Are Organic Sports Drinks Better for Exercise Recovery?

Woman drinking organic sports drink
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Sports drinks can be an essential part of hydration management for active adults and athletes, depending on the intensity and duration of physical activity. Commercial companies like PepsiCo Inc., the maker of Gatorade, are releasing an organic version of the sports drink.

They're aiming to better meet the varying needs of athletes by offering a healthier product, but the question still remains whether sports drinks are truly necessary, organic or not.

Organic vs. Traditional Sports Drinks

Health improvement is the primary reason consumers are going organic. Organic foods are produced without the use of non-approved chemical fertilizers, steroids, antibiotics, or pesticides Non-approved organic chemicals and fertilizers are falsely seen as harmful.

The makers of Gatorade began improving their product by removing brominated vegetable oil, which studies have shown to cause adverse health effects. However, under Food and Drug Administration standards, brominated vegetable oil is allowed up to 15 parts per million until further studies are done.

The organic version will be further modified and contain only seven ingredients: water, organic cane sugar, citric acid, organic natural flavor, sea salt, sodium citrate, and potassium chloride.

Traditional sports drinks are considered sugar-sweetened beverages and fall under the same food category as soft drinks or sodas. The typical ingredient list includes water, electrolytes (sodium and potassium), sugar, artificial color, and flavorings.

Organic sports drinks with minimal ingredients may be a better choice, but manufacturers still don't address the large amounts of unnecessary sugar and sodium in the product. This brings us back to whether sports drinks are healthy (whether or not they're organic) and when they should be consumed. 

Gatorade History

Sports drinks were invented in 1965 by researchers at the University of Florida, for their football team known as the Gators. Honoring team spirit, the new sports drink was labeled Gatorade.

The purpose of Gatorade was to hydrate and restore electrolyte balance in the athletes during intense sporting activities lasting several hours. The following year, the Florida Gators won their first-ever Orange Bowl.

What set the Gators apart from other football teams was the new sports drink, designed for them and seemingly improving their athletic performance. The Gatorade frenzy began and the owners of the product at the time founded the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Gatorade controls the largest percentage of sports drinks sales and marketing to date.

Gatorade going organic is a reflection of consumer demand for healthier options; other sport drink producers are sure to follow the trend. The organic products industry is a multi-billion dollar market. Athletes and active adults are striving to be healthier and that means improving sports nutrition.

Conflicting Research

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute remains a large financial contributor toward research studies on sports drinks. This poses a possible conflict of interest as researchers are significantly dependent on industry funding. According to a research article published in PLOS Medicine, industry funding may bias conclusions of scientific nutrition articles to support the sponsor’s product without regard for possible implications to public health.

Accurate, evidence-based research on sports drinks, in general, is lacking. Many clinical studies are based on assumptions and conflicting findings are reported. Research shows a split decision on sports drinks enhancing athletic performance or making no difference at all. Inconclusive evidence can be problematic for athletes, coaches, and nutritionists who rely on research to make better health choices.

The Role of Sports Drinks

Sports drinks were designed for athletes and active adults to replenish fluids and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost during intense physical activity. According to an article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes performing prolonged exercise over two hours may benefit form consuming carbohydrates and fluids found in sports drinks.

Athletes and active adults participating in sustained physical activity lose body water and electrolytes through sweat. Research has indicated hydration management, including water and sports drinks, may help. The goal is to prevent dehydration and excessive changes to electrolyte balance that could negatively impair athletic performance. Sweat rates vary per athlete and therefore it’s recommended customized fluid replacement programs be implemented.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, sports drinks are beneficial for athletes for hydration before, during, after, and throughout the day when intense exercise is anticipated to last more than 60 to 90 minutes.

The Sugar Problem

Sports drinks, whether or not they're organic, are full of sugar. According to Healthy Eating Research, some sports drinks can contain as much as 19 grams of sugar, 200 milligrams of sodium, and 80 calories per 8-ounce serving. The sugar content of a sports drink containing 19 grams of sugar equals approximately 5 teaspoons.

