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Organic Gatorade? Still Full of Sugar

Gatorade's parent company, PepsiCo, has a tremendous influence on what North America drinks as it controls 77 percent of the U.S. sports drink market. PepsiCo is now selling their "improved sports drink" called Gatorade G Organic, which is essentially the same as regular Gatorade except that a few of the chemicals, artificial colorings and artificial sweeteners have been removed. However, the word "organic" is meaningless since the only "organic" ingredients are cane sugar and natural flavor. Cane sugar is so highly refined that it makes no nutritional difference whether or not it is grown with pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides. The "natural flavors" have no nutritional value whatsoever. The bottom line: Getting rid of artificial sweeteners and useless chemicals is a step in the right direction, but both old and new Gatorades are high-sugar drinks.

High Blood Sugar When You Are Not Exercising is Harmful
Both the old and the new Gatorades (and all other sugared drinks) should be used ONLY during, just before or immediately after prolonged, vigorous exercise. Taken at any other time, sugared drinks can increase risk for diabetes, heart attacks and some types of cancers because they are likely to cause a high rise in blood sugar. When blood sugar rises too high, sugar sticks to the outer membranes of cells, which can destroy every type of cell in your body. Resting muscles do not lower high blood sugar levels because they draw almost no sugar from your bloodstream and the little that they do draw requires insulin to do so. During vigorous exercise, contracting muscles draw sugar rapidly from your bloodstream without even requiring insulin.

Taking sugared drinks during vigorous exercise lasting more than an hour can improve performance (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1981;16:219). The limiting factor to how fast you move during a sports competition is the time it takes to move oxygen into muscles. Muscles use primarily sugar and fat for energy during exercise and muscles require less oxygen when they use sugar, instead of fat, for energy. You have an almost unlimited amount of fat in your body, but you have only enough sugar stored in your liver for about 70 minutes of intense exercise. When you start to run out of sugar, you lose strength and speed and have to slow down.

How Gatorade Started
More than 75 years ago, scientists showed that athletes could markedly prolong their endurance by taking food or sugared drinks during competitions that last more than an hour. In 1968, researchers showed that the most sugar that an exercise drink should contain was 2.5 percent because higher sugar concentrations took longer for the fluid to leave the stomach and therefore delayed absorption (Journal of Applied Physiology, 1974;37:679). This posed a problem because drinks taste best when they contain 8-10 percent sugar. Soon after these studies were presented, sports drinks containing 2.5 percent sugar appeared on the market, but they tasted terrible. To keep the drink from tasting awful, they added an artificial sweetener, saccharin, and Gatorade was born.

Twenty years later, new studies refuted the 1968 report because the 1968 data were collected on resting subjects. At rest, a drink containing 2.5 percent sugar is absorbed faster than drinks with more sugar, but when the same study was repeated using people who were exercising, drinks with 10 percent sugar were absorbed rapidly and completely (Digestive Diseases and Science, 1990;35(4):428-432). Exercisers can easily and rapidly absorb drinks with higher concentrations of sugar. This showed that special exercise drinks were not necessary. All drinks with 8-10 percent sugar are equally effective in supplying energy needed during intense exercise.

This study also conflicted with earlier studies that suggested the need for special drinks with polymers of five glucose molecules bound together. Polymers are supposed to provide a lot of sugar at a low osmotic pressure, thereby not delaying absorption. However, they are not superior to ordinary sugar for maintaining hydration during exercise and they have not been shown to increase endurance (Journal of Applied Physiology, 1989;66(1):179-183).

No Need for Special Sports Drinks
Tiredness during prolonged exercise, particularly in hot weather, is caused by lack of fluid and calories and if you are exercising for more than three hours, particularly in hot weather, you may also need salt. You have no need for any of the other ingredients touted in sports drinks. The key to keeping up with your fluid needs is to drink whatever tastes best to you. Studies in the 1960's showed that carbonation and warmth delayed emptying, but more recent studies show that carbonated drinks are absorbed as rapidly as non-carbonated ones and that the temperature of the drink is irrelevant. When you exercise, drink any fluid that you prefer. The data clearly show that the drink that will rehydrate you best is the one you prefer to drink.

I have written several reports explaining why any sugared drink works just as well as sports drinks for prolonged, vigorous exercise, and why casual exercisers and non-exercisers are better off quenching their thirst with plain water. See What to Eat and Drink for Hot Weather Exercise
Fruit Juices Beat Sports Drinks for Exercisers
Sports Drinks

September 18th, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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