What Are the Differences Between Pedialyte and Gatorade?

How to Choose One for an Illness, Hangover, and More

When you are dehydrated, your body not only lacks water but loses minerals known as electrolytes that cells and organs need to function normally. Electrolyte-based drinks like Pedialyte and Gatorade are designed to rehydrate you when you lose excess water and minerals like sodium.

While these beverages are sometimes used interchangeably, Pedialyte and Gatorade differ slightly in their hydration approach.

Pedialyte is traditionally marketed as an over-the-counter (OTC) rehydration solution for children who have lost fluids and electrolytes due to diarrhea or vomiting. By contrast, Gatorade is traditionally sold as a sports drink to replenish fluids and minerals lost to strenuous activities.

Others use Pedialyte or Gatorade under the presumption that they improve athletic performance, treat hangovers, or are simply "healthy."

This article discusses the similarities and differences between Pedialyte and Gatorade, including which may be better in certain situations.

When to Use Gatorade vs. Pedialyte - Illustration by Nez Riaz

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Why Are Pedialyte and Gatorade Used?

Electrolytes are electrically-charged minerals that regulate water and pH levels in your body. They also help regulate heartbeats and help muscles contract. When you lose too many electrolytes, your body is less able to function normally.

Among the electrolytes your body needs to function normally are:

While most people get plenty of electrolytes from their diet, oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte and Gatorade can help boost levels quickly when levels drop due to excessive sweating, excessive urination (peeing), diarrhea, or vomiting.

Otherwise healthy people also may benefit from an electrolyte boost, including athletes, people who work in the heat, or anyone experiencing transient symptoms of dehydration such as headaches, drooping skin, or extreme thirst.

Similarities and Differences

Pedialyte and Gatorade are similar in that they both contain water, some form of sugar, and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Both are considered more effective at rehydration than plain water due to the addition of electrolytes.

Pedialyte and Gatorade are both sold over the counter in different flavors and are not intended as an everyday beverage (although some people use them as such, occasionally to ill effect).

The main difference between Pedialyte and Gatorade is their nutritional content. Broadly speaking:

  • Pedialyte contains more electrolytes, beneficial for when vomiting or diarrhea causes the rapid depletion of these minerals. Zinc is especially useful as it aids in the absorption of other electrolytes and can help reduce diarrhea.
  • Gatorade contains more simple carbohydrates, namely sugar, which is beneficial for boosting energy and fueling workouts. (Gatorade Zero is the one exception in that it is sugar-free.)

To illustrate the differences, here is a side-by-side comparison of a 12-ounce serving of unflavored Pedialyte and a 12-ounce serving of Gatorade Frost Thirst Quencher:

Pedialyte
  • Calories: 25

  • Fat: 0 grams

  • Protein: 0 grams

  • Sugar: 6 grams

  • Sodium: 245 milligrams

  • Potassium: 183 milligrams

  • Zinc: 1.85 milligrams

  • Chloride: 290 milligrams

Gatorade Frost
  • Calories: 80

  • Fat: 0 grams

  • Protein: 0 grams

  • Sugar: 21 grams

  • Sodium: 160 milligrams

  • Potassium: 50 milligrams

  • Zinc: 0 milligrams

  • Chloride: 0 milligrams

Possible Risks

Both Pedialyte and Gatorade are considered safe for children and adults. Pedialyte is generally recommended for children one year of age and over, while Gatorade can be given to children four and over.

Because Gatorade is higher in sugar, it shouldn't be considered an everyday drink. Currently, the recommended daily intake of sugar is 24 grams, and one 12-ounce bottle of Gatorade Frost contains 21 grams. For people who do not exercise routinely, especially kids, regularly consuming sweetened beverages increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

This is not to suggest that Pedialyte is "safer" for long-term consumption. Pedialyte contains 245 milligrams of sodium per serving, or roughly one-sixth of the recommended daily intake for most adults. While this level is fine if you require rehydration, it is better to drink plain water if you're simply thirsty. High sodium intake is linked to an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).

Choosing Pedialyte or Gatorade

Both Pedialyte and Gatorade work well in different situations, depending on the individual and the reason for rehydration. With that said, there are situations where one may be better than the other.

Vomiting or Diarrhea

Any illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea can lead to rapid electrolyte loss. Older research suggests that Gatorade and Pedialyte are both equally effective in treating dehydration in adults with viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

Keep in mind, however, that Gatorade contains more sugar, which can make diarrhea worse. In children and older adults (who often have trouble processing excess sugar), it may be best to stick to lower-sugar options like Pedialyte.

Rehydration

Staying hydrated is important in everyday life, and some studies show that drinking electrolyte beverages can help keep you hydrated for longer periods of time.

