The nutritional value of sports drinks, such as Gatorade, is a source of debate among consumers and health professionals alike. Is it a safe choice for hydration? If so, is it necessarily a healthy one?
What is Gatorade?
Gatorade is a brand of beverage, arguably the most recognizable of the type known as "sports drinks". A sports drink is specifically designed to help athletes replenish carbohydrates, electrolytes and other nutrients that the body loses during physical exertion.
Gatorade vs. Water
Unlike plain water, Gatorade contains significant amounts of carbohydrates (sugars) and small amounts of sodium and potassium. By FDA standards, an 8-oz. serving of Gatorade is a low-sodium food. Gatorade has 110 mg of sodium, the same as an 8-oz. glass of milk or one slice of bread. For most people, water is the best choice for hydration. Not only is it inexpensive, but most individuals do not typically require the extra nutrients in sports drinks.
According to ABC News contributor Dr. David Katz, Gatorade might be appropriate for elite athletes, but provides unnecessary calories, salt and sugar to the average person. For serious athletes, or those who exercise daily for more than 90 minutes, Gatorade can be a helpful thirst quencher. Some people prefer its flavor choices over plain water, and it can help individuals who experience heavy sweat losses during exercise sessions.
The major drawbacks of Gatorade consumption have to do with the sugar and sodium content. One cup contains 60 calories, and most bottles contain an average of 2.5 servings. Secondly, the acidity in such sports drinks can erode teeth. Thirdly, too much sodium can deplete nutrients and cause muscle cramps. A new study even suggests that Gatorade can be more harmful to your teeth than consumption of sugary soft drinks. Researcher Leslie A. Ehlen, a student at the University of Iowa School of Dentistry, says that "people need to be aware that all sorts of beverages can be causing dental erosion."
The Bottom Line
Gatorade itself isn't necessarily an unhealthy choice--however, if it is consumed frequently, it could become one. It is best suited to serious athletes, or used sparingly by more sedentary individuals.