Watch most major sporting events in the U.S. and you’ll see huge orange and green billboards, personalized player squirt bottles, and oversize coolers full of Gatorade. If a team wins a championship or wins on an exciting play, players give the coach or the game’s hero a “Gatorade shower.”
It’s America’s favorite sugar water, and its prevalence remains, despite overwhelming evidence that even the players don’t drink it.
Gatorade was developed in 1965 by a team of researchers at the University of Florida who wanted to replenish electrolytes and enhance athlete performance. However, the science behind Gatorade’s effectiveness for athletes—or anyone—is as dated as the product itself. Gatorade Thirst Quencher, which is the original Gatorade formula, contains 21mg of sugar and 160mg of sodium in a 12-oz bottle. Ironically, both sugar and sodium are known to increase thirst.
Gatorade’s main function—aside from providing your body with 32 ounces of colored dye—is to help athletes rehydrate while performing physical activity. This can also be achieved by drinking good ol’ fashioned water. If sports teams are looking for a sponsor, I’m sure there are plenty of high-end water companies that could drop dollars.
Gatorade also boasts being able to refuel lost electrolytes, such as sodium, chloride, potassium, and calcium. Truth be told, losing these vitamins can cause muscles to weaken, which isn’t that bad if you’re just doing your regular treadmill-and-weights-thing at the gym. It’s likely that you will regain those vitamins by consuming a meal or a snack after your workout. For professional athletes, this is not the case. They need those vitamins, STAT! That’s when Gatorade steps in.
Except it doesn’t. In the NFL and NBA, players are given personal concoctions by their trainers to sip in the locker room before and after the game, according to ESPN. You didn’t think that professional athletes actually depend on a mainstream drink like Gatorade to get them through a game when they have state-of-the-art physical therapists and nutritionists on site, did you?
According to The Atlantic, Gatorade’s sugar content is too high, and sodium content is too low to be truly effective for a working player. Depending on a player’s needs, these drinks contain a mixture of water, vitamins, and, of course, protein. Yes, protein. That thing we already knew we need to have a good workout. In fairness, Gatorade does make a protein drink called Recovery 03, but that beverage comes in oddly shaped plastic bottles, not in those big coolers always on display at games. Players seem to use those only for a mouth rinse.
Even if players aren’t really drinking the ’ade, thanks to brand sponsorship, they are required to make us think that we want to drink it this just-OK tasting beverage. In the NBA, Gatorade is the only thing you can be seen drinking on the bench besides water.
If we go purely on nutrition, Gatorade has little to offer. The original formula contained the nutritional nightmare that is high-fructose corn syrup. In 2010, Gatorade switched to Sucrose Syrup and Gluctose-Fructose Syrup, which are two refined sugar syrup substitutes for HFCS. Any way you cut it, you’re consuming artificial sugar syrup.
The sports drink also contains artificial food coloring, 33 percent of the recommended daily sodium intake, and tons of liquid calories—200 per 20-oz. bottle. There are also several other ominous-sounding and completely unnatural ingredients like sucrose acetate isobutyerate, gum arabic, glycerol ester of rosin, and acesulfame potassium. Until last year, Gatorade contained BVO (brominated vegetable oil) for “stabilizing,” but it is also a flame retardant. Does this sound like something we should be putting in our bodies?
This year, Gatorade announced it will be premiering a line of “organic” sports drinks called “G Organic.” This new potion’s only differentiation from the “classic” is that it has a funky Lululemon-esque logo, and it contains cane sugar instead of sugar syrups. Basically, it’s Gatorade for women.
Gatorade isn’t very good for you. The players do not really drink it for strength or energy. It has little effect on recovery compared with other specialized workout drinks. So why does the NFL keep making us look at the ugly green and orange branding until we puke all of our electrolytes out? Obviously it’s money. Gatorade pays a whopping $384 million a year to advertise with the NFL, making it the second largest sponsor in sports after Nextel. (Despite Nextel paying the NFL $780M, I still have no idea what it does or sells.) Gatorade is also a major donor to the American College of Sports Medicine, and routinely hosts panels on sports drinks.
Still, as common knowledge about health, calories, obesity, and working out increases, maintaining the farce of Gatorade’s effectiveness is pretty irresponsible. I look forward to a day when my favorite players won’t have to poorly mime sipping Gatorade out of a tiny green cup as the cameras are pointed at them. Until then, we’ll watch them perform the TV acting roles of a lifetime: “people who enjoy the mediocre taste of Gatorade.”