The Strange History of Sports Drinks
By Cassandra Forsythe-Pribanic, PhD, RD, CSCS
In the mid 1960’s, a Florida college football team was looking for a way to improve the hydration and athletic performance of its athletes during hot, humid practices and games. The football coach was concerned that many of his players were suffering negatively from heat and heat-related illnesses and desperately wanted a way to prevent this.
This football coach consulted with a small group of local University research physicians to determine what he could do for his players to prevent these issues and help them be better players during games.
The researchers determined that there were two main reasons behind these heat-related performance decrements:
1. Loss of body electrolytes from excessive sweating that were not being adequately replaced
2. Depleted muscle carbohydrate stores, from long practices, causing muscle fatigue and failure
As a result, these researchers formulated a special carbohydrate-electrolyte drink for these players and it proved to be wildly successful: the football team starting winning almost every one of their games in hot and humid conditions. Even better, in 1966, they finished 9-2 for the season and won the Orange Bowl for the first year ever in their school history.
The researchers of this drink called it “Gatorade” after the mascot of their University of Florida football team (the Florida Gators), and it become one of the first sports drinks in the market.
The drink was originally formulated as a mixture of water, sugar, sodium, potassium, phosphate and lemon juice and it quickly became a super-star in the American football league; coaches from other southern universities wanted to know why the Florida Gators were out-performing their athletes. When they found out it was a special, legal beverage created to prevent dehydration and sustain muscle carbohydrate stores, they had to have it for their athletes too.
In 1968, just a few short years after it was introduced, Gatorade became the official sports drink of the National Football League (NFL) after being purchased by a commercial food packaging company (Stokely-Van Camp Inc) for mass production into the North American food market.
Today, Gatorade-logoed coolers, cups and towels continue to be on the NFL's sidelines, where they have been in official capacity since 1983. All this exposure has prompted eager consumers and athletes to flock to Gatorade products just for their popularity.
Presently, Gatorade is not only still the official sports drink of the NFL, but is also found on the sidelines of more than 70 Division/college athletic fields spanning several different sports including field hockey and lacrosse. It’s also the official sports drink of the NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.
Since the invention of Gatorade (owned by PepsiCo), other sports drinks have come into the market, with the next most successful being Powerade (owned by the Coca-Cola Company).
Powerade is the official sports drink of the Australian, New Zealand, and Ireland rugby teams, the AFL, PGA Tour, NASCAR, NHRA, NCAA, the U.S. Olympic Team (excluding U.S.A. Basketball and U.S. Soccer, which have deals with Gatorade) and many other national Olympic federations.
However, to truly understand if sports drinks are right for you, you need to learn about the science of these sugary, electrolyte beverages.
We’ll discuss that in Part 2. Stay tuned!
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