[This article originally appeared in the
issue of Northwest Runner
Q.Is there any real difference between Gatorade and Powerade as far as endurance workouts go? I know one has less sodium and the other has more sugar (in a sugar polymer instead of free sugars). Does this make much difference? --Kerry Kim, Seattle, WA
A. As you point out, there are three main differences between Gatorade and Powerade: the amount of sodium, the amount of sugar, and the type of sugar used. Let's discuss each issue separately.
Gatorade is 6% sugar, whereas Powerade is 8% sugar. Since both fall within the generally recommended 4-8% range, either drink is acceptable according to this criterion. As a side note, in a 1998 review article, Xiaocai Shi and Carl Gisolfi (Sports Medicine 25: 157-72, 1998) recommended that the level of sugar in sports drinks be limited to 5-7%, a range that would include Gatorade but not Powerade. However, given that Dr. Shi is a Gatorade employee and that the late Dr. Gisolfi used to receive grant money from Gatorade, this recommendation is not surprising.
Here again, it's a toss-up between Gatorade and Powerade. The Powerade polymers might offer some sort of edge, but, then again, maybe not.
Viewed scientifically, the differences between Gatorade and Powerade are small, with neither beverage appearing clearly superior to the other. I personally prefer Gatorade, since it replaces sodium losses more effectively than Powerade does. However, this may not be an important consideration except in very long runs in which several liters of sweat are secreted.