Gatorade caught major flak this year when a 15-year-old girl from Mississippi made America realize the sports drink contains brominated vegetable oil. BVO, as it's called, is toxic in concentrated form and contains bromine – a flame-retardant commonly sprayed on furniture and carpets – which accumulates in fatty tissues and may damage organs. As we were stunned to learn, Gatorade and other beverage makers had routinely used brominated vegetable oil in their products to protect citrus flavors. To its credit, Gatorade reacted by phasing out BVO from all its drinks (although other big-name sports drinks like Powerade still contain it).
Yet even without BVO, Gatorade and others continue to get slammed by many critics for their sugar content and artificial dyes. In particular, the form of sugar in many big name sports drinks is usually sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup. Those refined sugars cause blood sugar to spike erratically – unlike the natural mix of fructose, glucose, and sucrose that's found in fruit juices. And those enticing electric colors that don't exist in nature are the result of some creative chemistry and include red 40, blue 1, and yellow 5, among other synthetic colors, many of which have been linked (in concentrated forms) to migraines, allergies, hyperactivity, and even cancer.
Sports drinks makers have caught on, however, and now offer plenty of options that are equally effective while far more healthful. And don't let the idea of sugary drinks put you off them completely. For instance, most varieties of Gatorade contain 21 grams of sugar per 12 ounces which, according to David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, is perfectly appropriate if consumed during a heavy workout. We looked beyond the convenience store coolers and found a few fantastic electrolyte- and calorie-replacing sports drink alternatives, as well as some no- and low-cal options to help hydrate and supply vitamins. Here are our favorites.
Aspire Ice in Lemon Lime
Despite having little sugar – just 8 grams per 12-ounce bottle (rounded out by natural sweeteners stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit extract) – Aspire's lemon-lime flavor is hard to put down. And even though it's lower in calories than much of the competition, with a mere 25 calories per bottle, Aspire rehydrated and refueled us after a burly hour-long hike, thanks to its cocktail of electrolytes, minerals, antioxidants, and B vitamins. It also tastes just as good warm as chilled, making it great to toss in a backpack or cleat bag. [$30 for an 18-pack; aspirebeverages.com]