Gatorade vs Good ‘Ole H2O

Have you ever wondered whether sports drinks really make a difference? Is Gatorade, Powerade, AllSport or Xcel really worth the extra expense over a bottle of plain water? Over the past week I did some research on this very topic, and thought you might be interested in my findings.

Sports drinks currently on the market contain water, 6-8% sugar and electrolytes that may be lost in sweat such as sodium, potassium and chloride. While commercially-available drinks vary slightly in composition, the differences are not significant and it doesn’t really matter which one you purchase. The main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to be drinking anything that is more than 10% sugar because that may actually contribute to dehydration. Also, place your water or sports drink in the fridge before you drink it. Cold fluids are better than warmer fluid during exercise because they help regulate body temperature. This is especially important in the summer.

Do sports drinks increase performance? In general, they appear to improve athletic performance because they provide extra carbohydrates which are fuel for muscles, and because they provide electrolytes which, with water, help maintain hydration.

A review of over 70 studies by Coombes and Hamilton published in a journal called Sports Medicine in 2000 indicated that consuming any commercially available sports drinks improves athletic performance for short-term intense exercise (for less than 1 hour) and for prolonged or ultra-endurance exercise (more than 1 hour). The review also stated that the for ultra-endurance exercise (more than 4 hours) where there are large electrolyte losses due to sweating, drinks containing electrolytes have a significant advantage over plain water.

The American College of Sports Medicine in their 2007 statement, Exercise and Fluid Replacement, asserts that “sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes often do provide more benefits than consuming water alone.”

Ok, so there are benefits for people doing short-term intense exercise, and those planning on running, cycling or engaging in another form of exercise for more than an hour at a time. What about those of us who just like to jog for 30 minutes a day, a few times a week? Should we use sports drinks? There are several factors to keep in mind here:

  1. Remember that sports drinks provides extra energy without giving you very many vitamins or other important nutrients.
  2. On the other hand, studies have shown that during exercise, people will voluntarily drink more of a sports drink than water.

So, you may want to opt for water instead of sports drinks to optimize your balanced diet. Hydration is essential, however, so if you are exercising for a longer period, are prone to dehydration or it’s very hot, it’s most important that you get enough fluid. Sports drinks aren’t necessary (water is great!) however if sports drinks encourage you to stay more hydrated than you normally would with water, give them a try.


American College of Sports Medicine Press Release. February 2007.
Coombes & Hamilton. Effectiveness of Commercially Available Sports Drinks. Sports Med 2000 Mar: 29 (3): 181-209