23/05/2024

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Gatorade: Is it Safe for Kids?

Gatorade: Is it Safe for Kids?

Have you ever wondered if Gatorade is safe to give to your kids? Unlike the newer brands such as Prime Hydration and Biosteel, Gatorade has been around for more than a hot minute! However, just because a sports nutrition brand is well-recognized, doesn’t mean it’s always an ideal choice, especially when it comes to offering it to your kids. 

close up of Gatorade bottles without labels

As a dietitian and mom of 3 kids, I am well aware of the overwhelm that comes with sports nutrition, especially when looking into supplements and sports drinks for kids! Not to worry! I’ve sifted through the latest research and sorted through everything you need to know about Gatorade sport hydration drinks for kids—I’ve got you covered!

smiling kids in a group soccer team wearing red uniforms

What are Gatorade hydration drinks?

The Gatorade Company has more than 40 years of research to back its sport performance products. Scientists at Gatorade Sports Science Institute (where I’ve had the pleasure of visiting!) study the effects of nutrition before, during and after exercise to formulate products that help athletes excel at all phases of their sport performance. In this blog post I specifically look at what Gatorade is best known for—their hydration products!  

Before you decide if these sports drinks are suitable for your kids, it’s important to know what’s in them and their intended use!

close up of Gatorade sports drinks in a bucket filled with ice

Ready-Made Sport Drink Options

Gatorade Base (591ml) G2 (591ml)   G Zero (591ml) Gatorlyte (591ml) Gatorade Fit (500ml)  
Formulated for high intensity activity moderate intensity activity lower intensity activity Rapid rehydration during high intensity activity  lower intensity activity
Electrolyte content Sodium-270mg Potassium-80mg Sodium-270mg Potassium-75mg Sodium-270mg Potassium- 75mg Sodium-490mg Potassium-350mg Sodium-230mg Potassium-60mg
Carbohydrate Content 36g 13g 1g 14g 3g
Other Ingredients N/A Sucralose   Acesulfame potassium Sucralose   Acesulfame potassium Stevia Leaf Calcium Magnesium Chloride   Stevia Leaf Vitamin A Vitamin C Vitamin B6 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5

Powdered Sport Drink Options

Gatorade Perform Canister (32g/3 tbsp.) makes about 500ml prepared Gatorade Thirst Quencher packet (35g) makes about 500ml prepared Gatorade Endurance Formula Canister (24g/1.5 tbsp.) makes about 360ml prepared
Formulated for High intensity activity High intensity activity Hydration for longer endurance activities
Electrolyte Content Sodium-190mg Potassium-65mg Sodium-230mg Potassium-70mg Sodium-300mg Potassium-140mg
Carbohydrate Content 33g 34g 22g
Other Ingredients N/A N/A N/A
close up of a teen girl drinking Gatorade from a bottle

Which Gatorade products are safe for kids?

All Gatorade hydration products are formulated with the goal to hydrate adult athletes during physical activity at varying levels of intensity. This does not mean Gatorade products are unsafe for kids to drink, however. Phew! Take and deep breath knowing that your child will be absolutely fine if they drink Gatorade on occasion.

In many circumstances, Gatorade likely won’t provide much benefit for your average active kiddo. During regular activities, kids won’t usually sweat enough to warrant a sports rehydration solution. In fact, giving kids Gatorade in place of water for hydration will only increase their daily salt intake, while filling their tummies with a sweet-tasting beverage. This may have the unwanted side effect of dampening their appetite for more nutrient-dense foods needed for proper growth and development. As boring as it may sound, water is always the best everyday choice when it comes to hydrating your kiddos! You can always be creative with water and add some fresh or frozen fruit (or fruit juice) to flavour it naturally.

But what about the highly active youth involved in strenuous sport and training regimens? This is where sports hydration drinks can come in handy! Let me break it down for you.

Gatorade drinks that are NOT appropriate or beneficial for kids:

Certain formulas are designed for prolonged activity and heavy sweating which contain a high amount of sodium per serving, designed to replace excessive salt loss in adult athletes. These higher sodium formulas are likely not beneficial for young athletes with lower levels of sweat and salt loss:

  • Gatorlyte
  • Gatorade Endurance

Low-calorie, artificially sweetened sports drinks that contain little to no carbohydrates are also not as effective or appropriate for young athletes who engage in prolonged, vigorous activity. In order to optimize performance, a sports drink that replenishes both energy stores and electrolytes is ideal for developing athletes! That means Gatorade drinks with little to no carbohydrates aren’t the best fit:

Gatorade Fit also contains lots of added vitamins in its formulation, making it more of a multivitamin sports drink. The vitamin A in each bottle of Gatorade Fit is more than double the needs of kids younger than 8 years old, and meets 100% of the daily intake of vitamin A for teens over the age of 13 years old. While one bottle of Gatorade Fit will not cause vitamin A toxicity in children, drinking this formulation on a regular basis could cause an unnecessary build-up of this fat-soluble vitamin in growing bodies.

