Nike recently launched a Gatorade-colored collection of Air Jordan sneakers in honor of the sports drink’s famous 1991 “Be Like Mike” advertisement, which encouraged Americans to consume brightly hued sugar water if they wanted to emulate basketball star Michael Jordan. Plenty did.
Gatorade is still paying big bucks to professional athletes, though it says it does not target advertising to children under 12. In 2004, it agreed to pay a reported $384 million for an eight-year advertising deal with the NFL. It also has been an official paid sponsor of the NBA, MLB, NHL and NASCAR. Gatorade is the only drink besides water that many athletes are allowed to be seen drinking while on the sidelines.
But, recently, some professional athletes have begun to snub commercial sports drinks, favoring more nutritious vehicles for the hydration and replenishment of electrolytes — minerals such as potassium, magnesium and sodium that help water flow into cells — that they require. And parents can do the same for their kids by making healthful drinks at home.
Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady drinks a chef-concocted electrolyte drink (the recipe is classified). The Golden State Warriors have experimented with water mixed with Himalayan sea salt. In his biography, tennis pro Andre Agassi says for years he drank an electrolyte drink made by his trainer Gil Reyes. Other players swear by alkaline water, which has a higher pH than regular water and potential hydrating abilities. NBA player Jason Terry, one alkaline water fan, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, “There’s no supplement for water. People always say Gatorade, but it just doesn’t work. . . . I don’t really need Gatorade or any kind of sugar.”
He’s right about the sugar. He doesn’t need it, and neither do our kids. (A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade, for example, contains 34 grams of processed sugar, 270 mg of sodium, synthetic food dyes and other chemicals. A Gatorade spokeswoman points out that the company offers lower-sugar or sugar-free products, but some of those contain dyes or sucralose.) Commercial sports drinks were designed for college athletes in Florida who were training so relentlessly in high temperatures that they sufficiently depleted their bodies of fluids and minerals. No matter how athletic your children may appear to you, they are most likely not training to the degree of one of these athletes. Back when Gatorade asked us if we all wanted to be like Mike, it didn’t suggest that we actually train like Mike.
My teenage boys coach baseball camp in the scorching summer heat, yet despite their claims that they are “dying from a lack of electrolytes,” they do not need a sports drink with high-fructose corn syrup and food dyes. They could benefit from water and fruit, which will deliver the electrolytes they need. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 75 mg of potassium while a clementine has 131 mg and a banana has 422 mg; both fruits also deliver vitamins, and magnesium to help prevent cramping.
Boys, I am not making this stuff up. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. It states that “routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks by children and adolescents should be avoided or restricted. . . . Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.” But let’s be realistic, kids hankering for sports drinks don’t always get excited about water and fruit, which is why these fruit-based, homemade drinks might be more likely to win them over.
I've written about the more natural sports drinks on the market, Greater Than and Honest Sport still being my favorites. And I find the new BodyArmor ad campaign featuring NBA player James Harden dressed in colonial-era clothes quite funny (although the BodyArmor products have as much sugar as a traditional sports drink). The narrator proclaims, "James Harden wouldn't go to the game wearing outdated fashion, so why would he choose an outdated sports drink?" The tagline: "Thanks Gatorade. We'll take it from here."
I agree; the well-known commercial sports drinks are outdated, behind-the-times, have had their day, are even vintage. With everything we know about added sugars and food dyes, let's instead choose drinks that wholesomely hydrate and provide serious electrolytes, along with cancer-fighting antioxidants and natural carbohydrates and sugars.
The sports drinks of the future are the ones you can make yourself (you don’t even need a trainer named Gil). They’re the ones that, without damaging our bodies, can help us be like Mike. Or Tom. Or Andre. Or as hip as James Harden. Or, more realistically, even if we can never really be like Mike, we can at least drink beverages that don’t make our blood sugar spike. That’s a healthy future.
First published in The Washington Post on Thursday, July 12, 2018.