This year I’ve been testing Gatorade, because personally I’m very skeptical of this product and don’t believe it’s essential to human life. I don’t recall drinking it when I was 16 and bucking hay bales in August heat, and it wasn’t standard issue in Vietnam. Somehow, throughout human history, people have managed to survive without Gatorade and still do remarkable things. Seems like lately, people can’t function without it, and I think that’s wrong.
By personally testing the Gatorade products in the worst summer heat since the Dust Bowl, according to the Indy Channel, I’ve come to both understand the value of Gatorade and the way the average consumer has been manipulated into paying way too much for the important benefit Gatorade provides.
Gatorade gives you water, sugar, salt and a tiny bit of potassium. If you eat a balanced diet, you can run long distances and not run short of potassium. If you’re running hot enough to sweat a lot, you’ll need salt. How much sugar you need depends on how long you work out. If you work out for over an hour, strenuously, you could deplete your body’s store of blood sugar and muscle glycogen. When you “hit the wall” it’s obvious. You feel crappy, dizzy and weak. A small dose of simple sugar helps pull you through that barrier.
As your conditioning level improves, basic changes happen on a cellular level. Your cells grow more mitochondria and process fat more efficiently. As your stamina increases, you depend less upon sugar and more upon fat. Pumping more sugar into your system if you’ve reached that higher fitness level just screws up the natural process. Most of us aren’t quite there yet, and a slightly sweet drink helps us along.
Gatorade or any other sugar product restores the sugar balance quickly. Gatorade’s real advantage lies in its controlled delivery, since you have to drink an entire bottle of Gatorade to get the small dose of sugar it provides. Eating a candy bar pumps too much sugar into your bloodstream, too quickly, and causes other problems such as insulin spikes and blood sugar crashes, with none of the rehydration benefits. Drinking a bottle of Gatorade restores water, restores blood sugar and restores salt.
Here’s the bad news. The package of Gatorade mix I’m looking at says a serving is one tbsp. If you drink Gatorade you start by drinking a quart, and it takes more than one tbsp to make a quart. The scoop provided for preparing a quart of Gatorade holds 4 tbsp of mix, an amount I measured by testing with granulated white cane sugar. One scoop equals one normal serving, since you’re almost certain to drink the entire bottle. In those terms, you’re taking in about 200 calories of sugar, enough to power an hour long workout. If you drink more than that, which could be necessary if you’re working out in very hot conditions, you’re getting more sugar than you actually need. In fact, if you’re concerned about weight loss you might want to keep the salt and cut back on the sugar. One scoop of Gatorade mix contains 400 mg of salt, a little less than a full tsp. (One tsp of salt equals approximately 570 mg). Do you really need that much? If you’re perspiring heavily, you might. If you’re perspiring lightly, you don’t, and you’ll excrete the excess in urine.
Gatorade was designed for football players and others who indulge in extreme activity for an hour or two. If that’s what I’m doing, a long run for that amount of time, I feel the benefits of Gatorade. For a two and a half hour run in the heat, a liter of plain water after the first hour followed by two bottles of Gatorade as needed seems to do a good job, and I feel just as good if I mix the Gatorade at half strength. If you run or work for extremely long periods, you need something more powerful than just sugar and salt, and that’s all you really get from Gatorade.
Most of what you’re paying for when you buy Gatorade is advertising, since the ingredients in a quart cost under a nickel. If you get fed up with paying high prices for a colored drink mix, try this half strength tonic instead. It’s even got a good dose of vitamin C.
Homemade Energy Drink for Hot Workouts
1 quart water
2 tbsp cane sugar
1/2 tsp salt
juice of one key lime