In 1965, scientists at the University of Florida developed Gatorade with salts and sugars with the goal of boosting performance and aiding recovery of the Gators football team. Just a few years later, in 1967, the Gators won the Orange Bowl for the first time in many years. That must mean Gatorade is good for runners, right? Maybe.
Hydration solutions are designed help replace important minerals that are lost through sweat, including electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. With so many sports drinks on the market, it can be difficult to pick. Many companies create electrolyte and fuel solutions designed specifically for endurance athletes, such as marathoners, ultra-runners, triathletes, and cyclists.
What about sports drinks produced by big brands, such as Coca Cola’s Powerade and PepsiCo’s Gatorade? Do these products have what endurance athletes need to perform their best? Let’s find out.
Is Gatorade Good for Runners?
Yes. Although the Gatorade available today is very different from the original, it still relies on its sugar content to deliver energy. Despite the sugar, Gatorade is good for runners. A 20 fl oz bottle of Gatorade has less sugar than a 20 fl oz bottle of Pepsi, sitting at 34g in Gatorade versus 69g in Pepsi.
However, athletes have the potential to consume more than 20 fl oz of Gatorade for activities in excess of 60 minutes, resulting in more sugar hitting the system.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, and the calories that come from carbs are fuel for the body. Carbs get a bad reputation, but they’re essential for performance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sugars should represent less than 10% of daily caloric intake. This is equivalent to 200 calories for the standard 2,000-calorie diet. One 20 fl oz bottle of Gatorade is 140 calories, and the added sugars are roughly 70% of the recommended Daily Value.
It’s important to remember that the body burns calories during physical activity, and calories are fuel. As with any sweet treat, Gatorade is generally fine when consumed in moderation. Gatorade is a good hydration option because it comes in a variety of flavors and is easy to find at any grocery store or gas station.
As a daily drink, Gatorade adds a significant amount of sugar to the diet. However, as a source of electrolytes and calories during or after physical activity, it’s just fine.
What Does Gatorade Do for Runners?
Gatorade’s combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates helps runners rehydrate and refuel during and after activity. These additional ingredients offer better hydration than plain water, making it an excellent sports drink for longer, harder, or hotter runs.
Electrolytes are chemicals that dissolve in body fluids and conduct electricity. They’re responsible for directing water and nutrients to different parts of the body to maintain a healthy fluid balance. For example, during a run, electrolytes are responsible for ensuring muscles stay hydrated so they can perform optimally. When muscles get dehydrated, they can cramp or feel weak both during and after a run.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, help keep energy levels high during a run and replenish glycogen stores, aiding in faster recovery. Gatorade is one way to consume carbohydrates during a run. However, some runners rely on additional fuel sources to take in carbs during a run, including performance gels and regular foods.
Is It Good to Drink Gatorade Before or After Running?
Gatorade is designed to be consumed during and/or after running. However, on days when the scheduled workout is harder than normal, or the temperatures are high, loading up on electrolytes in advance of a run isn’t a bad idea. It’s better to hydrate early than to show up dehydrated and risk affecting performance.
Water is generally sufficient for runs shorter than 60 minutes. However, when a run exceeds 60 minutes, it’s time to start replacing electrolytes. Although, athletes running in hot conditions or those who naturally perspire a lot should start drinking Gatorade sooner to replace those electrolytes lost through sweat. Generally, 30-45 minutes into the run is a good place to start.
Electrolyte replacement continues to be important after a run, but carbs and protein become important, too. Scientific research has shown that consuming a sports drink that contains a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is optimal for recovery. At the very least, sipping Gatorade and having a protein-rich snack after a run will help aid in overall recovery.
Is Gatorade Zero Good for Running?
Gatorade Zero is good for running when the athlete is actively trying to avoid consuming sugar. This sports drink is sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K). These FDA-approved sweeteners are sugar alternatives because they are many times sweeter than sugar but with no calories.
Most notably, because of the lack of sugar, Gatorade Zero does not offer carbohydrates – just hydration.
A common misconception about artificial sweeteners is that they are a “healthy” alternative. Because they are significantly sweeter than sugar, less is needed to achieve the sweetness that many people desire. However, some studies have shown that people who drink beverages sweetened with sucralose end up consuming more calories than those who beverages with regular sugar.
Artificial sweeteners are a viable substitute for sugar. However, unless sugar has a proven, negative impact on an individual’s health, it is unnecessary to demonize and avoid it in favor of products with artificial sweeteners. While approved by the FDA, research is still being conducted to assess the side effects of consuming them.
Studies in mice have shown that sugar alternatives sucralose and Ace-K can cause weight shifts, changes in the gut microbiome, and chronic inflammation.
Despite originally being engineered for football players, Gatorade is good for runners. It is an efficient fuel source, offering both electrolytes for hydration and carbohydrates for energy – both of which are important for runners. For those who are conscious of sugar intake, Gatorade Zero is a sugar-free alternative, offering hydration without carbohydrates to restore glycogen in the muscles and boost energy.
Is Gatorade good for runners? While it’s best to drink Gatorade during or after a run, it can be beneficial to drink it beforehand on especially hard or hot days. Perhaps best of all, it’s widely available in stores, making it easy to have on hand at any given time, and it comes in a variety of flavors to suit any palate.