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Natural or not, who needs Gatorade?

(By Melissa Cannarozzi/The Washington Post)

The bottle of G-series Gatorade sitting on my desk says the drink's a "natural thirst quencher." It also says it's "For Athletes. For Performance."

I'm not here to bash Gatorade. But I am here to say that many people who drink it really don't need it. In short, if you're a performance athlete, yeah, some Gatorade might help keep you hydrated and healthy after a tough workout. But if all you need is to quench your thirst, other options abound.

Lona Sandon and Nancy Rodriguez, the nutrition experts I interviewed for this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about vitamin-fortified beverages, had a few words to say about sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade, too. Here's the drill: People who exert themselves at sports or exercise in hot weather for more than an hour are likely to have sweat enough to need their electrolytes replenished; the sodium and potassium in Gatorade does that trick. Those people may also need to replenish carbohydrates; the sucrose (and, in some varieties, dextrose) in Gatorade can help with that.

For the rest of us, the dietitians agree, water does just as good a job at replacing the fluid we've lost through sweat.

If you're one of those hard-working, heavy-sweating athletes, you might want to consider chugging chocolate milk after your workout. Recent research shows that drinking low-fat chocolate milk helps replenish electrolytes, carbohydrates and fluid -- and that the protein it contains (something not found in sports drinks) helps repair and rebuild muscle. Of course, that research was supported by the National Dairy Council and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board. But Sandon and Rodriguez said it makes sense.

As for the new "natural" Gatorades, they're just the latest to irritate me by throwing around that term. The "natural" blackberry/raspberry variety includes neither of those fruits or their juices in the ingredient list; same deal for the "natural" orange/pomegranate kind. "Natural" is so vaguely defined by the FDA as to be meaningless at best and potentially deceptive at worst. I hope it's a marketing trend that soon will fade.

In the meantime, here's an article about how drinking pickle juice might counter workout cramping.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 29, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Personally, I use the low-carb versions when I'm out playing golf in the heat. Not exactly strenuous exercise, but I have to admit that it seems to keep my energy up a little more effectively than water. So even though I really don't like the taste, I make myself drink it on the hot days. Plus my other energy boost alternative is usually peanut M&Ms -- lesser of two evils and all that. :-)

The "natural" claim, though, is completely irrelevant. First, as you point out, the term itself is meaningless. But second, I figure the product itself is, at heart, 99.9% processed/derived/manufactured; whether they found something "natural" for that remaining 0.1% is less than useless.

Posted by: laura33 | June 29, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I have heard these claims before that Gatorade is useless...I beg to differ. When I was out of surgery, bed ridden, couldn’t eat, dehydrated and weak nothing seemed to stay down and one my aunt brought me a case of Gatorade. I drank one and it energized me and made me feel stronger. It boosted my energy and made me feel better each day. Now too much of it made me feel a little funny but other wise I am thankful for it

Posted by: dsp88 | June 29, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Gatorade is a life saver after a night of drinking.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | June 29, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Gatorade is fine for me. But one time after having Powerade on an empty stomach - after several hours of intense exercise - my stomach and intestines literally churned for hours in the middle of the night. Not pleasant at all.

Posted by: cmecyclist | June 29, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Even non-athletes could benefit from elecrolyte replenishment after spending any time outdoors in a heat wave like the one we've had recently. I woke up with the worst "hangover" of my life a few nights ago. I hadn't been drinking, instead had gone for a long hike in 90 degree heat. I drank plenty of water but should have been drinking Gatorade instead.

But I do agree that sitting in an air conditioned office is not a Gatorade-worthy activity.

Posted by: wrybread1 | June 30, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

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