Sports Drinks

It’s hotter than Hades here in CoVa (Coastal Virginia for those outside the commonwealth 😆), which means proper hydration is KEY for optimal athletic performance. Hydration, technically is defined as the process of causing something to absorb water, bur for our intents and purposes we will expand that to include the proper balance of electrolytes. While the majority of y’all know sodium is an example of an electrolyte, let’s take it one step further. Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge, which are critical in the right amounts for a variety of bodily functions such as muscular contraction, blood chemistry and transportation of nutrients and waste in and out of cells.

Sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride and magnesium are the major electrolytes important in carrying out the objectives listed above. We will save the nutrition science for another time, instead, I want to focus on the sports drink aspect now. While there are a variety of sports drinks on the market, I want to turn our attention to the two most well known: Gatorade and Powerade.

Gatorade was invented by a group of doctors in a research lab at the University of Florida, hence the name Gatorade, in 1965. Researchers pinpointed the cause of early fatigue in Gator Football Players due to vital electrolytes not being replaced. Since then, the brand has been setting the bar for electrolyte replacement drinks everywhere. In 1985, the Gatorade Sport Science Institute was founded and today is located in Brandenton, FL, where athletes and researchers work together to test and develop new Gatorade products. While Gatorade is likely most well known for the iconic stand alone lemon-lime sports drink, they also make protein powders and ready-to-drink shakes, bars and chews and an ENDURANCE line of drinks that offer 2X the sodium and 3X the potassium found in the classic thirst quencher. Today, Gatorade is owned by PepsiCo.
Let’s take a look see at the nutrition facts label for a 12oz bottle of Gatorade:

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 12 fl oz (355 mL)

Servings Per Container 1

Amount Per Serving
Calories 80
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Sodium 160mg 7%
Potassium 45mg 1%

Total Carbohydrate 22g 7%

Sugars 21g
Protein 0g
Not a significant source of calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.


You’ll notice 80kcal for the entire bottle which offers 160mg of sodium, 45mg of potassium, 22g of total carbs and 21g of sugar. If you check out the ingredients list: water is followed by sugar. The sugar found in Gatorade comes from a combination of sucrose and dextrose, naturally occurring disaccharides. Gatorade is 6% sugar and sport science researchers agree, electrolyte replacement beverages are most readily absorbed with a concentration of 4-8% carbohydrate.

Next up, Powerade. This beverage hit the market in 1988, about 20 years later than Gatorade. Some speculate it was introduced at this time as a way for Coca-Cola (parent company) to brand a new product AND be endorsed as the official sports drink of the 1988 Olympics. While Gatorade holds a majority of the market shares within this product category,  Powerade was the first of the two to introduce a zero calorie option (Powerade Zero). Powerade does not boast a sport science research lab like Gatorade. It is also noted that Powerade offers only two products: Powerade and Powerade Zero.
Nutritionally speaking, Powerade looks like this…

Very similar to Gatorade, but a few minor differences include only 150mg of Na+, 35mg of K+, but the same amount of total carbs and sugar, plus the addition of Vitamins B3, B6 and B12. If you look at Powerade’s ingredient list, you’ll see water and HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.  It is the HFCS, in my opinion as a dietitian, that makes Powerade inferior to Gatorade. Calories, micronutrients and carb intake are almost identical, but it is the substitution of HFCS in place of regular sugar that makes Powerade less desirable, in more ways than one.

HFCS is man-made and manufactured enzymatically by changing the glucose in cornstarch to fructose. In Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process it is written : epidemiologic evidence suggests that high-fructose diets (including intake from sweetened beverages) may contribute to obesity and other health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome. This is the second ingredient found in Powerade. The most likely reason, if I had to guess, that Powerade uses HFCS instead of sugar is cost. HFCS is extremely cheap to use, in comparison to sucrose.

What makes me scratch my head though is the following: Powerade is owned by the Coca-Cola company which did $41.9 million dollars in sales in 2016, whereas Gatorade is owned by PepsiCo, and they only collected $30.1 million…clearly Powerade has the money to invest in using sucrose in place of HFCS in their product. Although, there is likely much more than meets the eye…as to how financial resources are divvied up among such a large company.

Sucrose, the second ingredient found in Gatorade, and is a type of disaccharide, meaning a carbohydrate containing two monosacchraides: glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose utilize different metabolic pathways. Glucose must use a pathway referred to as the sodium-glucose linked transporter (SGLT1). Fructose on the other hand, uses glucose a route called glucose transporter 5 (GLUT5). Why does this even matter? Because when two different pathways are used, a greater amount of carbohydrate can be absorbed, providing more energy. If the source of carbohydrate ingested was only in the form of say, fructose, there would likely be a “traffic jam”, if you will, however, because fructose bypasses a major control enzyme in the glycolytic pathway, this is not the case. Bottom line: Gatorade is scientifically engineered to promote optimal carbohydrate absorption, facilitating increased athletic performance.

So there you have it! Gatorade > Powerade. Not that I am a paid spokeswoman for Gatorade, but hey, if y’all ever need somebody to add to your repertoire…holler at your girl😄