One of the things that we see all of the time at competitions is Gatorade. It’s literally everywhere! Even during Summer Nationals this drink was in high demand, with signs all over. High profile athletes drink it, and it sure has some high and mighty scientific claims. More than 50% of fencers reach for a sports drink during competition. But is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Let’s find out, and also learn about some alternatives.
What’s in Gatorade anyway?
First off, in order to understand the drink you have to understand where it came from. Gatorade was developed at the University of Florida by their athletics department in the 1960’s as a way to replace the electrolytes, carbohydrates and water that athletes use up during training and competition. These were scientists who worked with the best research available to come up with something that really worked. The school University of Florida sports teams were called the Florida Gators, hence the name Gatorade. Then in the 1983 it was bought by Quaker Oats, and eventually by Pepsi in 2001, and today it’s Pepsi that still makes it.
So let’s take a moment to realize that Gatorade is produced by a soda company.
Here are the ingredients in Gatorade:
- Sucrose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup: Just Sugar
- Citric acid: Natural, creates that signature tart taste and acts as a preservative
- Salt, sodium citrate: Sodium, electrolytes
- Monopotassium phosphate: Potassium, another electrolyte
- Ester gum: An emulsifier, made from wood.
- Various natural and artificial flavors and colors, depending on the variety
serving size: 8 fl oz; calories 50; total fat 0g; sodium 110mg; potassium 30mg; total carbs 14g; sugars 14g
One thing to realize here is that the sugar level in modern Gatorade is much higher than it was in the original formula, though Pepsi has moved away from high fructose corn syrup that was at one point part of the mix. You can also see that there are some really unnecessary things included here like ester gum and natural and artificial flavors, plus the citric acid. A lot has been added to Gatorade in the years since its creation.
Is Gatorade Good for Fencers?
Those original researchers did want to replace sugar and sodium for their athletes, as sugar is rapidly used during physical exercise and sodium is lost to perspiration. But one thing to remember here is that these were high level collegiate athletes who were spending hours on conditioning each day, not to mention that they were adults and not children. The Gatorade formula has since added additional sugar, artificial colors and sodium to the mix. In addition, doctors say that sports drinks aren’t necessary for the kinds of physical activities that most school aged kids are doing, even in sports. In fact the high sugar level is counterproductive according to pediatrician. In fact there has been a move to take sports drinks out of schools just as sodas have been largely taken out of schools because of their high sugar content, though it’s about half that of soda.
However fencers, especially high level fencers, are elite athletes. Serious fencers do train for hours at a time, even those of school age. The bottom line is that the original University of Florida research still stands, and that replacing electrolytes and carbs can be useful in order to drive performance, especially at that high level of competition.
So what’s the answer? If commercial sports drinks are laden with too much sugar and sodium, plus the artificial colors, flavors and preservatives that are wholly unnecessary, then how can we provide our fencers with those elements and gain the advantages that come with them?
Homemade Electrolyte Drinks
The answer can be as simple as a bottle and a few household ingredients. A homemade electrolyte drink is easy to make and will offer your child the things that they need without the stuff that they don’t. Plus you can suit it to your tastes. If you’re traveling, the ingredients are easy to come by just about anywhere.
Lemon Electrolyte Drink
- 8 oz water (1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
- pinch of salt
- optional: sweetener of your choice
This basic recipe includes 110mg of salt, about a pinch. It contains 30 mg of potassium which can be found in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. These actually about the same as what’s included in Gatorade! But made with natural ingredients and without all of the junk. If you’d like to add some carbs for a quick boost into the mix, then consider stirring in a natural sweetener like agave or honey. The body doesn’t know where carbs and sugars come from, only that they offer it a boost. However excess isn’t necessary, and this way you can control what your child gets! Try a teaspoon of agave or honey (20 calories) for a drink that is sweet and offers that quick energy without being overloaded. Another alternative is to toss in some frozen berries, which will cool the drink and also give some whole fruit nutrition as well as that same carb boost.
This drink keeps really well and can be used just like you would a sports drink – mix it in a bottle ahead of time and pack it for practice!
The good news? There’s a great alternative to give your kids a healthy boost without filling them full of artificial flavors and colors! Try making a quick electrolyte drink for the next practice session, and you’ll likely find that you and your family are quickly hooked!