What the Eff is an Electrolyte? Is Gatorade the Real Deal?

She drinks gatorade, should you?

She drinks gatorade, should you?

Everybody loves Gatorade, so let’s talk about if it’s fluff or it’s actually good for you.

All you hear about is “rehydrate” this, and “electrolyte” that…is it fo real?   Your body has a balance, and has “ionic solutions”(boring term, don’t worry about it) called electrolytes that keep your body, muscles, and nerves functioning properly.  Your kidneys exist to help keep your body in balance by regulating the fluids and electrolytes in your body.  Your kidneys make pee–they basically filter your blood so you can get rid of waste products like urea and ammonia.  When you are dehydrated, your kidneys make your pee as concentrated as possible to keep water in the body.  When you are well hydrated, your kidneys let more water leave with the waste.  Now, there’s all kinds of electrolytes, but the most important ones are: Sodium, chloride, potassium, bicarbonate, calcium, and phosphate. Your kidneys have specific transporters to regulate the concentration of each of these electrolytes in your blood.

When you work out, you sweat (yup, four years of college taught me that).  When you sweat, you lose fluids and electrolytes – especially sodium and chloride (which is why your sweat tastes salty…stop tasting your sweat you creep).  Now, when you’re lacking fluids and electrolytes, your muscles suffer and your performance suffers.  Can’t be having performance issues can we now?

Let’s talk about why Gatorade (or any sports drink–they’re all about the same) works.  Water will get into your blood stream faster (and to the right places) when it’s part of Gatorade because water follows electrolytes.  Gatorade has electrolytes: your body soaks up these electrolytes quicker because your electrolytes are depleted from exercise, and they soak up the water right along with it.  Regular water works just fine too, it just doesn’t get absorbed as quickly.

Gatorade has a good amount of sodium and glucose (sugar).  Do you love your small intestines?  Well, your small intestines love glucose, so get over it.  The little transporters in your small intestines pick up that glucose, and in turn pick up the sodium.  If they ‘re picking up glucose and they’re picking up sodium, they’re also grabbing the H20, and you’re getting rehydrated faster.  Win win win!

One last reason why your body loves Gatorade is because sodium minimizes urination.  (Remember osmosis from high school chemistry?  Water goes where the salt is!)  When you’re drinking Gatorade, the liquid will stay in your body longer, giving it more time to get absorbed, which will get you back into balance quicker!

So I realize this post reads like an ad for Gatorade.  Pay no attention to the bag of money left for me in the corner.  All this talk about how great Gatorade is as getting you rehydrated quicker will REALLY only affect you if you’re doing hours and hours of strenuous activity.  If you’re just working out for 45 minutes, drinking water throughout the workout and afterwards will keep you plenty hydrated.  Now, if you’re running a marathon, Gatorade is a good idea.  You know what isn’t a good idea? Bourbon.

Gatorade vs. Water? Really, just make sure you’re drinking one of them.  Gatorade tastes better, and has some calories and electrolytes, so it’s more likely to get you to drink it while working your ass off to stay in shape.  Just don’t sit on your couch eating donuts and drinking Gatorade, because the sugar will go straight to your ass.  Sure, you can be “a thirsty dude (R.I.P. Mitch),” but the sugar really won’t help you unless you’re exercising like crazy.  If you’re looking to burn fat, drinking a 32 oz Gatorade will probably put back all the calories you just burned in your workout (there’s about 200-240 calories in there).

On a final note, and a tip that will be greatly expanded upon in the future, Gatorade is great for hangovers.  When you wake up after a night of drinking, and your pee looks is the color of Mountain Dew, it’s because your body is severely dehydrated.  Pale yellow pee?  You’re right on track.  Bright or dark yellow pee?  Make a few more trips to the water cooler.  Any other color of the rainbow?  RUN to the doctor (Thanks Ali).  Gatorade will get your body out of its funk quicker than water, and return it to levels of proper hydration, so try to keep one in the fridge before you head off to the bars on Friday…or play drinking games with your buddies while watching Arrested Development.


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  • Savitari

    I think you’ll find some handy info in chapter 8 that states

    “The presence of both sodium and
    glucose permits the intestine to co-transport the two substances into the
    blood. In addition, as sodium and glucose maintain spheres of hydration,
    this also enhances the rapid absorption of water from the intestine. However,
    beverages that contain an excessive amount of sugar (e.g., soft drinks)
    can actually promote a reduction in gastric emptying and an osmotic effect
    in the intestine that can lead to solvent drag of water into the intestine and
    Sports beverages can improve electrolyte status, although the effects are
    most significant for long-term exercise (e.g., a half marathon or mowing
    a lawn on a hot summer day for 2 h).”

