What's The Problem With Gatorade?It's All About The Sugar
By Mike Mathewson
Gatorade is by far the most popular sports drink in the world, but is it the best? To determine the answer all you have to do is read the ingredients and do a little basic research on studies that have been done by independent organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine. If you do, you'll quickly discover that most of the smaller specialty sports drinks are far superior to Gatorade.
The root of the problem lies in the carbohydrate source used in Gatorade products, which is 100% simple sugar.
What are the best alternatives?
Check out these detailed comparisons of the most popular high performance sports drinks:
Clif SHOT Electrolyte
First Endurance EFS
GU Hydration Mix
Osmo Active Hydration
Aren't All Carbohydrates The Same?
Unfortunately no, all carbohydrates are NOT the same. Independent research on endurance athletes has shown the benefits of complex carbohydrates such as maltodextrin over sugar, sucrose, glucose, dextrose and other form of simple sugar. A little bit of simple sugar is okay when used in conjunction with complex carbohydrates, but you should look for sports drinks that contain no more than 50% sugars. I personally only use products that are at least two thirds complex carbohydrates. To determine what's in your favorite sports drink, examine the nutriton label and look at the carbohydrate grams and the sugar grams, if they are the same then the product is 100% simple sugar. The problem with high levels of simple sugars is that they elevate your blood sugar far to high and to rapidly. If you could maintain this inflated blood sugar level it would be great for performance, but unfortunately you can't. In a short time period your blood sugar level will come crashing back down even lower than before you consumed the sugar. You are then left feeling lethargic and even worse your body can no longer as efficiently convert your muscle glycogen into usable energy. In addition, sugar consumption has been shown to inhibit your body's ability to burn fat as an energy source which is completely counter productive to athletic performance.
This "sugar crash" happens to kids when you give them candy, they run around like crazy followed by the crash. It happens to adults when we eat a desert loaded with sugar - we're real happy for a while but then a little later we're ready to doze off on the couch. When this happens to athletes we call it "bonking" (it sounds more athletic than a sugar crash).
Maltodextrin and other complex carbohydrates have additional significant performance benefits over simple sugars including allowing your body to derive up to twice as much energy per hour. This is due to the fact that water/fluid is the transport vehicle that allows the carbohydrates to be absorb and converted into blood sugar to fuel your muscles, and the amount of carbohydrate that can be transported by the fluid is limited. Fluids are absorbed through osmosis when they are equal in concentration to your body fluids (isotonic). Sports drinks that contain complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars can contain nearly twice as much energy in an isotonic state compared to drinks containing 100% simple sugars. This is explained by the fact that the molecular structure of complex carbohydrates by definition is much larger than that of simple sugars, so as you add complex carbohydrates to the drink it increases the concentration (osmolality) more slowly thus allowing more total calories to be available at the point of absorption (isotonic).
So why does Gatorade use sugar? Since I don't work for Gatorade I can't answer for them, but I can tell you that it is an inexpensive carbohydrate and it is very sweet. Inexpensive ingredients increases profits and most people like sweet drinks - a winning combination for Gatorade. However, if your priority is performing your best, you might want to rethink your drink.
What Are The Alternatives
There are lots of what I would consider higher end sports drinks such as Cytomax, Accelerade, GU2O, Powerbar Endurance, Clif SHOT Electrolyte as well as our e-Fuel product, and in my opinion they are all superior to Gatorade. So read the labels, do a little research and try some alternatives to see if they make a difference for you.
e-Fuel vs. Gatorade