by Marion Nestle
Apr 23 2012

Gatorade: the new health food?

On April 20, I received a letter from a Gatorade PR person commenting on one of my posts reposted at the Atlantic Health/Food section.

After reading the letter, I searched my posts for references to Gatorade but can’t find anything specific other than my reporting the more than $100 million a year Pepsi spends to advertise this product.

So I’m guessing the letter must be referring to my comments about sports drinks in general:

Hi Marion –

I recently read your article in The Atlantic and would like to make sure you have the most current information. Your article criticizes sports drinks, advising against them because the sugars and carbs will make you fat. It also discusses the main sweetener in most sports drinks is high fructose corn syrup.

I would like to point out the carbohydrates and calories are functional in Gatorade, a sports drink, and are meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes.

The ingredients in Gatorade are backed by years of scientific research that support the need for carbohydrate sugars for fuel during training or competition and we only recommend Gatorade during the active occasion.

Also, high fructose corn syrup is not an ingredient in any Gatorade products.

For those looking for a lower-calorie sports beverage, Gatorade offers G2, which delivers the same amount of electrolytes as original Gatorade but with half the calories. Gatorade also recently introduced G Series FIT 02 Perform, which is designed for a fitness athlete and has 10 calories per 8oz serving.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.

Best,

Katie Montiel, Gatorade Communications

I’m always happy to hear from interested readers.

And aren’t you glad to know that sugar is a functional (translation: “good-for-you”) ingredient in Gatorade?

  • Middle Seaman

    Are there alternatives to G2 for long distance hikers (20+ miles) ?

  • Mike Madigan

    Well Katie is correct. When you are “training” you need the carbs and the electrolytes to be replenished, while you are performing. As someone who use to train the worst feeling is the bonk when you do not have enough carbs.

    But, and this is a big but, Gatorade is being marketed to the masses who wish they were training and do not need these carbs or calories. This is a typical bait and switch. I do not see a warning on the label that says “For athletes use only, normal people will get fat with use.”

  • Just one question – if Gatorade is meant specifically for athletes, and only recommended by the company “during the active occasion”, then why did Pepsi push so hard to keep electrolyte replacement drinks on the list of healthy beverages allowed to be sold in schools in California (SB 965)? The vast majority of K-12 students are not “athletes”, and during the school day, few, if any, of them have an “active occasion” which would result in their even breaking a sweat, let alone requiring electrolyte replacement. So why is this stuff even in the schools?

  • Brooks

    I think it’s most interesting that Ms. Montiel claims that Gatorade only markets their product for use “during the active occassion.” The new “G-Series” line of Gatorade products seems to promote the idea that you need a specific Gatorade product before, during, and after “active occassions.” Consuming all of these adds up to more than 200 calories if you follow the serving size recommendations, or more than 500 calories if you (like most people) finish the bottle you’re drinking–the equivalent of about 3.5 cans of Coca-Cola. I’m not sure how “functional” the carbs and sugars are in Gatorade, but there are certainly plenty of them.

  • Sure sure sure…gatorade… it is right there next to the other Athlete drinks like Monster and Coke. I just wished it were closer to the hot dogs on roller machine or the candy bars so I wouldn’t have to walk so much.

  • RB

    I use water and fresh fruit (oranges, banana, apples) or raisins before or during my workouts and games. I think this is far superior than Gator Aid to keep be hydrated and provide the sugars and nutrients needed for athletics. I believe real food produced by nature is better than any functional food created in a laboratory. I don’t think Gator Aid is a health food by any means.

  • I would love to see the stats on the percentage of Sports beverages sold that are consumed during vigorous activity vs. during leisure activity. I would imagine it is the proverbial 1% to 99%! UGGG

  • martha

    Gatorade and other sports drinks, gels, and bars have their place in endurance training events. The problem is the marketing, which apparently has mislead consumers into thinking they need to drink a bottle of Gatorade every time they exercise. You dont’ need to replace carbs unless you’re doing a fairly intense cardio exercise for over an hour. When I go for a long run or enter a race over 6 miles, I depend on those carb replacements. While whole foods are important, they are not as practical or as easily digestible as the drinks and gels.

  • It must be an amazing business model to throw $100 million at marketing a product aimed only at the athletic sector. I never would have believed there were enough serious athletes to make it work.

