by Joe Kays & Arline Phillips–Han
Gatorade’s current slogan asks “Is it in you?” But 38 years ago, it was what was coming out of University of Florida football players that prompted the question that launched an industry. In a world where teams at all levels of competition spare no expense in applying modern technology to enhance performance, it’s hard to imagine a time when athletes were discouraged from drinking even water for fear it would cause nausea and cramps.
In hindsight, the risks seem obvious, but at the time they weren’t, until a spring day in 1965 when then-assistant Gator football coach Dwayne Douglas questioned UF kidney disease specialist Robert Cade about why players lost so much weight during practices and games but urinated so little. Douglas, who had a stellar career with the Gators and then the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles until he injured his knee, told Cade he had lost as much as 18 pounds during a game, but never felt the need to visit the restroom.
Cade, who then directed the UF College of Medicine’s renal and electrolyte division, quickly deduced that the players were sweating so much they didn’t have any fluids left to urinate. But it was the underlying questions that intrigued him more.
why, but it’s just not the kind of thing I went around giving great
periods of thought to,” Cade once told a reporter. “That question
changed our lives.”
To test their hypothesis, Cade approached then-Gator football coach Ray Graves about letting him use several players as subjects. “One of the reasons I have respect for Coach Graves was that when we explained to him what we had found he professed no ability to really understand what we were saying, but he accepted it,” Cade recalled in an interview he gave in 1996 for the UF Oral History Project. “But he hedged his bets a bit. He said we could try it only on the freshman team.”
In early September 1965 Cade and his colleagues began collecting all manner of samples from 10 UF freshmen football players. They were most cooperative, Cade once told a reporter, but they had their limits.
“They would not consent to having practice stopped so we could measure their body temperatures rectally,” Cade recalled.
The results were eye-opening. The players’ electrolytes were completely out of balance, their blood sugar was low and their total blood volume was low. The impact on the body of this upheaval in chemistry was profound.
“Each of these conditions, by itself, would to some extent incapacitate a player,” Cade says in his oral history. “Put them all together and you can have real problems.”
With hard data in hand, Cade’s team began pursuing a remedy to address all these issues.
“The solution,” Cade says, “was to give them water, but with salt in it to replace the salt they were losing in sweat. Also, give them sugar to keep their blood sugar up, but not so much sugar that it would upset their stomachs.”
By all accounts, the first
batch tasted so bad none of the scientists could stomach it, but when
Cade’s wife suggested adding lemon juice, the drink that would soon
become known as Gatorade was born.
“At the end of the first half, the B team was ahead 13-0. They pushed the freshmen around pretty good,” Cade says. “In the third period, the freshmen, who had been given the solution, came out and began pushing the B team around. They scored two or three touchdowns in the third period and five or six more in the fourth period.”
Cade says Graves witnessed the turnaround and was impressed enough to ask him if he could make up a supply for the varsity to use the next day in its game against heavily favored Louisiana State.
Cade and his colleagues worked through the night, scavenging their labs for the ingredients and hand-squeezing lemons.
The next day, Florida came from behind to defeat LSU in 102-degree heat when the Tigers wilted in the fourth quarter.
Cade’s team continued to tinker with their concoction and by the beginning of the 1966 season Gatorade, as it was now called, had become a staple on the Gators’ sideline. After the first scrimmage that August, seven Gator players were brought to the Shands Hospital emergency room with heat-related illnesses. The next day, 17 players went to the hospital and eight were admitted. Deeply concerned, Graves asked Cade for enough Gatorade to keep all players supplied during both practice and games. Over the next five years, only one player
had to be hospitalized for treatment of a heat-related illness. Turns out, he had not drunk any Gatorade.
The Gators rolled to an 8-2 record in 1966, earning a reputation as a second-half team, and after a season-ending victory over the University of Miami a reporter for the Miami Herald scored an interview with Graves where the coach talked about the beneficial effects of Gatorade. The story about the sports drink went out on the Associated Press and United Press International wires and, in Cade’s words, “Our stuff was on its way.”
The university released an official statement about Gatorade in late December 1966 that the Florida Times-Union summed up with this headline: “One Lil’ Swig of That Kickapoo Juice and Biff, Bam, Sock — It’s Gators, 8-2.”
In 1967, one of Cade’s research fellows took a job at Indiana University, where he told a vice president for Indianapolis-based Stokely-Van Camp Co. about Gatorade. By that fall, Stokely-Van Camp had secured rights from Cade and his fellow inventors to begin marketing Gatorade nationwide.