Gatorade drinks kids could benefit from:

Have a really active child? The Gatorade hydration products that simply provide fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates are the best fit for young, high-performance athletes. These products are:

  • Gatorade Base (original Gatorade drink)
  • Gatorade Perform drink mix
  • Gatorade Thirst Quencher drink mix
close up of a basketball with shoes

Why is Gatorade so popular?

It’s no secret that Gatorade is strong in its brand recognition as an effective sports drink. It’s sold and distributed in many countries around the world, making it a widely available and highly convenient hydration option for people of all ages.  There’s no denying the allure of it – I can attest to this firsthand as all 3 of my kids request Gatorade often.

A big reason for its popularity stems from the company’s endorsement with well-known professional athletes and sports teams. Gatorade is officially partnered with the NBA, as well as some NHL, NFL, and MLB teams and players. Some of its past iconic partnerships include basketball legend Michael Jordan, and tennis superstar Serena Williams. That’s no small feat! 

The sweet-flavored drinks and alluring bright colors are undoubtedly a hit with kids and teens!  But it’s important to remember, that you as the parent get to decide whether or not it is worth it to buy these products for your child or teenager. That is part of your role as the feeder, according to the Division of Responsibility in Feeding (I cover this quite thoroughly over on my Starbucks for Kids post).

Should I be buying Gatorade for my child?

The answer to this question depends on your child, their needs, and your family’s needs. Here are a few reasons why I might recommend a Gatorade sports drink for a child:

  1. They are considered highly active young athletes, participating in strenuous activity lasting longer than one hour, several times a week, and often need to complete back-to-back training sessions.
  2. They are involved in strenuous prolonged activity in a hot environment or with heavy gear, leading to a higher sweat rate than normal.
  3. They have had a recent illness that causes fluid loss (through fever, vomiting, and diarrhea) and require electrolyte replenishment. Especially if they are highly active and plan to train again soon.

Always consult a registered dietitian who is well-versed in pediatric sports nutrition to sort out if, when, and how often your child might benefit from a sports hydration drink.

Hydration alternatives to Gatorade:

It might be boring and certainly not thrilling, but let’s be real: Water is the best, cheapest, most widely available way to hydrate our bodies. Drinking enough water is key to keeping bowels regular, regulating heart rate, muscle function, and keeping all body systems running smoothly!

However, with strenuous prolonged exercise, our bodies lose fluid and electrolytes rapidly! In some circumstances, it can pay off to up our hydration game. Strategically replacing lost electrolytes, energy, and fluid in the right amounts, at the right time, can make or break athletic performance and development. This is true for both adult and child athletes!

close up of a homemade sports drink using orange juice

Homemade Sport Drink for Kids

You can buy fancy sports drinks like Gatorade, or you can make your own! Whatever works best for you, and your family. Here is a homemade rehydration drink you can customize to your liking based on the type of juice you choose. Mix the following together:

  • 1 cup of coconut water (provides potassium)
  • 2 cup of water
  • 1 cup of 100% fruit juice (has potassium and other naturally occurring nutrients)
  • 1/8 tsp. of salt (provides sodium)

Bottom Line:

Gatorade hydration drinks are certainly fine for kids to drink on occasion! They are safe and won’t cause harm in moderation.  There are certain formulations (such as the original Gatorade base drink) that are more beneficial to hydrate child athletes as they contain a good source of carbohydrate, without overloading on salt.

Gatorade is a widely available and convenient sports hydration option. It is 100% your choice whether or not to buy this product for your child or teen athlete (or make your own homemade hydration drink!). I recommend that high performing athletes are assessed by a sports nutrition dietitian who can provide individualized advice around the use of sports hydration drinks.

Remember, water is always the best option for kids who are generally active and don’t require electrolyte replenishment!

References:

Is Gatorade safe for kids? A dietitian mom breaks down the science to clear the confusion.