  • Savitari

    I think you’ll find some handy info in chapter 8 that states

    “The presence of both sodium and
    glucose permits the intestine to co-transport the two substances into the
    blood. In addition, as sodium and glucose maintain spheres of hydration,
    this also enhances the rapid absorption of water from the intestine. However,
    beverages that contain an excessive amount of sugar (e.g., soft drinks)
    can actually promote a reduction in gastric emptying and an osmotic effect
    in the intestine that can lead to solvent drag of water into the intestine and
    Sports beverages can improve electrolyte status, although the effects are
    most significant for long-term exercise (e.g., a half marathon or mowing
    a lawn on a hot summer day for 2 h).”

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  • Anonymous

    I just want to add that gatorade HAS NOT used high fructose corn syrup in their drinks since 2010.  I buy the powdered gatorade and add it to water that way it’s cheaper and I can control how strong or weak the taste is.

  • Bob

    Beware! The European Union is considering (and already have done so) a ban on food coloring because it has been linked to ADHD. Food colorings, such as Red 40, are found in Gatorade so you may not want to give this drink to kids unless you don’t really care if they develop ADHD.

  • alan

    great read. 

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  • AggieAsh

    Half pedia-lite, half water: best hangover cure ever. You’ll feel better within the hour if you keep this mix on hand

  • Julie

    Wtf is Gatorade?…  It tastes disgusting!!! Yuck. How can anyone even drink that shit!

  • Erich

    I’m sitting on my ass right now drinking Gatorade! =D

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  • HaydenCharles

    Ahhh man I love this website every article is awesome!

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  • cinderella

    love this article.  nice how you put it into layman’s terms!   i just returned from the pediatricians office with my son.  he was diagnosed with hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and he told us to make sure he gets plenty of water in the heat and a shot glass amount of Gatorade every hour (no more no less).

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  • Brenda, nursing student

    The reason Gatorade does not conduct electricity is because it is not a pure electrolyte solution. It has sugar and other non-electrolyte molecules in it which act like insulation (reduce conduction). 🙂 Your chem prof should have told you that. In the human body, electrolytes are separated by selective ion uptake mechanisms, which make them available to cells as pure electrolytes. If you are trying to rehydrate after intense exertion or serious dehydration, then a mixture of 1/2 Gatorade and 1/2 water is best. You get the electrolytes and H20 you need, with half the calories from the sugar.

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  • Mcd1

    anything with high fructose corn syrup is something you should never put in your body

  • amy

     Coconut water is NOT coconut milk! The water is the liquid (juice) inside very young coconuts while coconut milk is made from coconut meat, which is why the milk has high fat content. So no, its not like eating a stick of butter. 🙂

  • singe8

     That Mitch Hedberg quote came out of nowhere and made me laugh. Thanks for clearing that up. I always figured electrolytes were just Gatorade’s marketing bullshit.

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  • Holly

    Hey I know everyone has issues with the contents of Gatorade.. Here’s a simple recipe to make ur own and know that there’s no unknown additives or whatnot in it, just what ur body needs for electrolytes… An imbalanced system can cause havoc on ur body! A deficiency in even one of the electrolytes can cause a lot of health probs including unable to lose weight. My homemade Gatorade which I found on another site can be very salty but does the job!
    1 quart water
    250 ml orange juice
    3 tbsp lemon juice
    3/4 tsp salt

  • http://twitter.com/CrazeeAZ Austin Z. Jones

    Bourbon is never a bad idea. Marathons are.

  • Martin Escoto

    Wait…so drinking Bourbon while on the elliptical is…bad??? Well, crap.

  • meh

    i have heart conditions and blood conditions, and my cardiologist is now making me drink a lot of water and a LOT of Gatorade, I need the sodium and electrolytes that it offers. I’ve been trying different flavors and everything. this post helped me understand my doctors reasoning way better, thanks!
    love mitch!! RIP

  • Marco Leblanc

    Gatorade isnt that bad for you, but… Its still a product with sketchy ingredients. Im pretty sure you can make your own electrolyte drink with sea salt water (himalayan best!) and some honey maybe? I like to go as clean as possible

  • Tony Kilgore TK

    I sweat probably more than any person in the world while at work, Gatorade helps but still get cramps from sweating so much! I was told to go get an electrolyte test done and they could tell me what to do! I prefer water but I drink Gatorade to survive at work.

  • Milton

    What if I’m not exercising, but rather just sweating a lot? I work outdoors and generally I’m walking 5 to 15 kilometers a day in quite a fast pace and pretty much get drenched with sweat. If I’m intaking both Gatorade and water moderately, will this help?

  • tristen martineau

    hope to learn alot

  • Gabby

    This post is ridiculous, Gatorade is terrible for you. If you want electrolytes, drink coconut water.

