Is Gatorade Zero Good for You? A Registered Dietitian Answers

Is Gatorade Zero Good for You? A Registered Dietitian Answers


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Gatorade Zero is arguably the brand’s second-most popular product after regular Gatorade, and because it’s sugar-free consumers are often curious about if it’s good for you. Gatorade describes this product as “all of the electrolytes of Gatorade, with zero sugar.”

But is Gatorade Zero actually good for you, or is it just healthier than regular Gatorade? Does it being sugar-free even make it healthier than regular Gatorade? Does Gatorade Zero contain any questionable additive ingredients? And how does it affect blood sugar?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review every ingredient in Gatorade Zero based on medical research to give our take on whether it’s good for you or not, compare it to regular Gatorade and document its effects on blood sugar with a real, unsponsored user’s review.

Ingredient Analysis

Gatorade Zero ingredients

Gatorade Zero has 11 ingredients, shown above. We chose the Grape flavor for our ingredient analysis, but all Gatorade Zero flavors contain a similar formulation so our comments stand for all of them.

Rather than sugar, Gatorade Zero is sweetened with two artificial sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium.

Sucralose was shown to negatively impact insulin function in healthy adults in a clinical trial published in the Nutrition Journal.

Acesulfame potassium was found to cause intestinal injury and negative changes to gut function to animals in a 2021 clinical trial.

Citric acid is a preservative and flavor enhancer that was documented in a series of medical case reports to cause whole-body inflammation in a small subset of patients, as we referenced in our review of Athletic Greens.

Sodium citrate is the sodium salt of citric acid, and was shown in a clinical trial to improve exercise performance in endurance athletes.

Natural flavor is an ingredient that we recommend avoiding, because although it may be safer than artificial flavors, it’s still a descriptor that fails to document the specific flavoring agents used, and some flavoring agents are shown in clinical research to have toxicity concerns.

Blue 1 is an artificial food dye, and a meta-study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health suggested that all artificial food dyes be removed from the food supply due to evidence of carcinogenicity (promotion of cancer) and genotoxicity (promotion of DNA damage).

The remaining ingredients are safe and non-toxic: water, monopotassium phosphate (an electrolyte), modified food starch (a thickener), glycerol ester of rosin (a thickener).

Overall we do not consider Gatorade Zero to be good for you. While it does contain some research-backed ingredients for improving exercise performance (electrolytes and sodium citrate), we don’t recommend the product due to the inclusion of a number of questionable additive ingredients including artificial sweeteners and an artificial food dye.

Gatorade Zero vs. Regular Gatorade

Gatorade ingredients

The ingredient label of regular Gatorade (12 ounce size) is shown above. Our main issue with regular Gatorade is the substantial amount of added sugar it contains. 48 grams (g) per bottle is almost 50% more than a Coke of the same size.

Regular Gatorade also has many of the questionable additive ingredients that we highlighted in the ingredient analysis of Gatorade Zero, including flavoring agents, citric acid and artificial food dye.

Overall we do consider Gatorade Zero to be healthier than regular Gatorade due to its lack of added sugar, but we don't recommend either product.

Gatorade would likely provide better performance optimization for elite athletes that need to refuel during long training sessions, but we consider both products to be unnecessary (and unhealthy) for the vast majority of regular consumers and athletes.

We Tried Gatorade Zero Ourselves

Gatorade Zero UGC

As the author of this article, I wanted to try Gatorade Zero myself to share my thoughts on its taste and whether it helped my athletic endurance, even though I usually just drink water when I work out.

I bought a large Cool Blue flavor at my local CVS and drank it while playing basketball for nearly two hours.

The taste is great, super refreshing and not too sweet or sour. This zero-sugar version tastes exactly like the regular Cool Blue version to me, and even though I typically don't like "artificial" drinks, Gatorade does taste better than any other sports nutrition brand in my opinion.

One thing I preferred about this version to the standard Cool Blue version is that it feels "lighter" with zero calories any without all of the sugar. When you're running around for hours you don't want to feel like anything's weighing you down.

I noticed improved endurance after consuming this drink relative to just consuming water. It's likely due to the electrolytes, but after playing basketball for nearly two hours I still wasn't very tired.

Overall, I rate Gatorade Zero 8/10 although I don't plan to purchase it regularly because I don't consider it to be healthy.

I like both Gatorade Zero and Gatorlyte better than regular Gatorade.

Does Gatorade Zero Increase Blood Sugar?

A YouTube creator named Blood Sugar King published a video testing the effects of Gatorade Zero on his blood sugar levels. While regular Gatorade caused a significant spike in blood sugar, Gatorade Zero actually caused a slight decrease in blood sugar:

We don’t recommend regularly consuming Gatorade Zero for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic due to the reasoning described in the video, but this may suggest that it may be a safer occasional choice for patients with blood sugar issues than Gatorade.

Is Gatorade Zero Powder Healthier?

Gatorade Zero is also sold in a powder formulation. Ingredients shown above for the same flavor (Grape).

The formulation is very similar. The electrolytes, artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents are exactly the same. The powder uses modified tapioca starch instead of modified food starch which isn’t a relevant difference.

Strangely, even though both products are the same flavor, Gatorade Zero Powder contains another artificial food dye Red 40, which was shown in a medical review to be contaminated with carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds).

The one benefit of the powder over the drink (if the powder is mixed into a non-plastic container) is that there is no risk of ingesting plastic chemicals, which is a legitimate health risk when consuming acidic drinks from plastic bottles, as we highlighted in our recent review of Prime drink ingredients.

Overall we do not consider there to be any relevant differences from a health perspective between Gatorade Zero drink and Gatorade Zero powder.

Our Clean Hydration Picks

Promix Electrolyte Drink Mix is our top electrolyte pick.

This product contains the electrolytes sodium (from Himalayan pink salt), potassium and magnesium.

Most importantly, there are no unhealthy additives or flavorings, making this the one of the cleanest electrolyte formulations that we've reviewed to date.

Pique Daily Radiance is our top flavor enhancing packet that can be added to water.

These packets are naturally flavored with nutritious ingredients like organic elderberry juice concentrate (which is clinically shown to support the immune system) and organic lemon juice concentrate.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

We do not consider Gatorade Zero to be good for you. 

The drink does contain some ergogenic (exercise-enhancing) compounds, but in our opinion the vast majority of consumers (essentially anyone other than elite athletes) do not need these compounds for their workout.

We believe the cons of Gatorade Zero such as all of the questionable additive ingredients like artificial sweeteners and artificial food dye outweigh the pros.

While there are minor differences between Gatorade Zero drink and Gatorade Zero powder, we do not find these differences to be meaningful, do not find one ingredient to be healthier than the other and do not recommend either.

Our take is that drinking either water or whole foods drinks containing electrolytes like coconut water is a healthier option than commercial sports drinks.