(Joe Gibbs gets a Gatorade Bath from Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright after the Redskins beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Sept. 19, 2005. Despite being down 13-0 with less than four minutes remaining, the Redskins came away with a 14-13 victory for the team's first win at Texas Stadium since 1995. Photo: Jonathan Newton, Washington Post.)
The "Gatorade Bath" has become a sports tradition more recognizable than each year's Indy 500 winner drinking that inexplicable bottle of milk. Athletes everywhere of every age drink in the philosophy of Vitamin G- Gatorade- Is it in you? The website, www.gatorade.com is one thing; their auxilliary site http://www.missiong.com/ is on the verge of scary.
And yet this one fact is so often overlooked: Gatorade can cause cavities. Just as much so as soda.
The big selling points for the "scientifically proven" claims about Gatorade are that it replaces electrolytes lost during athletic performance and also provides energy along with hydration. Our first question should then be: how much of a concern is electrolyte loss during exercise?
During low- to moderate-intensity exercise of less than one hour, a person can lose from 1.0 to 2.0 liters of water through sweat. In this example there are minimal electrolyte losses because the body can reabsorb most of the electrolytes from the sweat. As we get to high-intensity exercise of greater than one hour, the electrolyte loss in sweat becomes significant and the sweat rate is too fast for re-absorption of electrolytes.
Even here, though, we must be careful. In David Gordon Wilson's superb 3rd edition of Bicycling Science, he demonstrates that cycling creates such a significant airflow that heat is carried away from the athlete's body with far less sweat loss than, say for a runner, assuming equal power output over time. It stands to reason that much the same effect occurs for competitive swimmers. We could then say that activities like cycling and swimming cause less water and electrolyte loss than activities such as running and tennis, again assuming roughly the same time and power output.
If we decide that, in a given exercise event, we may still need to replace electrolytes due to the endurance and level of activity, what, specifically, needs replacement? Let's compare a medical concoction to the commercial one. Lactated Ringer's solution was designed to be administered by intravenous infusion for replacement of loss of fluid and electrolytes. (That means it gets hung in IV bags because it's faster than having the patient drink it, and because it doesn't taste good!) This is one of the mainstays in hospital ER's of treating dehydration and fluid loss due to trauma.
So here's the throwdown:
Lactated Ringer's ingredients, one liter: water, sodium chloride 600 mg, sodium lactate anhydrous 310 mg, potassium chloride 30 mg and calcium chloride dihydrate 20 mg.
Gatorade's ingredients, 8 oz. serving: water, sucrose (table sugar), glucose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, electrolytes (110 mg sodium, 30 mg potassium, 93 mg chloride), sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, artificial colors.
There's quite a bit of sugar in there! 63 calories for the 8 oz. serving, 158 calories of you drink the entire standard 20 oz. bottle. 256 calories in the larger yet still oft-quaffed 32 oz. jug.
Sometimes, of course, fast calories are necessary during athletic performance, and in liquid form they get absorbed fast. (Can any of you fellow cyclists out there say "bonk"?) For sedentary people though, these drinks represent the same empty calories that soda has. Then there's our dental concern- frequent, prolonged sipping of any sports drink containing sugars will lead to high potential for cavities. "The Resurgence of Dental Caries" explains why in detail; it comes down to acid attack in the mouth driven by sugars where the body never has a chance to recover.
This is not a theoretical concern. Many of our patients have experienced cavities that we could attribute to no other cause but liquids in their diet, and specifically sports drinks. One patient had Gatorade standing by courtside during tennis practice- which was 7 days a week, all afternoon.
So- these drinks have their purpose, but this is a very specific purpose and as with anything that we eat or drink there are pros and cons. Sugared sports drinks should be used at defined times during training and athletic events and our mouths need long periods of rest between episodes of sugar attack. Cleaning between the teeth with floss or SoftPics is highly preventive.
Not to single out one particular brand, but the brand in question has deliberately and steadily created a mythos for itself that weaves through the entire sports world in the U.S., from grade school to the arena of professional $port$.
Use it carefully.