Is Gatorade Bad for Kidneys? Sports Drinks and Chronic Kidney Disease 

Published on: 04/23/2024

Written by Caiton Wilmoth, BS, Master’s Dietetic Intern University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is characterized by a loss of kidney function over time. The kidneys have many important roles in the body, including filtering waste, maintaining fluid balance, creating urine, and helping to regulate blood pressure. In people with chronic kidney disease, these processes are disrupted, and complications occur. Some of these complications may be fluid buildup around the heart and lungs, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, swelling of the feet and ankles, and decreased immune responses.  

Because of the reduced fluid balancing abilities in CKD, it is important for patients to be mindful of their fluid intake. Over-consuming fluid can lead to more swelling and retention as the kidneys cannot remove the excess, but dehydration can also be problematic. When dehydration occurs, the kidneys must work harder to excrete waste, worsening the condition and potentially causing kidney stones.  

Many sports drinks like Gatorade are marketed as beneficial for preventing dehydration. They are popularly used for exercise but are often consumed purely for taste. Gatorade and similar brands are high in important electrolytes like sodium, phosphorus, and potassium to replace those lost during physical activity and sweating. Some sports drinks also contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. While the content of these drinks is not inherently bad, they can be harmful for patients with chronic kidney disease that cannot tolerate the additional fluids and electrolytes, especially when they are consumed for pleasure rather than replenishment.  

Concerns about Sports Drinks and CKD 

Gatorade and other sports drinks contain high concentrations of electrolytes sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. Patients with chronic kidney disease should be mindful of their intake of these electrolytes and overall fluid intake due to the potential for worsening CKD and additional health complications. 

When excess sodium is consumed, the kidneys and brain signal for increased thirst to bring in and retain fluid. This can increase blood pressure, which causes narrowing of blood vessels and restricted blood flow, putting more strain on the kidneys as they try to remove waste and fluid.  

Sports drinks that provide potassium can lead to hyperkalemia (high potassium), as the kidneys in CKD cannot adequately remove excess from the blood. In addition to the extra work put on the already damaged kidneys, chronic hyperkalemia that occurs over a few weeks or months can cause issues like heart palpitations and muscle weakness. 

Additionally, Gatorade contains phosphorus, which can have long term impacts on patients with CKD. Like with other electrolytes and minerals, phosphorus is difficult for damaged kidneys to remove, causing high concentrations in the body. When phosphorus levels are elevated over time, especially if calcium and Vitamin D levels are low, parathyroid hormone (PTH) creation increases. High PTH levels cause calcium to be removed from bones and into the blood, weakening the bones. This can lead to the development of osteoporosis, which is associated with weak, brittle bones that can break easily. 

Also, sports drinks can have varying amounts of carbohydrates. A typical 20 Fl oz bottle of Gatorade contains 36 grams of carbohydrates with 34 grams coming from added sugars. This can impact blood sugar levels. For patients with CKD that are concerned about their sugar intake, such as those that also have Type 2 Diabetes, sugary sports drinks may need to be avoided.  

To assess the sugar and electrolyte content of a sports drink, refer to the nutrition label on the bottle, can, or box: 

Potential Benefits of Sports Drinks 

Although there are many concerns about sports drinks and CKD, there are situations where they may be beneficial. It is important to remember that individuals will have different electrolyte, sugar, and fluid needs as well as varying degrees of CKD severity. This should be discussed with a physician, dietitian, or other qualified healthcare provider to determine if sports drinks are appropriate.  

Although high electrolyte levels can be harmful, it is important to have adequate intakes for the body to maintain normal function. For patients with low levels of sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and other electrolytes and minerals, sports drinks consumed in moderation could be helpful. It is especially important to replenish electrolytes after vigorous exercise or occasions of increased sweating. In cases where there are specific kidney defects that affect electrolyte balance, such as with the salt-wasting disorder called Bartter’s Syndrome, patients need to consume more foods and beverages rich in potassium, salt, and magnesium.  

When dehydration is suspected, sports drinks may also help restore fluid and electrolyte balance. Signs of dehydration include: 

  • Dark urine 
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded 
  • Dry mouth, lips, and tongue 
  • Feeling thirsty 
  • Unusual tiredness or lethargy 

Dehydration can occur due to not consuming enough fluids, but also with excessive sweating, exposure to heat, diarrhea, vomiting, running a fever, and drinking alcohol. It is important to reduce time in the heat, and drink plenty of water and electrolytes when events that can lead to dehydration occur. Seek medical attention with the onset of dehydration symptoms.  

Tips for staying hydrated

Recommendations 

The key recommendations for sports drinks consumption by patients with chronic disease are to drink them in moderation and discuss individual needs with a physician or dietitian. Because there are many potential complications of both dehydration and overconsumption of electrolytes for patients with CKD, it is important to make informed decisions about drink choices. 

Wanting more guidance on your drink choices with CKD? Schedule a free call today to learn if we can help.

For more about chronic kidney disease, visit the following links: 

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