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

Everybody loves Gatorade, and people want to know what the heck electrolytes are 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 are:

  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Potassium
  • Bicarbonate
  • Calcium
  • 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 bloodstream 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?

Gatorade is essentially sugar water with some electrolytes added.

And sugar can make you fat.

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, most of which is sugar).

It comes down to total calories consumed vs total calories burned every day.

So if you are doing moderate exercise, or even strenuous exercise for a shorter (an hour or so) amount of time, water should suffice.

If you are running marathons or doing hours of intense work, then making sure to replenish your electrolytes is important. And one way to do that would be gatorade.

Sure, gatorade tastes better, and has some calories and electrolytes, but it’s mostly sugar water.  So don’t sit on your couch eating donuts and drinking Gatorade, because the sugar will go straight to your gut!

let’s talk about your urine!

Pale yellow pee?  You’re right on track.

Bright or dark yellow pee?  Make a few more trips to the water cooler.

Mountain Dew colored pee? Your body is severely dehydrated.

Any other color of the rainbow?  RUN to the doctor.


photo credit: JeepersMedia Gatorade

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  • jwan584

    Oh you know. Without Gator you can’t ingest any calories. You could do juice I suppose. But key is getting an easy source of minerals that you lose when you just drink water.

  • Just to be clear: Does water contain electrolytes? Or is it water WITH food that provides electrolytes?

  • C Jasz

    if you read what is in the bottle, we can all make this at home for less

  • KyoudaiDoushi

    I know this is a really old thread, but it’s still fairly active so I felt savfe adding this: another thing, other than helping athlet’s and people with hangovers, sports drinks are good for (I prefer Powerade over Gatorade, to be honest)