Since its introduction to the marketplace in 1965, Gatorade has become the leader of the sports drink industry. It began modestly as a hydration tool for football players struggling to cope with the heat and humidity of practices and has morphed into a beneficial training tool for athletes of all shapes and sizes.
Maintaining fluid balance in physically active people is an ongoing challenge. During exercise, the body can lose a considerable amount of water, and these losses are intensified in environments above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As a flavored beverage, Gatorade can enhance voluntary fluid consumption because palatability is a key factor for beverage choices. In warm conditions, an individual can easily lose 4 liters of fluid during a two-hour training session. Drinking Gatorade helps replenish fluid loss and maintain proper hydration, especially in the dry climate of Arizona.
Sodium is an important nutrient in Gatorade because it helps maintain electrolyte balance and provides the urge to drink. The beverage is formulated to contain a concentration of sodium similar to that of normal perspiration. Sodium is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat; therefore, replacement is critical. An 8-ounce serving of regular Gatorade provides 110 milligrams of sodium. Extra sodium formulations are available for individuals who are prone to muscle cramps.
Potassium is the other major electrolyte found in Gatorade, although its overall concentration is quite low when compared to sodium. Potassium losses in perspiration are just a fraction of sodium losses, which is why an 8-ounce serving of Gatorade provides only 30 milligrams of potassium. Despite the smaller quantities, replacing the potassium is important in prolonged exercise lasting more than 90 minutes. Potassium works with sodium to maintain proper fluid balance and also helps to trigger the electrical impulses that signal the muscles to contract and relax.
Gatorade is best suited for activities that are intense or time-consuming. During these types of exercise, the muscles benefit from additional carbohydrate energy. Gatorade is formulated to provide an amount of carbohydrate that is adequate for fueling energy without triggering gastrointestinal upset. The carbohydrate concentration of Gatorade is 6 percent, which usually is tolerated well during physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine says beverage carbohydrate concentrations greater than 8 percent will slow down gastric emptying time. The standard 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade provides 35 grams of carbohydrate and represents a fluid amount that can be comfortably consumed during one hour of physical activity. Fruit juices, lemonade and other sugar-sweetened drinks often have a carbohydrate concentration greater than 10 percent.
- First in Thirst; Darren Rovell
- Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals; Marie Dunford, Ph.D., RD
- American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and Fluid Replacement
Jonathan Vredenburg is a registered dietitian and an ACSM credentialed health/fitness specialist. He is also a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. Vredenburg's articles have been featured in "Healthsource Magazine," "First Coast Magazine," "Mature Matters" and "SOBeFiT Magazine."