The Story behind the Sugar

Senior Claudia Hammond has just finished her four mile run around Hockaday’s campus for cross country practice. Sweating, she slows down to walk over to the bench and grab her bottle of orange Gatorade. Taking a sip, she doesn’t know the impact of the sugary formula on her health.

“I drink Gatorade because it has a great taste and comes in different flavors, which I love. And it helps replenish the stuff I sweat out,” Hammond said.

Gatorade has been around for almost 50 years, and the creation of this carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink has become a phenomenon: the number of college teams, professional teams and even professional race car drivers using the beverage increases each year. Recent research, however, suggests that this once innovative formula is actually detrimental to athletes.

According to a study done by the University College London at the London Olympics, sports drinks are causing runners, in particular, to have slower competition times, and the reason is an indirect result of the sports drink formula. The British Journal of Sports Medicine extended this study and found that poor oral health care caused by sports drinks results in a loss of confidence, mouth pain and difficulties with eating—all factors that affect an athlete’s performance.

However, according to Institute of Sport Exercise and Health professor Ian Needleman, there is an easy solution to this problem. “For sports where athletes need a lot of energy drinks, high fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses should be seriously considered.”

The high sugar content of sports drinks is one reason why junior Jasmine Jin will not drink them. Although she is a three-sport athlete, Jin said that she doesn’t “use sports drinks because your body doesn’t recognize the processed sugar; It is bad for your teeth and it is very easy to underestimate how much sugar the sports drinks have.”

In order to still get the necessary amount of sugar in her diet before practice, Jin says she “eats tons of fruit,” and she also makes sure to drink water during class to stay hydrated.

But head varsity cross country and track and field coach Laboris Bean believes that despite the sugar content, “athletes should still drink sports drinks because of the electrolyte replacement they provide.”

Since Gatorade and Powerade have so much sugar, Bean listed several other recovery drinks that are just as good and have less sugar content. These include chocolate milk, coconut water and Pedialyte. Bean also noted that chocolate milk is especially good because of the protein it contains.

Gatorade and Powerade each have about 35 grams of sugar per 20 ounces. To put this into perspective, eating 10 chocolate chip cookies has around the same amount of sugar. In contrast, coconut water has only 25 grams and Pedialyte has 15 grams per 20 ounces, two much healthier options.

The question now arises of why not just drink water? It is less harmful for your teeth, and it is good for hydrating.

Hockaday trainer and athletic operations manager Jeanne Olsen said, “If you are a hard-working athlete, the sports drinks replenishes your electrolytes and vitamins you lose when you sweat. Regular water does not have the electrolytes and vitamins your body needs.”

The two main electrolytes that sports drinks have are sodium chloride and potassium chloride, which are two of the top eight highest concentrated electrolytes in your body. The sugars in the drink are usually added for flavoring.

For practice, both Bean and Olsen agree to try to drink water before and after sipping any sports drink to dilute the sugar content of the Gatorade and, as a result, to prevent bad oral health.

– Charlsea Lamb