Gatorade vs. Vitaminwater: Is One Better Than the Other? Here's How to Choose

Written by Claire Hannum
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, RD

Updated on January 11, 2024

You would think that the most popular drinks out there that are designed to help athletes recover would be the best alternatives, right?  Especially for those looking for the highest quality, natural options.

Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. Most sports drinks you’ll find in the grocery store have additives such as artificial flavors, artificial dyes, and sugars that may not fit your health goals.

When choosing between Gatorade and Vitaminwater (or any other sports drinks) you’ll have to make some serious considerations about which ingredients would have the best impact on your health. In fact, once you know what’s in your favorite sports drinks, you may want to limit them.

The History of Sports Drink

When you exercise, you lose electrolytes, the minerals that help your brain, muscles, and nerves function properly. Calcium, phosphate, magnesium, chloride, potassium, and sodium are all considered electrolytes.

Before Gatorade came into existence in 1965, the natural way of replenishing electrolytes was through sea salt, coconut water, and fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes.

But when athletes wanted a more convenient option, Gatorade entered the scene. This drink, invented at The University of Florida, helped athletes quickly and easily replace their electrolytes while working out in the intense Florida heat and humidity. But here’s something you may not yet know: Gatorade’s original formula tasted so bad that some athletes vomited after drinking it.

So while it was originally intended to help athletes, many people who drink it regularly aren’t working out to that caliber. In short, making a tasty and cost effective product appears to have taken importance over a more natural, high quality one.

And now there’s a whole slew of trendy (sugary) sports drinks that followed: Vitaminwater, Powerade, and most recently…Prime.

Hydrate Smarter, Not Harder

Hydrate Smarter, Not Harder

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop.

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Nutritional Profile of Gatorade

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Nutritional Profile of VItaminwater

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5 Ingredients in Sports Drinks To Avoid

Like I mentioned above, Gatorade’s original formula tasted pretty bad. And instead of finding natural solutions to better the taste, food developers turned to these five less than ideal ingredients…

1. Added Sugar

Many sports drinks include carbs in the form of a sugar like sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Fructose is prevalent in drinks including Vitaminwater and Powerade (1, 2, 3). Added sugars in excess can lead to chronic health issues, and because our diets tend to already exceed the daily recommended amount for added sugars, they’re not a great way for your body to get its energy (4, 5).

Sports drinks usually contain less sugar than an average can of soda, but that’s a pretty low bar if you ask me. One serving of Gatorade Thirst Quencher is packed with 36 grams of sugar, and a bottle of Vitaminwater contains 27 grams (6, 7). That’s more sugar than you should be consuming in an entire day.

Excess amounts of added sugar has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and metabolic syndrome (8, 9, 10, 11).

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Many sports drinks include artificial sweeteners, which come with their own potential health risks. “Sugar in the form of several artificial sweeteners is one of the most common ingredients present in sports drinks,” says Edibel Quintero, a registered dietitian and medical advisor with HealthInsider. “Unfortunately, artificial sugar has no benefits and it just quickly causes spikes in blood sugar levels. Too much sugar can hinder the absorption of calcium and magnesium and cause mineral deficiencies, activate an unwanted inflammatory response in the body (which results in negative behavior), and increase the cravings for more sugar.”

For example, Gatorade Zero boasts that it has “zero sugar”—but instead, the drink gets its sweet taste from the artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame, also known as Ace-K (12). As for acesulfame potassium, animal studies on the sweetener found that it may cause weight gain, changes in gut health, and chronic inflammation (13). While most health authorities deem artificial sweeteners as safe for consumption, there are people who are intolerant and sensitive to them, or still want to avoid them due to the mixed evidence and potential negative effects.

3. Artificial Colors and Dyes

Many sports drinks get their bright colors from artificial food colors and dyes, and in some parts of the world, they’re even banned from the shelves for their use of these ingredients. Americans are ingesting 4 times as many artificial food colors as they did 50 years ago, and sports drinks certainly aren’t helping us cut back (14).

Research has found that artificial food dyes may cause hyperactivity in kids (15, 16). Yellow 5 (also called tartrazine), a dye used in Gatorade, has been linked to restlessness, trouble sleeping, irritability, and depression (17).

Because Gatorade uses Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 dyes, it is banned in Norway and Austria. In the UK, the British government is actively encouraging food brands to rely on natural dyes. Across the European Union, foods containing artificial food dyes (including Yellow 5 and Yellow 6) are required to flash a warning label cautioning that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Give Your Muscles the Nutrients They Need

Give Your Muscles the Nutrients They Need

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop.

