Selling Out – Free Gatorade for Students

My husband wishes I would learn to stay quiet…at least until I get tenure at my high school teaching job.

See, I have a tendency to rock the boat about issues that I am passionate about (remember the pie-eating-contest-fiasco from a few years ago?).  This time around, I had a hard time keeping my trap shut when I heard that Gatorade reps would be on our high school campus handing out free samples to our students during G-week.

Gatorade samples at school

Who doesn't love FREE?

When I tried to find out how this came to pass, I got the run-around, with several people shunting the responsibility to others.  Eventually, one of the coaches said that he had received a call from Gatorade, saying that they wanted to share their new “nutrition classes” with the athletes and hand out free samples.  Since he buys the drinks for his team, he saw no reason they shouldn’t come over.

I was suspicious.  Gatorade offering nutrition classes?  I would no sooner take a class on healthy eating from McDonald’s.  But I had some students do some investigating so that we could learn what these classes would entail.  When a student called Gatorade on my behalf, they said that they do not offer any such classes, and that “it might be something special that your sales rep came up with on his own.”  Clever guy.  It’s hard to imagine that his sales wouldn’t increase after he shares his products on a campus teeming with over 1000 thirsty students.  Students reported back that before practice, approximately 5 minutes were dedicated to student questions.  No nutrition workshop or teaching was offered…unless you call advertising “teaching.”  Students were, however, encouraged to drink the pre-game formula, the during-the-game-formula AND the replenisher after the game is over.  Woah – 3x the buying power.  And I thought ONE product is all we needed. I’ll say it again – clever guy.

Girls with free Gatorade

Bringing free Gatorade to the coaches

When one student asked me “what I have against Gatorade,” I told him that we have a California state education code that is is intended to protect students and to ensure that they are not offered “non-nutritious” items at school.  The majority of the samples being served exceeded the legal limits on sugar, sodium and / or potassium.

Never one to shy away from a teachable moment, we talked about artificial colors and sweeteners and the benefits of eating food that grows on plants, and not foods made in plants (thanks, Michael Pollan!).  There is now a joke in class about my enthusiasm for coconut water, a natural source of electrolytes, as opposed to the colorful chemical concoctions that were being handed out on campus.  When I asked a colleague who runs marathons about her favorite sports drink, she agreed that coconut water was ideal because it was “real” and helped her to recover quickly after a long workout.

Their presence also raises ethical issues about where to draw the line between business and education.  I understand that the athletic department needs funding for equipment, transportation, coaches etc.  However, they should not be selling out or trying to get sponsorships from companies that don’t comply with the law.  Students and athletes require exemplary nutrition – and chemically formulated compounds hardly qualify.

What’s really going on?

Every 4 grams of sugar in your beverages = 1 teaspoon.  We are an educational institution first and foremost.  If we allow sugary beverages to be handed out on campus, it looks like we endorse the consumption of beverages that contain up to 10 spoonfuls of sugar.  But heck – elite athletes claim that sports drinks have hydration benefits, so it must be true, right?   Gatorade has its own institute to conduct and publish research and to educate sports health professionals and athletes on sports nutrition and exercise science. “Perhaps one of Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s greatest successes was to undermine the idea that the body has a perfectly good homeostatic mechanism for detecting and responding to dehydration—thirst.”  It’s no wonder that an analysis by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that over a quarter of American parents believe that sports drinks are healthy for children.48  Too bad they aren’t taking my biology class!

Gatorade samples on campus

Just a few of the Gatorade samples handed out on campus

People have been so brainwashed by marketing campaigns about what they “need” that they may ignore what their bodies REQUIRE from a nutritional standpoint.  Younger children have more body surface area than adults, and so they can become more easily dehydrated during an equivalent workout.  Need a rule of thumb?  Try this…

Salt replenishment may be necessary for younger children after a 60 minute-long strenuous workout, and for adults after 90 minutes.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to drink your sodium! 

Nancy Clark, a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition suggests that athletes eat a handful of whole grain salted pretzels or crackers, eat some orange slices and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and replace salts and water lost through sweat.

When I told my friend Susannah, a nutritionist and school-lunch-reform colleague, about G-week, she rolled her eyes.  Like me, she promotes nutrition from real food.  She says, “athletes are the ONLY ones who MAY benefit from drinking sports drinks, and even then, it’s not the best way to hydrate and replenish electrolytes.”   She also turned me on to this interesting article, The Truth about Sports Drinks, which I highly recommend.

Want to make your own affordable electrolyte replacement drink made out of real ingredients?


Blatner’s homemade Gatorade:

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup orange juice
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt.

Makes four servings.
Per 8 ounce serving: 50 calories, 14 grams carbohydrate, 160 milligrams sodium.

Homemade sports drink from “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.” 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup orange juice (not concentrate) plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 1/2 cups cold water

  1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.
  2. Add the juice and the remaining water; chill.
  3. Quench that thirst!

Makes 1 quart.
Per 8-ounce serving: 50 calories, 12 grams carbohydrate, 110 mg sodium.

Clark encourages creativity when making your own sports drink. “For example, you can dilute many combinations of juices (such as cranberry + lemonade) to 50 calories per 8 ounces and then add a pinch of salt. (More precisely, ¼ teaspoon salt per 1 quart of liquid,)” she wrote.


P.S.  I invited Miguel Villareal, our food service director, to campus to take a gander at G-week.  He met with our principal, and after discussing the state education code and what is best for our students, they agreed that Gatorade would not be welcomed back on campus.

