelf life), and citric acid softens tooth enamel. Therefore, brushing your teeth after drinking gatorade might actually worsen the problem.

2. Packed full of sugar

gatorade sugarThe first two ingredients listed on a gatorade bottle after water are sugar and dextrose (another form of sugar). It contains 35 grams of sugar, compared to a Coca Cola that contains 39 grams. Aside from the multiple other dangers of consuming refined sugar, studies have showed time and time again that sugar directly relates to obesity (2). So in reality, there is a certain irony that calorie dense and sugar-packed sports drinks are being produced specifically for athletes and gym-goers who are (typically) concerned about maintaining a certain physique.

Shockingly, one study conducted by the University of Berkeley found that students who drank 1, 20 oz. serving of a sports drink like gatorade by 1 year gained up to 13 pounds (3).

3. Offers energy that does not last

One of Gatorade’s biggest “health” claims is that it will give you energy, whether this be to increase workout or athletic performance, or simply in general. However, most all of Gatorade’s energy comes from sugar, which will provide a short boost, followed by a serious dip. What’s worse, this sort of blood sugar rollercoaster commonly caused by soda and sports drinks like gatorade can set you down the path to metabolic disorder and diabetes, due to their high sugar content (4).

4. Sugar sports drinks are addictive

Sugar sweetened sodas and sports drinks are chemically addictive. Similarly to addictive drugs, sugar releases dopamine in the reward center of the brain, making them highly addictive to those who regularly consume these types of beverages (5).

A closer look at Gatorade’s ingredient list

Monopotassium Phosphate

This ingredient is used partially as an electrolyte, but also as a preservative. The problem with phosphates is that they cause an imbalance of calcium to phosphorous in the body. An excess of phosphorous can cause calcium to be drawn out of the blood and bones, which can seriously weaken bones over time.

[Related: Honey vs. Sugar]

Artificial food colors 

Unfortunately, artificial food colorings are used in many food-like products, and Gatorade is no exception. Many colorings have been studied and proven to cause serious reactions in sensitive individuals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that blue 1 food coloring can cause severe allergic reactions, and inhibit nerve cell development in children. Yellow 6 is known to contain carcinogenic compounds, and potentially cause testicular and adrenal tumors (6). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned Red 3 in all cosmetics due to its connection to thyroid cancer.

Furthermore, studies have yet to be done on many food colorings, so we might simply not yet be aware of the potential dangers.

Dextrose

drinkingDextrose is a chemically derived sugar from corn that is made to be identical to glucose. It is a simple sugar that has been stripped of any minerals, vitamins or other nutrients found in natural sweeteners, and will provide only a short energy boost during your workout, usually followed by a crash.

Citric acid

Citric acid serves as a preservative and flavoring agent in Gatorade and many other foods, and is often produced from GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Citric acid has been shown to potentially irritate the digestive tract, cause heartburn and promote tooth decay.

So, what is a good alternative to Gatorade?

The easiest and most readily available alternative to Gatorade is coconut water. This popular beverage might actually be the best liquid available to replenish electrolytes (minerals that balance fluid levels in the body) after intense exercise.

Multiple studies have actually found that coconut water better hydrates and replenishes the body post-exercise than commercial sports drinks (7) (8), and it offers multiple other health benefits such as heart disease and diabetes prevention, controlling blood pressure and preventing kidney stones. Not to mention, it is absolutely delicious.

A second option is making your own natural sports drink. Check out this recipe (adapted from Wellness Mama) to try next time you find yourself craving a Gatorade.

Homemade Gatorade Recipe

1 liter of coconut water, regular water or green tea

Pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice

1-2 tbsp. raw honey, if desired for sweetness

homemade sports drink

[Related: 8 Benefits of Drinking Green Tea to Lose Weight]

Simply brew the tea (if using tea) and allow to cool, then blend all ingredients together in a jar or pitcher. Done!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Gatorade or other sugar and chemical-laden sports drinks are your best, or only, option. Remember, these beverages do not work particularly well to rehydrate and fuel the body in the first place, and they can cause some serious long term problems like sugar addiction, tooth decay and blood sugar crashes.

Instead, stick to natural options like the ones mentioned above, or just drink plenty of plain, old fresh water. Your health (as well as your workouts) will reap the benefits.




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Rachel Fiske
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consulted who graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkely, California. She is also a NASM-certified Personal Trainer and a practitioner of Functional Medicine, which focuses specifically on GI, adrenal and hormonal testing and treatment. Rachel specializes in issues of weight management, digestive health, hormonal imbalances, stress management and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle.

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