For people who like straight answers, you’re not going to like this one. The answer is, it depends.
Gatorade is a sports drink. Sports drinks are different from protein drinks, meal replacement drinks, vitamin drinks, recovery drinks, fitness waters, endurance drinks, and recreational drinks like Kool-Aid and colas. Each drink has a specific purpose (we will talk about each of these in future articles), but the purpose of quality sports drinks is three fold.
2. Replacing glycogen stores (sugar that is stored in the liver and muscles)
3. Replacing electrolytes
We will use Gatorade as our example because it was the first of the major sports drinks. It was created by physicians and researchers at the University of Florida in 1965 to combat some of the problems facing the school’s football team. The players were suffering from cramps, exhaustion and a host of other problems caused by training in the area’s hot and humid conditions. The researchers discovered that the players were not drinking enough water or replacing the electrolytes and glycogen that was lost through sweat and exercise.
Soon after the drinks introduction, the team began winning. The athletes were recovering faster and outlasting their opponents on the field. They went on to win the Orange Bowl for the first time. Soon other universities wanted it, NFL teams ordered it and the rest is history. The drink, originally called Gatorpiss by the players, was wanted by teams everywhere. They changed the name, because the old one didn’t bode well for marketing purposes, and called it Gatorade.
Gatorade has been well researched. My brother in-law, another health professor at UNLV, actually participated in some of the earlier studies. It, and other drinks, contain the formula that seems to work best for hydrating and replacing sugars and electrolytes. That is for every 8 ounces of water, there should be 14 grams of easily digested carbohydrates, about 110 mg of sodium, and 30 mg of potassium.
So now that we know a bit more about these drinks, are they good for kids?
Remember, these drinks are primarily to hydrate and to replace glycogen stores so that athletes can feed muscles, delay fatigue, play longer, and recover better. They also replace electrolytes lost from sweat, but you have to be really sweating for hours to have to worry much about electrolytes. So if your child has been working out and sweating for at least 45 minutes, the answer is probably yes, drink a sports drink. If your child is just hanging out playing video games, the answer is definitely no, drink water.
Besides being expensive, sports drinks contain quite a few calories and can easily contribute to weight gain if the calories are not used properly. It is no big secret that kids and adults these days are heavier than they have ever been. Obesity leads to a host of health problems, some of them serious, deadly serious.
An 8 ounce glass of Gatorade has about 3.5 teaspoons of sugar, (but who drinks 8 ounces?). Most people drink a 24 to 32 ounce jug. That means they are drinking 10 to 14 teaspoons of extra sugar, about the same as a can of soda! That’s about 200 calories of lack luster nutrition. No vitamins, plant chemicals, fiber, protein, healthy fats: just simple water, sugar and salt.
Something else to consider with these sugary drinks is the effect that they have on blood sugar levels. When someone has just worked out, they need to replace lost carbohydrate stores. It is good for them to do so. But if they haven’t worked out, these drinks increase blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise and fall too many times, insulin problems occur and this can lead to Type II Diabetes. No one wants their kids to get Type II Diabetes.
Another concern is salt. There have been cases of kids, at even 5 to 8 years old, getting kidney stones. It makes sense that with all of the added salt in the processed food people eat today, we closely monitor what our children eat and drink.
Also, in recent years, there has been an increase in cavities. Many health professionals believe that this is because of the combination of sugar and acids found in sodas, juices, and yes sports drinks. The more kids drink these drinks, the bigger the chance of tooth decay.
So now you probably think I am “down” on sports drinks. The opposite is true. We drink them almost every day. Are we hypocrites? No. Here’s why.
We drink sports drinks after we work out, and so do our kids. After a good work out, the body needs to replace what was lost during exertion. Research shows that if what was lost is replaced correctly, it is very beneficial to the body. When people drink water, they tend to drink one glass and then stop before they are fully hydrated. Sports drinks contain the right amount of sugar, not only to replenish glycogen stores, but to keep the person drinking until they are hydrated. There is also not too much sugar, as with juices and other drinks that can cause gas and digestion difficulties after exercise.
When should we drink sports drinks?
First, you should always replenish liquids within 30 minutes of exercising, the sooner the better. During this time, your cells will actually allow more absorption of the nutrients they need. The next time you work out, you will have a bit more muscle glycogen stored which may increase performance. You should also drink while you are exercising, if you are going to continue past 45 minutes to an hour. As we said before, this helps feed the muscles and delay fatigue, helping you give a better performance longer.
We like the powdered version of Gatorade which you make at home. Not only is it less expensive and doesn’t come in the plastic bottles, it contains sucrose and dextrose instead of high fructose corn syrup as the main carbohydrate. Here are some other tips.
1. For workouts 45 minutes or less, water is the best. Just make sure your kids are actually drinking it. Water is calorie free, it helps to clean teeth, and it is hard to drink too much of it. You can try fitness waters, but there is no evidence that the little bit of vitamins or minerals in these drinks will improve athletic performance. They do contain just enough sugar to encourage kids to drink more. (Just try to avoid those with artificial sweeteners.)
2. Drink a sports drink if you have been sweating and or working out for about 45 minutes or more. Besides replacing lost sugar and electrolytes, these drinks taste better than water so people tend to drink more and hydrate better.
3. During really hot days and /or longer workouts, you can try endurance drinks. These still have the 14 grams of carbohydrates per cup, but they also add a bit more sodium and potassium to maintain electrolyte levels for long bouts of exercise or competitions.
Other hydrating options for those who are not in serious training include mixing a solution of one part water to one part 100% fruit juice, which is pretty good for you and doesn't have too many carbohydrates which may upset your stomach. You can also try making your own sports drink by taking a powdered drink packet like Kool-aid and mixing it in two quarts of water but only using half of a cup of sugar. Then sprinkle in two or three good shakes of salt.
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