So the summer days are longer. You’re drinking more wine and beer, in addition to your morning coffee and tea. An occasional Diet Coke and Mountain Dew works its way into your afternoon. You’re jogging, doing Bikram Yoga, playing tennis, basketball…you’re out in the sun longer. You’re sweating more. You need hydration. What do you do? Buy Gatorade? You wouldn’t be alone if you said “yes”. It’s a multi-billion dollar company and responsible for 46% of the sports drink market. But is it the smartest choice? Not exactly. Gatorade claims to replace your electrolytes. But does it? Not exactly. Gatorade only contains two of the five essential electrolytes, so you still need to replace the other three. Gatorade also contains a lot of sugar, which might make you feel energized when you are depleted, but if you’re exercising to burn fat, don’t you want to avoid excess sugar?
To better understand this, let’s first take a look at what an “Electrolyte” is. Technically, an electrolyte is a compound that produces ions when dissolved in fluid (like water). These ions have a positive or negative electrical charge, so they provide your body with energy. The 5 major electrolytes used by the body are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphate. Sodium, potassium and phosphate help maintain normal cellular functioning, as well as normal fluid balance. Phosphate is also necessary for the formation of bone and teeth. Calcium and magnesium help stimulate and maintain muscular contractions (including your heart) and help keep your blood from becoming too alkaline or acidic.
If Gatorade only contains sodium and potassium, then it’s incomplete and can’t replace all the electrolytes your body loses, when it perspires for long periods of time. Also, one liter of Gatorade provides less than 500mg of sodium, which is only about half the amount of sodium lost in a liter of sweat. As a cyclist, of 20 years, I’ve rarely seen cyclists drink Gatorade on long rides. It’s only done, when there’s no choice, or it’s being augmented with something else.
It’s also important to note how alcohol and caffeine affect hydration. Vasopressin is a hormone that is secreted, when your body is dehydrated, signaling it to retain water. Alcohol and caffeine suppress vasopressin secretion, which is why alcohol and caffeine dehydrate you. So drinking coffee, or more alcohol, or “sweating it out”, to get over a hangover are never smart ideas. “Hangovers” are essentially the effects of alcohol-induced electrolyte and fluid loss. More complete products like Endurolyte and Nuun tablets, as well as natural food sources, are typically better choices for long term replenishment. Over the counter supplements can be effective too. More complete electrolyte sources will also help maintain higher and longer outputs of work, which will help burn fat more efficiently, without adding extra sugar. So get smarter about hydration. Optimize your body and it will serve you better.