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4. Vitamins You Don’t Actually Need More Of

It’s natural to assume that the more vitamins are in your drink, the better. But that’s not always the case. If you’re already getting the vitamin levels your body needs, consuming more of the vitamin is essentially useless. 

Most extra vitamins you consume on top of your needs, you will simply excrete them through your urine, other vitamins, such as certain fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E can be stored and potentially toxic if taken in excessive amounts through supplementation. So while sports drinks may advertise their vitamin content, it might not make a difference for your health if you consume a balanced healthy diet.

For example, Vitaminwater contains 50-120% of the amount of B vitamins your body needs daily, and 50-150% of vitamin C. But the vast majority of Americans are already getting enough water-soluble vitamins like B vitamins and C vitamins in their regular diets (18, 19). 

Unless you are one of the rare few who are not getting enough of these vitamins elsewhere, your body will not benefit from drinking them in sports drink form. And if you are deficient in a vitamin, try to get it through food or through a natural supplement—not from a beverage loaded with sugar.

5. Caffeine

Some sports drinks advertise themselves specifically as energy boosters, and some contain caffeine. That’s not always a bad thing—for some people, moderate daily caffeine is a great way to get energized for the day and stay on task. But for others, caffeine can cause energy dips or anxiety (20). And even people who love caffeine may have trouble sleeping if they drink it late in the day.

5 Healthier Alternatives to Sports Drinks

When it comes to the question of Gatorade vs. Vitaminwater, our opinion is neither. The additives in most sports drinks just aren’t worth it to us.

For everyday hydration, water and natural alternatives are generally sufficient and provide a healthier choice without added sugars or artificial ingredients,” says registered nutritionist and dietitian Meaghan Greenwood.

Your body does benefit from rehydrating and replacing lost electrolytes after a workout, but you can do this with a healthier drink that’s not loaded with sugar and artificial dyes (21). Here are some better options to try…

Native Hydrate

Native Hydrate contains all the major electrolytes, including 2 grams (200 mg) of sodium and 25% of your recommended magnesium intake.

In addition to the electrolytes, it has 2,000 mg of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs support muscle building after resistance exercise, prevent fatigue during long-duration aerobic exercise, and reduce exercise-related muscle soreness.  

Best of all, Native Hydrate contains no added sugar, artificial flavors, or artificial colors. It’s sweetened with all-natural stevia and uses natural beetroot powder for color, making it the cleanest way to maintain hydration, energy, and muscle health.

Simply add one scoop to 12-16 ounces of filtered water and enjoy!

Coconut Water

When it comes to coconut water vs Gatorade, we choose coconut water every time. There’s a reason this refreshing beverage has skyrocketed in popularity—it’s almost always a better choice than sugar-packed sports or hydration drinks.

“Coconut water has all the primary ingredients that are present in sports drinks, which help to replenish lost nutrients during the recovery phase,” says Quintero. “Surprisingly, it has 5 times more potassium than major sports drinks, which restores your energy levels and helps you get rid of muscle cramps.”

Native Note: Just be sure to check the label to make sure you’re getting 100% pure coconut water without any added sugars.

Watermelon Juice

This tasty juice is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids. “These nutrients in watermelon juice, in addition to strengthening the immune system, provide a quick boost of energy, which is severely needed after a workout,” explains Quintero. “It has vitamins B6 and C, along with magnesium and beta-carotene, which deliver instant energy to the cells.”

Homemade Electrolyte Drinks

You can even make your own electrolyte drink at home in minutes! “You can create your own electrolyte drink using a combination of water, a pinch of pink Himlayan sea salt, and a source of natural sugars like honey,” advises Greenwood. All the benefits without any of the sugars or chemicals.

Fruits and Veggies

Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with the electrolytes and carbs your body loses during workouts. Eat them on their own, or infuse your water with berries, cucumber, orange slices, or other fruits for a boost of flavor and natural nutrients.

Water Alone Won't Cut It. This Will.

Water Alone Won't Cut It. This Will.

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop.

Add to Cart

The Bottom Line

Sports drinks may not be the best option to align with your health goals. They contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and dyes that could make some people feel worse, instead of recovered. Get your post-workout boost naturally with Native Hydrate, coconut water, or watermelon juice.

Claire Hannum
Article by

Claire Hannum

Claire Hannum is a New York City-based writer, editor, wellness seeker, and reiki practitioner. Her writing has appeared in Self, Health, Prevention, and over a dozen other publications.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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