Is Gatorade Good for Hydration?

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A Brief History – Gatorade was developed in 1965 as a replacement for body fluids lost by University of Florida football players (Gators) during lengthy practices in high heat and humidity. The earliest versions of “GatorAde” combined water, sodium, sugar, potassium, phosphate, and lemon juice. For the first 15 years, the only flavor of Gatorade was lemon-lime.

Today, Gatorade and similar “sports drinks” are designed to increase energy levels, replace depleted electrolytes and keep you hydrated. Generally, all sports drinks contain sodium and potassium, carbohydrates (sugar), and water. Athletes and consumers believe that sports drinks like Gatorade rehydrate athletes, do they live up to these claims?

The importance of electrolytes in hydration. Electrolytes are salts and minerals found in your blood and cells. Electrolytes help to regulate muscle contractions, metabolism and bodily fluids. The most well-known electrolytes are Sodium and Chloride which are easily lost through sweat during intense or prolonged exercise. A loss of electrolytes can result in muscle cramps, fatigue and nausea. This critical loss happens most often during extended training, intense training over an hour or in hot, humid climates.

Gatorade and similar sports drinks can help replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise, especially in the heat. Rehydrating before, during and after intense or extended exercise can prevent dehydration which can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches, dizziness and poor concentration. Unfortunately, water alone will not maintain adequate levels of electrolytes. Your sports drink should contain:

Sodium – Too much sodium can cause kidney complications, bloating or high blood pressure, but adequate sodium is necessary for a variety of biochemical functions and we can’t live without it. Symptoms of low sodium (hyponatremia) include headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Potassium – Potassium is necessary for nerve conduction. Low potassium is called hypokalemia and may cause an irregular heartbeat, muscular weakness, cramps and constipation.

Calcium – While calcium is best known for healthy bones and teeth, it is also critical for muscle contraction and nerve conduction. Calcium deficiency may cause cramps, heart palpitations, numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes, dizziness and mental confusion.

Magnesium – Magnesium is necessary for the production of energy through the conversion of glucose into ATP and critical for cardiovascular rhythm and function. Magnesium deficiency symptoms can include irritability, insomnia, weakness, muscle tremors and twitching.

Be aware that many popular sports drinks are full of sugar, a 20-ounce serving of Gatorade contains 36 grams of sugar, that’s about 9 teaspoons! While this may be intended for quick energy, to counteract this rapid rise in blood sugar your body must release large amounts of insulin to help your cells absorb this glucose. This insulin release inhibits the breakdown of body fat and may be counterproductive when you consider the reason you are training hard.

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