Soon, Stokely-Van Camp was selling hundreds of thousands of gallons of Gatorade annually and interest in ownership rights grew. The next few years were marked by a series of legal disputes that were ultimately settled in 1973 so that both the University of Florida and the original inventors — organized as the Gatorade Trust — received royalties.
In 1983, the Quaker Oats Co. purchased Stokely-Van Camp and, as UF marketing Professor Richard Lutz describes it, “launched Gatorade from a sleepy little brand into superstardom.”
Drawing on its vast marketing resources and utilizing the talents of arguably the world’s most famous athlete — Michael Jordan — Quaker Oats was able to secure more than 80 percent of the sports beverage market for Gatorade. Since 1983, Gatorade has enjoyed an unprecedented 20 percent annual sales growth rate, from about $100 million in 1983 to more than $2.2 billion in 2001. Pepsico purchased Quaker Oats in 2001, a move beverage industry analysts predict will eventually lead to an even greater share of the market for Gatorade.
For the University of Florida, the success of Gatorade has translated into more resources to support research. Since 1973, Gatorade has brought more than $80 million to the university, which has been used to fund everything from UF’s Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine to the on-campus Genetics Institute.“
Over the years, royalties from Gatorade and a host of other products has enabled the University of Florida to invest in countless research projects in a wide variety of disciplines,” says Win Phillips, UF’s vice president for research. “Often, Gatorade revenue has provided ‘seed money’ for projects that offered great potential but were still in the developmental stage. Many of these projects went on to win competitive national grants, recouping the university’s investment in them many times over.”
Shortly after it acquired Stokely-Van Camp, Quaker Oats began taking steps to nurture Gatorade’s scientific pedigree by creating the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. At the institute’s laboratories outside Chicago, a team of scientists “study a wide range of physiological, biochemical and sensory responses to nutrition, exercise and the environment,” says institute Director Robert Murray on the institute’s website.
“The Gatorade formula has changed very little over the years,” Murray says, “which is remarkable since Gatorade is the most researched sports drink on the planet.”
The company maintains that its formula of carbohydrates (sucrose, glucose and fructose) and electrolytes (potassium and sodium) is the optimal mixture for stimulating fluid absorption, helping the body maintain fluid balance, providing energy to working muscles and enhancing athletic performance.
Among the scientists on the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s board of external advisers is UF exercise physiology Professor Scott Powers, director of the university’s Center for Exercise Science and chair of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science.
Powers says the Gatorade Sports Science Institute has a “relentless attitude toward sports nutrition research” that applies to both Gatorade and other sports-nutrition products manufactured by the company.
To achieve a world-class level of sports-nutrition research, Powers says the Gatorade Sports Science Institute employs numerous full-time exercise and nutritional scientists and also collaborates with researchers from universities worldwide.
“This research effort makes Gatorade the most extensively researched sports-nutrition product on the market,” Powers says.
Outside the sports arena, Gatorade has filled an important niche in medicine — a contribution UF College of Medicine Dean C. Craig Tisher says deserves headlines of its own.
“The ingestion of Gatorade by athletes at all levels of competition, as well as by ‘weekend warriors’ — especially under conditions of extreme heat and humidity — has undoubtedly prevented countless episodes of heat stress and heat stroke,” Tisher says. “Further, the use of Gatorade in medical conditions associated with extreme dehydration, such as diarrheal diseases and other causes of volume depletion, offers the medical community a relatively simple and inexpensive way to manage conditions that are often life-threatening.”
His latest research interest is the result of several years studying children with autism, Down’s syndrome and certain types of schizophrenia, in whom he has identified a problem that may underlie the intellectual deficits associated with all three diseases. Cade found these children develop excess amounts of morphine-like compounds derived from casein in milk and gliadin from grains. He determined that because the patients are unable to digest these compounds properly, chains of amino acid remain in the brain where they transmit false signals.
on his findings, Cade says, “It seems possible that we might be
able to reverse or at least minimize the adverse effects on intellectual
function by putting the youngsters on a diet free of casein and gliadin.”
Cade says his most gratifying career accomplishment is Gatorade, but adds, “If this new dietary treatment I’m working on turns out to be beneficial to children with autism, Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia, I may think this is greater than Gatorade.”
his 41-year career at UF, Dr. Cade has manifested the unique combination
of a practical dreamer and a creative scientist,” says Tisher. “His
insatiable curiosity has always been channeled to discover ways to help
his fellow man. Although many would point to the development of Gatorade
as his greatest achievement, I would submit that his willingness to share
his knowledge and good fortune often with complete strangers best defines
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