Exercise raises your heart rate and dehydrates you – everyone knows that. To perform at the top of your game, whether you’re a professional basketball player or you just love to shred your local skatepark, staying hydrated is extremely important. But with all the “replenishing” sports drinks out there, which should you turn to?
There are two brands in particular that stand out as the most popular sports drinks for staying hydrated during exercise: Gatorade and Powerade. Each promises to keep you at the top of your game through the replenishment of electrolytes and other valuable nutrients. The million-dollar question, of course, is which drink is more efficient at keeping that promise?
If you’ve ever been part of, or witnessed, a Gatorade vs. Powerade debate, you’ll know that there are camps who will argue both sides. Both drinks definitely have their distinct pros and cons, but we’re going to determine the rightful winner of this age-old battle by breaking down their ingredients and showing you, scientifically, which offers better hydration performance, health promotion, and more.
How each brand was developed
Before we jump straight into scientific and nutritional values, let’s take a brief look at how each product came to be. Their backgrounds alone are intriguing and give good insight into the original values of each company.
Gatorade was developed to fix a problem. The assistant coach of the University of Florida’s football team, the Gators, noticed his players were being adversely affected by the blistering heat. Exhaustion, sluggishness and dehydration plagued his players. So, in 1965, the coach asked researches at the university if they could help. The researchers found that players were losing electrolytes in their sweat, which weren’t being replaced. The players were also burning through their carbohydrate stores and losing energy. To combat these effects, they developed a drink called Gatorade (as in “Gator-Aid” like the team name), which went on to help the Gators outlast their opponents and win the Orange Bowl for the first time. From there, other teams began asking for the Gators’ secret formula, which lead to private sales – and the rest, as they say, is history!
Powerade doesn’t exactly have the same heart-lifting, motivational origins as Gatorade. It was developed by Coca-Cola in 1988 to rival Gatorade, promising the same sports benefits of rehydration and nutrient replenishment. It was named the official sports drink of The Olympics that very same year, which catapulted it into stores and onto the benches of little leaguers and pros around the world.
Difference in ingredients and nutritional value
Now to get down to brass tacks, Gatorade and Powerade do have some key differences. First of all, they have different composition. Let’s take a look at each nutritional component of these sports drinks and see where the biggest differences lie.
Interestingly, Gatorade and Powerade both contain around 25g of carbohydrates per 12oz serving. However, the ingredients that deliver these carbohydrates are different. While Gatorade uses sucrose and dextrose, which are simple sugars easily digested by the body, Powerade’s carbohydrate source is high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup has been demonized by nutritionists and medical professionals for being associated with several health risks, including increased abdominal fat.
Carbohydrates have become a scary concept due to half-baked fitness and nutritional articles, but our body craves carbohydrates to use as our primary energy source. Cutting out carbs completely in ketogenic diets has become a fitness trend, but the lack of carbohydrates adversely affects athletic performance. In short, for the best athletic performance, carbs are friends – you just have to make sure you get carbs from the right sources.
“Electrolytes” is the biggest buzzword surrounding sports drinks, but what are they? Electrolytes are naturally occurring substances within the body that carry the electrical charges needed for complex beings, like humans, to survive. Although Gatorade and Powerade contain similar amounts of electrolytes, Gatorade does have 10mg more sodium and 10mg more potassium than its rival, which makes it slightly more adept at replacing our body’s electrolytes lost during exercise.
Vitamins and minerals
We’ve all been told by our parents, health professionals, and even TV commercials – we need our vitamins and minerals! In this category, Powerade contains more than Gatorade. Both drinks contain small amounts (1-10%) of about a dozen different vitamins and minerals, but Powerade has added much more significant amounts of vitamins B-3, B-6 and B-12 to its formula to promote better energy production within the body.
Which is better for hydration
So, you’ve got a detailed understanding of the nutritional value of each drink – but how does all of that mumbo jumbo relate to how thirsty you are after a double-header? Basically, the loss of electrolytes is what causes dehydration. Because of this, the formula that is the most adept at replacing all of those electrolytes is therefore the most effective sports drink at controlling thirst and body dehydration, which means Gatorade has the edge here.
Other pros and cons
If nutrition was the only aspect of a food or beverage that we looked at, many companies wouldn’t be in business. We want variety, and we want a sports drink that tastes good. As far as taste is concerned, Gatorade has more flavor varieties than Powerade, although there are several of both and you probably won’t feel limited in taste with either drink.
One thing that Powerade offers in terms of variety that Gatorade doesn’t, however, is a zero-calorie version. Controlling calories is a huge part of weight loss, and many people hit the gym or the training field with that purpose specifically in mind. For those who want to keep their calorie count to an absolute minimum, Powerade has the better solution here (although Gatorade’s G2 is not far behind with only 30 calories per 12oz serving).
Wrapping it up
In light of all the different values and aspects of each drink, it’s hard to argue that Gatorade is the superior sports drink. Gatorade contains more of the electrolytes sodium and potassium, uses a carbohydrate source that is more easily processed by the body and not associated with adverse health effects, and it comes in more flavors!
Although Gatorade came out on top, if you’re a die-hard fan of Powerade and find it to adequately quench your thirst during tennis matches or track meets, you’re not missing out on a lot by staying your course. Although Gatorade does a better job of replacing electrolytes, it’s only 10mg of 2 of the 4 main electrolytes per serving, which isn’t the most significant difference in the world.
At the end of the day, you’re probably better off with whichever drink you personally like best, as there are many times when a boost in morale will serve you better than 20mg of additional electrolytes.