Before you reach for that next bottle of Gatorade, or other sports drink…consider what may be in it. You think it is healthy because it supports exercise, but this is not necessarily the case. I reach for them too, so I am not immune. Sports drinks are convenient, and I view them as necessary evils. For an intense workout, a hot day or a long run or bike ride, you need the extra electrolytes, sugars and hydration. It is often easier to suck down several gulps of a sports drink than it is to drink a lot of water. Your typical bottle of Gatorade, however, contains the following:
Water, Sucrose and Dextrose
Water is the first ingredient in a 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade and provides the base for the drink. Sucrose and dextrose are the second and third ingredients. These are two types of simple sugar that are easily digested and provide the drink with 14 g of carbohydrates.
Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate and Flavorings
Gatorade contains the additive citric acid that adds a tart flavor to the drink. It is completely safe and abundant in natural products such as citrus fruits and berries. Gatorade also lists natural and artificial flavors as ingredients. Sodium citrate acts as a buffer to control the acidity of Gatorade.
Sodium and Monopotassium Phosphate
Sodium and potassium are two of the primary electrolytes that you lose during a hard-core sweat session. These electrolytes contribute to hydration and proper muscle function. Gatorade includes these ingredients to help replenish your body and keep it working at optimal levels during exertion.
Modified Food Starch
Modified food starch can be made from any number of grains, including wheat, corn or tapioca. The food starch in Gatorade is not made from wheat, as the official site notes that Gatorade’s products are gluten-free. Modified food starch helps Gatorade have a uniform viscosity.
Phosphoric Acid, Gum Arabic and Glycerin
Phosphoric acid adds flavor to Gatorade. In large amounts, it can erode tooth enamel. Gum Arabic is made from trees and helps make Gatorade shelf stable. You do not digest gum Arabic. Glycerin is a source of energy for the body.
Ester of Rosin and Sucrose Acetate
Ester of rosin is a stabilizer that helps keep Gatorade’s ingredients from separating. Sucrose acetate isobutyrate is another emulsifier.
Gatorade includes artificial colors, including yellow 5 and blue 1. The type included depends on the flavor you choose. All the colorings used in Gatorade are approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration. Does this mean they are good for you? I’ll leave that up to you – anything the color of window cleaner makes me nervous. Some flavors also include caramel color.
Gatorade’s G2 contains the artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfamine potassium. Sucralose is a sugar substitute created during a chemical reaction between sugar and chlorine. It is generally regarded as safe, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Acesulfamine potassium, also called acesulfamine K, appears on the ingredient lists of hundreds of foods. It contains no calories, but is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns against consuming acesulfamine potassium because animal studies suggest it might cause cancer.
In his book, Thrive, The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, triathlete Brandon Brazier offers natural alternatives to sports drinks. One of the easiest recipes has you mix 3 parts of your favorite unsweetened fruit juice with 1 part water and sea salt to taste. A more complicated lemon-lime drink has you blend the juice of half of a lemon with the juice of one-quarter of a lime with three dates, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp. agave nectar, 1 tsp. coconut oil and sea salt to taste in a blender. This drink stays fresh for about 2 weeks, but may settle so you might need to reblend it after its stored a few days.
I must confess, I haven’t tried either of these. I have, on my own, used tart cherry juice or pomegranate juice mixed with water, as a sports drink – but only for exercise lasting 90 minutes or less. I do occasionally reach for Gatorade, but have cut way back. The juices, especially the tart ones I mentioned, do not have that horribly sweet taste and super high added sugar content that can lead to unpleasant digestive side effects often experienced on long runs. I plan to experiment with adding salt next time I go out for a long run to see if it helps me last longer. I chose pomegranate juice, because I like it. Tart cherry juice, I chose because it is supposed to help with recovery and reduced muscle damage. See here for more: London Marathon Study on Tart Cherry Juice | Multi-Select Publishing | New England Runner.