The problem is that non-athlete adults, adolescents, and children are consuming them at alarming rates. Research indicates sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) like sports drinks are “the leading source of added sugar in the American diet.” High intakes of sugar are shown to contribute to being overweight, obesity, and poor dental health.

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend adults consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. For children, the maximum should be 3 teaspoons per day. One sports drink almost meets the daily sugar requirement for an adult and exceeds it for a child.

According to the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), when sports drinks are consumed outside the context of athletic exercise, they provide large amounts of unnecessary sugar, sodium, and calories. Excessive sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), “are a leading cause of dental cavities, obesity, and type II diabetes.”

The Journal of the American Dental Association published an article indicating sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) like sports drinks are not only the leading cause of cavities but are displacing healthier fluid intake options. It appears that SSBs are causing an epidemic declining oral health problem, especially in adolescents and children. Research has shown the primary cause and source of dental cavities comes from sugary drinks.

Sports Drinks Comparisons

Sports drinks come in a variety of sizes, flavors, and ingredients. Organic sports drinks like Gatorade still require careful consideration of the contents.

The new Gatorade organic line contains seven teaspoons of added sugar per 16.9 ounce serving. According to the American Heart Association (AMA), this exceeds the adult recommended daily allowance of 6 teaspoons of sugar. An additional problem with sports drinks is they are marketed as a healthy alternative targeting athletes and the general public. The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) has provided a chart breaking down the ingredients of popular sports drinks:

Name Serving Size Calories Carbs Sugars Sodium Protein
Propel Zero 8oz 0 0 0 80mg 0
Gatorade G Series 8oz 50 14g 14g 110mg 0
Gatorade G2 Series 8oz 20 5g 5g 110mg 0
Gatorade Fit O2 Perform 8oz 10 2g 2g 110mg 0
Gatorade Fit O3 Recover 11oz 100 12g 9g 310mg 0
Powerade Powerade 8oz 50 14g 14g 100mg 0
Powerade zero 8oz 0 0 0 110mg 0
Sobe Lifewater 8oz 0 3g 0 25mg 0
All Sport Body Quencher 20oz 150 40g 40g 140mg 0
Glaceau Vitamin water 8oz 50 13g 13g 0 0
Glaceau Vitamin water zero 8oz 0 0 0 100mg 0

Sports Drinks Facts and Recommendations

Organic sports drinks marketing and sales are predicted to grow significantly. These drinks are advertised to improve our health and fitness but according to research are not advised for non-athletes. The following facts and recommendations have been compiled from research on sports drinks:

  • The health benefits of sports drinks are appropriate only for athletes performing sustained, intense physical activity.
  • The average American child or adolescent is not physically active enough to warrant consuming sports drinks.
  • Water and a balanced diet are recommended and optimal for the active adult, adolescent or child participating in exercise less than an hour.
  • Sports drinks are a source of excess sugar and calories in our diet.
  • Sports drinks may increase the risk of poor dental health.
  • Consuming sports drinks contributes to increased sodium intake.
  • Sports drinks are a contributing factor to obesity in adults, adolescents, and children.

Sports drinks, along with other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), account for almost 50% of the added sugar in the American diet.

A Word From Verywell

Increased sugar intake has already shown to be an epidemic problem causing adverse health effects. It is indicated sports drinks are adding significantly to this increased sugar consumption and calorie intake. Research has shown sports drinks consumed outside the context of sustained physical exercise are linked to obesity and poor dental health. 

Companies are making attempts to create what would seem like a healthier sports drink, but is removing chemicals enough? It appears the makers of sports drinks should also address the impact increased sugar and sodium are having on public health since many times sports drinks are consumed by the general non-athlete and children. Possibly better marketing to target athletes instead of the general population, as recommended in several studies, could be beneficial. Although going organic may sound like a positive health choice, a deeper look into the content of the product is still necessary, especially by the non-athlete consumer.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Roberts MD, et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):38.


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