  • Jayadeep Purushothaman

    I drink tender coconut after my runs, and it has roaring business in town here in Bangalore better than any of the fizzle drinks. Gatorade – go figure!

  • Amanda

    My big issue with Gatorade is its stupid artificial colors — what “health” or “fitness” advantage do artificial colors confer to athletes? They could taste the same and do the same job without red #40.

    And what ever happened to real food as energy? Pop a few raisins or drink some OJ!

  • I exercise pretty hard and drink water, water, and more water. The good news: Not only is it free of sugar, it’s free.

    Ken Leebow
    http://www.ThePissedOffDiet.com

  • TJ

    Gatorade is sugar-water, plain and simple. As soon as I realized this, I banned the athletes I coach from drinking it. They can drink water or coconut water. That’s it.

    But I agree with Katie Montiel, the e-mailer, that Gatorade is “meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes.” She’s absolutely right. Professional athletes who churn through the sugar rapidly can probably use a boost or two. So, we should regulate Gatorade’s advertising to ensure they aren’t focusing on non-athletes, specifically kids. Because honestly, even the most elite kid athletes don’t need Gatorade. Let their bodies grow and develop without being wrecked by sugar.

  • This sounds too much like Idiocracy and the Brawndo company. It is disgusting how companies always use different language to make their products sound better or healthy for you. It is a nice way of lying about their products, but if you call them out on it, they will slap you with a lawsuit.

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  • brad

    I’ll have to try plain old sugar-water next time I do a bicycle tour, which is the only time I ever use Gatorade. I find it helpful as a boost when I’m feeling weak in the late afternoon, after riding seven or eight hours and burning thousands more calories than I can possibly consume; it helps me find the last burst of energy I need to complete the day’s ride and reach my destination. When I’m touring (typically for a week to 10 days), weight and space at a premium. Gatorade in powder form is easier and lighter to pack than real foods like fruit. But I’ll take some sugar with me on my next tour and see if works as well mixed with my water!

  • Sam

    The real question:
    “I would like to point out the carbohydrates and calories are functional in Gatorade, a sports drink, and are meant to provide fuel specifically for athletes.”

    “Gatorade also recently introduced G Series FIT 02 Perform, which is designed for a fitness athlete and has 10 calories per 8oz serving.”

    If the original gatorade was designed to meet the needs of athlete’s why do they need to come out with a new version with a lot less calories for “fitness” athletes. Aren’t all athletes fitness athletes?

    Sounds like the original gatorade wasn’t good-for-athletes.

  • Margeretrc

    Best sports drink ever: pure coconut water. All natural source of electrolytes and sugar. That was my sports drink of choice before I started eating low carb. Now I don’t need any sports drink or other source of carbs before, during or after a work out as my body is perfectly happy burning ketones from fat for energy. And I never hit the bonk, even after three hours straight of tennis on just coffee with cream, butter and coconut oil–or a 5 mile hike up and down an mountain (1600 elevation gain or something like that.) Here’s an expert discussing the benefits of a ketogenic diet for excercise: http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2011/04/14/steve-phinney-low-carb-preserves-glycogen-better-than-high-carb/

  • Of course you need carbs after working out, but you don’t need to even drink them. You can eat a banana or even a turkey sandwich while you rehydrate with just, plain no-sugar-added water. In reference to one of last week’s posts, Marion, this is definitely an area in which very informed, healthy people are lacking education!

  • Cathy Richards

    Oh I love it. They defend themselves by saying their product is for athletes. Then they make a low calorie versions for “fitness athletes”? And they advertise them on TV without any clarification? And fight to put them in schools?

    Sports drinks are indeed very useful – sometimes essential — for athletes in endurance or semi-endurance+very+sweaty sports.

    Which doesn’t explain the crazy marketing that goes on. At all. They are clearly using athletes to market to the non-athlete.

  • Stuart Katsh, MS, RD

    Marion, if may call you that as we only met once several years ago at FNCE, we know this is so typical of the food industry. No one wants to take responsibility for increasing amount of obese people in this country. The food and beverage manufactures do not and many people who are obese say things (to me, when I am educating them) ” But it tastes good” or “I cant afford anything healthier” and, my favorite – “But if it is not good for you, why do they make it?”
    Pepsico pushes Gatorade to people who do not need them, no matter what the company states. People are convinced they need this or better yet tell me they drink it because they don’t like the way water tastes. Gatorade was designed for sports and not simple gym workout or a 1 mile walk. It is meant for people who need the electrolytes, glucose and fluids. But it is not marketed like that.

