So what’s the real truth about Gatorade? It’s all over the place. We’re supposed to drink it during our workouts, our runs, and even for hangovers. The world’s top athletes are endorsing it and even Tiger Woods has his very own line of Gatorade (okay, that doesn’t mean much anymore). It’s an amazing concoction of electrolytes that provides hydration and increased performance for all of our athletic pursuits. It makes us run faster, longer, jump higher, lift more weights, and recovery more quickly.
Or does it?
Is Gatorade really healthy for us? Is it the true miracle drink that it’s marketed as? Will it really make us perform better and longer than our non-Gatorade drinking competition?
Instead of giving you the answer, I’ll just present my case and you can decide.
Gatorade was invented at the sports laboratories at the University of Florida in 1965 and tested on the football team, the Florida Gators (hence the name Gatorade). The original concoction consisted of water, sodium, sugar, potassium, phosphate, and lemon juice. The football coach and his players hailed Gatorade as a savior to their hydration problems during hot summer workouts and the long, intense football season.
The Florida Gators went on to win the Orange Bowl in 1967 and gave credit to Gatorade as one of the reasons they won. Thus began the national phenomenon and craze. “I definitely don’t want to compete without Gatorade. My competitor may be drinking it and I’ll be at a disadvantage” was the prevailing thought at the time.
I’m not a scientist, but I don’t doubt that this formula worked. After all, Gatorade was made up of a couple of the most important electrolytes – sodium and potassium (others are calcium, magnesium, and chloride). These help to replenish hydration levels after massive fluid loss during intense, prolonged exercise.
But, like everything else, someone along the way discovered that Gatorade could be produced less expensively by using artificial sweeteners and corn syrups. Until this year, Gatorade’s top two ingredients were water and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the evil artificial sweetener that’s in everything these days from soda to bread. In 2010, Gatorade changed its formula from HFCS to a sucrose-dextrose mix. Same animal, different name.
So what exactly are we drinking when we pick up a bottle of the nectar? Let’s look at Gatorade’s ingredients in comparison to the ingredients of Pepsi Cola.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Turns out they’re strikingly similar, aren’t they? True, Gatorade no longer has HFCS, but what do you think those other syrups are? Yep, you guessed it. They’re just manufactured corn syrups with different names, all made in the same factories with the same cheap corn used in HFCS. And after reading the ingredient lists, does this still sound like something you want to suck down during a 10-mile run or an intense gym session? Gatorade and soda aren’t too dissimilar when you really look at it. Pump some carbonation into your bottle of Gatorade and it’s soda, isn’t it?
So why the hype? Why does everyone think Gatorade is still the go-to beverage for increased athletic performance and hydration?
For the same reason we believe nearly everything else. Marketing.
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but Gatorade is manufactured by Quaker Oats, which is a division of Pepsi Co, who, along with Coca Cola, is one of the most successful marketing juggernauts of the past half century. Their marketing campaign for Gatorade is genius. It should be studied in every university marketing class across the country. It’s strong, it’s omnipresent, it’s compelling, motivating – everything you want in a marketing message.
The new 2010 campaign, G-Series, outlines a 3-part strategy for performance. Now, according to the marketing message, you’re supposed to drink Gatorade Prime before your workout, Gatorade Perform during your workout, and Gatorade Recover after your workout. Are you kidding me? It’s the same junk, just packaged and marketed differently? You’re drinking non-carbonated soda.
So what’s this all mean? I’m not telling you that you should never drink Gatorade, but next time you want to prepare yourself for a hard run or workout, think twice about what you’re putting into your body. It’s nothing but non-carbonated soda with an impressive and frighteningly effective marketing campaign.