While Pedialyte and Gatorade can both do this, the combination of sugar and sodium in Gatorade not only helps replenish body fluids but also slows urination and gastric emptying (the movement of food from the stomach). Both of these effects can improve water retention, particularly when engaging in strenuous activity or planning to be outdoors in the heat.

Athletic Performance

Sports drinks are not only designed to replace electrolytes but also to increase energy reserves in the form of sugar to fuel your workouts.

Gatorade is marketed to athletes for good reason. Studies have shown that Gatorade's higher carbohydrate content can support high-endurance activities during 90-minute training sessions in adults while decreasing the risk of muscle cramping.

While Gatorade can also be useful for child athletes, you might consider Gatorade Zero as a no-sugar option instead.

Hangovers

Alcohol causes your body to produce more urine, which rapidly depletes electrolytes and leads to dehydration. This is why it's important to rehydrate if ever you have a hangover after a night of heavy drinking.

While electrolyte drinks are not a "hangover cure," they may help with certain hangover symptoms. Given that dehydration causes headaches by depriving the brain of water, electrolyte drinks may help ease hangover headaches by increasing water volumes.

Because Pedialyte has less sugar and more zinc, it may be the better choice for someone experiencing hangover-induced vomiting or diarrhea.

Summary

Pedialyte and Gatorade are beverages that help replenish lost water and electrolytes. Pedialyte is commonly used in children to rehydrate when an illness causes diarrhea or vomiting. Gatorade is marketed as a sports drink to enhance athletic performance and replace fluids and electrolytes lost to strenuous exercise.

Both are good as oral rehydration solutions, but Pedialyte may be better in cases of diarrhea (since sugar promotes diarrhea and Pediatlyte is lower in sugar). For sports, Gatorade's high sugar content may help fuel athletic performance and duration.

A Word From Verywell

The choice of Pedialyte or Gatorade can be an individual one based on personal preferences and why the drinks are being used. While Pedialyte is often regarded as "medicine" and Gatorade is commonly thought of as a "sports drink," they both have overlapping purposes.

If you believe you need Pedialyte or Gatorade for any reason and don't know which to choose, speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do electrolytes do?

    Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that your body needs to survive. They help support bodily functions such as fluid regulation, muscle contractions, heart rate, and pH balance.

  • Is it okay to drink Pedialyte every day?

    Pedialyte is useful in treating dehydration as it is high in sodium and helps the body retain water. Even so, at 245 milligrams per serving, it is not ideal if you are on a salt-restricted diet and have high blood pressure. Unless Pedialyte is used specifically for rehydration purposes, it is better to stick to water.

  • What happens if you drink too much Pedialyte?

    If you are dehydrated, it's okay to rehydrate with electrolyte drinks such as Pedialyte. If you're not dehydrated, drinking too much can lead to symptoms of hypernatremia (high blood sodium), particularly if you are on diuretics ("water pills") or have kidney disease.

  • Who should not drink Gatorade?

    Gatorade contains around 21 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving and should not be used in you have diabetes. You can instead opt for Gatorade Zero which contains no sugar.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Electrolytes.

  2. MedlinePlus. Fluid and electrolyte balance.

  3. Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and healthNutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439–458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the facts: sugar-sweetened beverages and consumption.

  5. Qadir MI, Arshad A, Ahmad B. Zinc: role in the management of diarrhea and cholera. World J Clin Cases. 2013;1(4):140-142. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v1.i4.140

  6. American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium.

  8. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How much water do you need.

  9. Rao SSC, Summers RW, Rao GRS, et al. Oral rehydration for viral gastroenteritis in adults: a randomized, controlled trial of 3 solutions. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2006;30(5):433-439. doi:10.1177/0148607106030005433

  10. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. Oral rehydration solutions versus drink of choice in children with dehydration: a review of clinical effectiveness.

  11. Maughan RJ, Watson P, Cordery PA, et al. A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index. Am Journal Clin Nutr. 2015;103(3):717-723. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.114769

  12. Lau WY, Kato H, Nosaka K. Water intake after dehydration makes muscles more susceptible to cramp but electrolytes reverse that effect. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2019;5(1):e000478. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000478

  13. Rowlands D, Kopetschny B, Badenhorst C. The hydrating effects of hypertonic, isotonic and hypotonic sports drinks and waters on central hydration during continuous exercise: a systematic meta-analysis and perspectiveSports Medicine. 2022;52(2):349-375. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01558-y

  14. Hobson R, Maughan R. Hydration status and the diuretic action of a small dose of alcohol. Alcohol. 2010;45(4):366-73. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agq029

  15. Zlotnik Y, Plakht Y, Aven A, Engel Y, Am NB, Ifergane G. Alcohol consumption and hangover patterns among migraine sufferersJ Neurosci Rural Pract. 2014;5(2):128-34. doi:10.4103/0976-3147.131652

By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.