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18 Responses to Selling Out – Free Gatorade for Students

  1. Excellent article, Michelle!

  2. Johngalt says:

    Excellent editorial, fascinating that the initial concern was for the potential fallout against an un-tenured “new” teacher rocking the boat by looking out and speaking up for your students health. Hopefully your next editorial will be I response to the outcry of support from your administration and staff… That may be too much to ask for.

  3. Bravo to you for taking a stand and fighting for your students and their health!

    Gatorade is sugar water with a little bit of salt and coloring. Only the most elite athletes (think Olympics and NFL Players, not even weekend marathon runners) need to worry about drinking anything other than water during a workout.

    PepsiCo talks about of both sides of their mouth. They market Gatorade as being a product for high-performance athletes, so they can hide behind that claim, but then come to schools and push this dreck on kids. It’s unconscionable. A high schooler at soccer practice doesn’t need any of this junk.

    Whatever happened to serving orange wedges during practice?

  4. kathy gunst says:

    You raise some really important issues. I doubt your coaches would handout ice cream or candy bars. Keep the focus on health! Keep the focus on building strong bodies without additives and sugars. Important stuff! Thanks!

  5. Dan Kohler says:

    Michelle, you nailed it. Schools are so concerned over funding right now (understandably so) that departments are willing to look the other way and compromise the education of their students for some extra supplies. High school sports teams would do well to require their participants to take a nutrition class. High school is the best time to start learning about our bodies and how to take care of them (inside and out).

    Keep kicking ass.

  6. Sheila Crye says:

    The journal Pediatrics published a longitudinal study Aug. 13, 2012, about the weight status among teens in states that govern competitive food nutrition content. It concluded that laws that regulate competitive food nutrition content may reduce teen BMI change, if they are comprehensive, contain strong language, and are enacted across grade levels. California is within the western region, which has had strong laws since 2006. Make sure that your school district is enforcing the wellness policy regulations, Michelle!

  7. Andrea Taylor says:

    Your voice is getting better and better as your blog experience grows. Please keep up the work, and work it is! I love the DIY gatorade recipe. So simple. Tell us more about that fabulous blue color in gatorade. Reminds me of curaÇua, the blue liquor. I notice the blue keeps the kids’ lips and teeth and tongue blue for a while afterwards, like they were strangled.

  8. Michelle Stern says:

    Thank you for your support, everyone. I feel very lucky that my principal is supporting my efforts. Our students will benefit from us acting as a team.

  9. Selena Darrow says:

    Bravo my friend. Change doesn’t happen on its own and I commend you for speaking up for what is right.

  10. Gina Rau says:

    Good for you for standing up for the kids, Michelle! There’s absolutely nothing healthy about Gatorade unless you’re stranded on a desert island and it’s the only liquid you have. Our kids, no matter how hard they exercise, simply don’t need the calories, salt, sugar and food dye in those kinds of drinks and they certainly don’t belong on campus. Schools need to educate kids, not endorse unhealthy products.

  11. i think i remember seeing an article in Time or a PR release about gatorade’s “nutrition” PR campaign. do some more digging, i think you’ll find something about it. maybe it was fast company’s 100 top creatives in Dec/Jan?

    gina -“schools need to educate kids, not endorse unhealthy products” i hear what your saying, but i see how this coach got tripped up. gatorade did claim to have nutrition education to offer kids. he thought he WAS educating kids. G has been advertising for years that athletes (who are healthy, right?) drink their product for improved performance (which is a benefit right?). it’s easy to see why kids and coaches and parents want to provide students with gatorade.

    i think what shac’s need to do is educate staff that marketing claims from processed food companies that want to sell their wares to school kids do NOT have the kids best interest at heart. i am tired of seeing pizza hut coupons for “good reading” and olive garden parties for winning fund raisers and soft drink nonsense on the sports field.

    once the staff is educated that will trickle down to kids. the conundrum is, and our food service director says this all the time, is there is no one to police the schools who break the wellness policy. admins know it’s happening, but they are used to everyone “looking the other way” when individuals break wellness policy guidelines.

    our district is losing money, so it has even less $ to spend on policing wellness policy policing.

    my husband is baseball and soccer coach, he can tell which kiddos are gatorade/soda drinkers on the bench. they can’t watch their team play, they fidget, have no focus, don’t follow coach instructions well. it’s not because they are naughty kiddos, it’s because they have excitoxins running around their brains. how could they learn and behave with all that brain harm underway during the game?

    honestly, i think we school food advocates need to stop using the word healthy. it’s meaningless. people are so over the healthy food debate. we need to start teaching what frankenfood does to the brain. instead of saying “G isn’t healthy, don’t drink it” we need to say “G messes up your brain, does that sound like a good choice before a game/event?” we are talking about kids here. they want to get smarter, perform better. they will get it, if someone explains it to them.

  12. Michelle, I am thrilled that someone like you is around the school to take appropriate action …and so eloquently! Love your recipe, too – that’s all it takes.

  13. ZeBot says:

    Great recipes – and they’re so simple, even a zebra could make them.

    My new motto:

    If I’m gonna drink “ade,” I’m gonna make it homemade!

  14. TamTam says:

    Coconut water is like elixir! My niece is a soccer player and she gets her electrolytes from coconut water too. It’s the real stuff!

  15. Pingback: Sports Drinks | Maya Wellness

  16. Sandy says:

    This is interesting! Due to some medical issues, my doctor told me to drink one Gatorade every day. Despite reservations about the calories, I’ve been doing this for a while. I have another friend who had a heart condition that led to him frequently passing out. He had a pace maker for much of his youth, but when it came to time to replace it (because of the battery life), he tried drinking a Gatorade a day. Problem solved. No more pace maker for him. I’m wondering if coconut water would do the same thing. I feel like I’ve tried it before and haven’t liked it, but I’ll have to try it again

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