Gatorade was invented in 1965 to improve football players' performance during summer practices. In 1988, Coca Cola released Powerade to compete with Gatorade. PepsiCo bought Gatorade in 2001, putting more firepower behind the battle of the sports-drink brands. Nevertheless, 20 years after Powerade's release, Gatorade maintains a 3 to 1 advantage in market share.
What Are Sports Drinks?
Sports drinks are a means of maintaining hydration, and electrolyte and glucose levels during exercise. An athlete loses about a liter of water per hour through sweat. Since a 2 percent loss of body weight from sweat can lead to a 10 percent performance decrease, it is important for athletes to keep up with hydration. Electrolytes are responsible for maintaining the proper mineral levels for nervous system function and muscle contractions. Glucose (a carbohydrate) provides more than half of the energy for intense exercise. The body only stores enough glucose for about 90 minutes of exercise. After that, an athlete maintains glucose levels by consuming carbohydrates during exercise.
Carbohydrates in Sports Drinks
Sugars are immediately available to working muscles, making them a good source of energy during exercise. However, too much sugar interferes with water absorption. A University of Texas study found that solutions of 4 percent to 8 percent carbohydrates optimized water and carbohydrate absorption. Both Gatorade and Powerade are within this range, with Gatorade offering a 6 percent solution and Powerade 8 percent. In addition to glucose, Powerade derives 12 percent of its carbohydrates from sugar polymers, though it is unclear if polymers act any differently than glucose once inside the body.
Sodium keeps blood flowing easily by retaining water in the blood. Your body loses 900mg to 1,400mg sodium per liter of sweat, so sodium is the most abundant electrolyte in Powerade and Gatorade. With 110g per 8 fl. oz., Gatorade packs twice the sodium as Powerade's 55mg. You have to be exercising for a long time (such as running a marathon) to dangerously deplete sodium, so Gatorade's high sodium concentration may be inappropriate for recreational athletes.
Other Vitamins and Minerals
Sodium is only one of eight electrolytes lost during exercise. Both Powerade and Gatorade provide the same amount of potassium (30mg/8 fl. oz.), an electrolyte responsible for smooth muscle contractions and energy metabolism. Powerade provides two electrolytes that are not included in Gatorade: magnesium and calcium. Depleting magnesium and calcium can lead to muscle cramps.
Do You Need Sports Drinks?
Sports drinks enhance performance for athletes engaged in intense exercise, but they are not a health food. If you exercise for an hour or less a day, then you can meet hydration needs with plain water and a balanced diet. If you exercise hard for more than 90 minutes, then Gatorade and Powerade are one way to meet carbohydrate needs. Electrolyte depletion is only important after several hours of exercise. Because Powerade has more carbohydrates and lower electrolyte concentrations, it may be better for events shorter than two hours. Gatorade, with higher sodium levels and fewer carbohydrates, is good for events longer than three hours, where additional calories may come from real food.