    Honestly after having done a lot of long distance biking and having consumed a lot of the product I got tired of the chemical taste. Whole foods has a good product and one can even make a true hydration drink at home. The general population doesn’t need this and if people stopped believing the ads and buying this stuff they would not make as much of it and leave it for athletes. And, hopefully make healthier things, well like their water they already market and advertise that more.

  • Peggy Holloway

    I am a very active 59 year old woman who has not consumed sugar in 12 years. I bike for hours a day with virtually no carbohydrates and often ride for as much as 40 miles on an empty stomach without stopping for snacks. Today, I had a breakfast of a scrambled egg and a slice of uncured bacon. I worked all day at my relatively active job as a college voice teacher/coach. I was busy today and felt completely satiated from my breakfast, so I didn’t eat lunch. I finished teaching at 5:45, then jumped on my bike and rode intensively for an hour having not consumed anything but water and green tea since breakfast. I wasn’t particularly hungry after my ride, but had a big salad and a small amount of beef brisket.
    I burn ketones. No sugars necessary or desired.

  • Peggy Holloway

    I just remembered that last summer I took coconut water on my multi-day rides for electrolyte replacement. It was recommended by Dr. Stephen Phinney who has done major, impressive research with athletes and low-carb diets.

  • Hmmm I don’t recall seeing Gatorade as a sponsor at Ragnar or the Rock N Roll Marathon. I also didn’t see any Gatorade at sold at the running or cycling shops. If it is specifically meant for athletes and only meant to be consumed during the occasion, why can’t I find it in an athletic store? Not that I consume Gu or other synthetic junk, but at least those are actually only marketed to athletes.

    On another note – Gatorade did use HFCS until 2010. “Gatorade spokeswoman Jennifer Schmit confirmed that PepsiCo will remove high fructose corn syrup from all Gatorade products, including G2, and will replace the oft-maligned sweetener with a sucrose/dextrose blend. ” (http://www.bevnet.com/news/2009/12-15-2009-gatorade_revamp_2010)

    How considerate to replace high fructose with yet another processed version of the “real” thing.

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  • I always tell people that unless you’re an endurance athlete, there’s absolutely no reason you should be drinking Gatorade or similar sports drinks. Period. I don’t even drink the stuff unless I’m running for over an hour. If my workout is under an hour, I stick with water.

  • Dragan

    I wanted to put in my agreement with the people that say it can have a place in sports, but the marketing for everyone is a major problem.

    An alternative if you are dehydrated: salt in apple juice. It doesn’t taste very good (but I don’t think Gatorade does either).

  • Kerry

    playing tennis for 3 hours is hardly the same as running a marathon or 50 mile race. You people that say just drinking water is fine are not endurance athletes. If I run 12 miles, sure, I drink water. A 15+ mile run, especially when it’s hot out, requires electrolyte replacement. Gatorade is fine for that, especially if you’re on a very fixed income like I am. Raisins and water don’t cut it when you’re running a sub 3-hour marathon, sorry!

  • Cathleen P.

    At bottom, I think the problem for the people is the mainstream conflation of “fitness” with “athleticism.” They really are different: the goals, the means, the techniques. Really. Competitive performance is an activity that obviously encompasses fitness (a high level of it), but it’s not what the doctor is talking about when s/he is prodding you to go for a brisk 40 minute walk 4 times a week. The role of tech-foods for athletes is a real one, but nobody else needs gatorade at all, even the homemade kind. As far as I’m concerned the thrust of the original criticism still holds.

    Trust me, when you run out of carbs, you’ll have seen that coming at some point during the prior six months of training your heart and lungs to take you anywhere near that point. For most lifestyle fitness folks, it’s much more likely to run out of knees (5 miles at a time) before you fall over from running out of carbs.

  • As others have correctly said there is no requirement for these types of drinks in most peoples training routines. You rarely reach the point where you will have used your stored carbohydrates. Demanding endurance events are an exception as was also mentioned.

    Part of the $100,000,000 marketing budget for Gatorade obviously goes towards monitoring the internet for them to have contacted you directly. Pitty nothing in the letter is of any more use than the pretty colours and big claims made on the packaging of products like these!