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.
Nuun U Natural Hydration in Tangerine Ginger
The go-to drink mix for distance cyclists, Nuun U Natural Hydration offers a different, but totally effective, way to rehydrate. Drop a 7-calorie quick-dissolve tablet into your water bottle for a light, tangy – not grainy, chalky, or medicinal – drink that's packed with the electrolytes sodium, potassium, and magnesium; vitamins A, B, and C; and a whole bunch of minerals. Beyond quenching thirst, the caffeine-free Nuun made us feel energized, alert, and ready to tackle more miles in the bike saddle. But since it has scant calories, you may want to pair Nuun with a nutrition bar or Clif Shot Bloks for added fuel. Our favorite flavor: Tangerine Ginger. [$7.95 for 16 tablets; nuun.com]