  • ngmama

    agree with what amy said… plus, do some research about coconut fat, it is a HEALTHY fat that, YES, your heart WILL love you for it!!! Some people take it as a daily supplement, a tablespoon of coconut oil a day!

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  • HandsOffMyUterus

    Coconut water is just the latest fad. And since you’re talking about “marketing” and selling a product, all the marketing b.s. about coconut water being “all-natural”—so is dog hair and rat poo. Lots of things are “natural”, but in FDA speak, that doesn’t really mean jack. And really, coconut water isn’t that regulated anyway. Here’s a whole article on it: http://www.fakefoodwatch.com/2012/07/coconut-water-fad-hucksterism-health.html Gatorade isn’t any better or worse than coconut water. Just drink water–it’s still the best thing for you. Unless you’re a triathlete and are training like some world champion, you don’t really need to worry about electrolytes. Plus water is a LOT cheaper than overpriced coconut water.

  • Tommy R

    I use Gatorade to rehydrate after a session on the beer! Works like a charm kids..

  • Delany

    People say energy drinks effect kids hearts, i’m only 10 and whenever i drink energy drinks like Gatorade (Or anything else) The next morning i’m only jumpy and hyper so NOPE it cant effect kids hearts, i know it really has nothing to do with this, but i’m just putting it out there!

  • Cooker

    Sorry man Gatorade does not have High fructose corn syrup, What ever your thinking of is not Gatorade

  • George Mertzanis

    I take a diuretic for HBP. It depletes water from my system rapidly causing exhaustion and crippling cramps. About 2 months ago after working in the yard, my entire body was cramped. It was so painful. I drank a Poweraid and in about 30-45 minutes I was myself. I try to drink one a day and buy when it is on sale. If I skip a day I will experience night cramps. I prefer Power Aid to Gatoraid, but I drink both. Great article.

  • Mary Anne

    I read that it was a good bathroom cleaner. Other bathroom cleaners mentioned were vinegar and bi-carbonate soda. I have no reason to doubt its value as a cleaner – I had hear the name Gatorade before but didn’t know what it was for.

  • Wildclaw

    The best freaking article I have ever read!. Just so you know, the difference between electrolytes and salt is that a salt is a by-product of an acid/base reaction, and an electrolyte is a salt that conducts electricity. Gatorade does conduct electricity, but if you want an electrolyte kick, V8 Original vege juice has way more electrolytes in it than any sports drink, and is good for you. I did a test for science fair, so that’s how I know. Just shows Nature knows best!

  • GrazerX

    It’s so damn hot. Milk was a bad choice.

  • Jhonny

    I think mixing water with sugar and saly in small quantities work jst as well as Gatorade

  • JudeThree

    this is an old thread, but had to make a comment. I am fighting off a 2 week viral gastroenteritis, everything that goes in comes out and the thought of food maked me vomit (literally). Towards the tail end now, have been using gatorade and water, and frankly I’ve improved tremendously. Leg cramps gone,nausea,gone,other issues resolving. I can’t eat or drink anything other than water and gatorade,so I at least have the energy and resources to get up. so YAY Gatorade

  • JudeThree

    pig.how about a brick in your face

  • Michael H

    Hey Steve, great article! Electrolytes are important and keeping a good electrolyte balance helps increase performance and reduces bad events like muscle cramping. I might be a bit late to the party here, but what do you think about electrolyte pills? I work with ReplaceSR, which is a 4-6 hour sustained release electrolyte pill that helps you maintain electrolyte balance during long, intense workouts and competitions, as well as to help with the recovery process as well. A lot of our clientele are runners, cyclists, hikers, triathletes, etc.


    If you or someone else from Nerd Fitness would like some samples so you can try/review us, we would be glad to ship some out to you!

    – Michael

  • http://xwerks.com Xwerks

    Good post, glad you pointed out most people are fine with just water!

  • rngwrm

    for a two quart batch, that’s not enough sugar (if nothing else, you need sugar to balance out the dry, tannin-y taste of the koolaid powder), too much sodium, and zero potassium. that won’t taste or function anywhere near the real thing.

  • Travis Dulaney

    Funny, Gatorade actually dehydrates you because of the osmolality of the formula. They use cheap electrolytes and too much sugar and filler that it actually pulls water from your blood rather than putting it into your blood or keeping it there. Yes, electrolytes are great, but most sports drinks are not…. unless you water them down…. a lot! Even then, if they used the citrate version of the electrolytes they would actually benefit you for energy. Great article for electrolytes, and a massacre of widely available knowledge about sports drinks.

    https://chromenutrition.com/product/amino-hydrate/ <— real sports drink developed by a close friend.

  • davewyman

    Yours is an old comment now, but I’m going to comment, too: there’s no way to know, after being sick for two weeks, that Gatorade helped you, or if you were just getting better after two weeks.