Who invented sports drinks?

A 1953 ad for Lucozade when it was originally sold as a health drink, rather than a sports drink. See some sports pictures.
Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A glance at the beverage aisle in any supermarket makes it pretty clear that sports drinks are growing in popularity. You can find a myriad of brands and flavors, and they all promise to improve performance, but who invented these brightly colored beverages? Were they always neon-colored with names like Arctic Blast? And does your average exerciser need sports drinks to replenish during or after a workout?

Gatorade generally gets credit as the first sports drink, but there was actually a sports drink on the market in the U.K. decades before this iconic brand: Lucozade.

A chemist named William Owen developed Lucozade in 1927, and the initial purpose of the glucose-and-water mixture was to provide an easy source of calories and energy for people who were ill. In fact, because of the glucose, the drink was originally called "Glucozade," until he changed the name in 1929. The brand was bought by the company Beecham Group in 1938, which merged with SmithKline in 1989 [sources: Brand Republic, Hawkes].

The reason that Lucozade doesn't get the first sports drink cred it deserves falls almost entirely on a marketing problem. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the manufacturer realized that it could sell Lucozade as more than just a drink for sick people. The company repositioned the brand as a drink to replace lost energy, developed new flavors, and starting pulling in millions in sales [source: Brand Republic]. It's now the No. 1 selling sports drink in the U.K. [source: Lucozade].

But Gatorade was the one that sparked today's lucrative sports drink market. It also was the first drink developed specifically to support athletes in training.

The History of Gatorade

Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles dumps the Gatorade bucket on head coach Jimbo Fisher after the Seminoles won the 2013 Orange Bowl.  The "Gatorade dunk"  sports tradition has been around since the 1980s.
Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles dumps the Gatorade bucket on head coach Jimbo Fisher after the Seminoles won the 2013 Orange Bowl. The "Gatorade dunk" sports tradition has been around since the 1980s.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In 1965, University of Florida (UF) football coach Dwayne Douglas noticed that his players were losing a lot of weight during training and games, some up to 18 pounds (8.1 kilograms)! They weren't urinating, despite drinking a lot of water, and players were suffering from heat stroke. Douglas teamed up with Dr. Robert Cade -- a kidney disease specialist at UF -- to talk the problem out. Cade worked with UF's College of Medicine to develop a drink to replenish what these athletes were losing through their sweat: carbohydrates (aka sugar), salt and electrolytes. Electrolytes are a set of minerals that your body needs to maintain healthy fluid levels and regulate its muscle function [source: MedlinePlus].

By the time Cade -- the drink's inventor -- was ready to test his concoction, the Gators (the UF football team) had a new coach: Ray Graves. Cade and his research team formulated a drink that was essentially water with salt and sugar in it. Makes sense, right? Your salt and sugar are depleted, so drinking a salty, sugary drink should help get things back in balance.

The only problem was that the drink was disgusting, so Cade's wife proposed adding lemon juice to make it a little more palatable. In 1966, the Gators started drinking Gatorade during hot summer practices and not only did the weight loss problem improve, but they also saw a significant drop in the number of players hospitalized for heat exhaustion. Cade also credited the drink with his team's 8-2 record that season [source: Kays].

In the fall of 1967, Stokely-Van Camp Co. became Gatorade's distributor until it was acquired by Quaker Oats in 1983. Pepsi -- which acquired Quaker Oats in 2001 -- now produces and markets Gatorade, but the UF has made more than $100 million from the drink since Cade invented it back in 1965 [sources: Gordon, Kays]. In 2011 alone, Gatorade and its sub-brand G2 made $1.3 billion in sales, and that's just one of a myriad of sports drinks on the market today [source: Edwards]. There's also Powerade (made by Coca-Cola), vitaminwater, Muscle Milk, Propel and Mio Energy.

Even Gatorade has branched out with new varieties over the years, rebranding itself as "G" and adding sub-brands like the low-calorie G2 and Gatorade Recover.

The Ins and Outs of Sports Drinks

Your typical sports drink is a blend of carbohydrates and electrolytes. Most -- if not all -- of the carbs in sports drinks come from sugar, and the electrolytes are generally a mix of salt and potassium designed to replenish what you lose in sweat during an intense workout. Sports drinks also have added flavors and artificial colors to make them more appealing to consumers, which is how you end up with varieties like Cool Blue and Glacier Freeze.

The formulas for sports drinks can vary quite a bit from bottle to bottle. For a regular sports drink, like Gatorade or Powerade, you're usually getting around 14 to 17 grams of carbs and between 110 and 165 milligrams of sodium in an 8-ounce (226 gram) serving [source: Fitzgerald]. An 8 ounce serving of Gatorade has 50 calories, and you're usually getting 16-32 ounces in a bottle, depending on what size you buy [source: Good Morning America]. That means that polishing off a large bottle of Gatorade on the treadmill can add as much as 200 calories to your daily total, which could be more than you burn in that 30-minute session!

So, that sports drink can negate your entire workout. In fact, if you're exercising for less than 45 minutes, chances are you don't need a sports drink at all, because you're not burning enough calories or losing enough electrolytes to require that kind of hard-core replacement strategy [source: Blake]. Just drinking water should do the trick unless it's insanely hot and you're sweating buckets.

Consumers sometimes confuse sports drinks with energy drinks, since both products are marketed as a source of drinkable energy. The difference between the two is all about the ingredients. While sports drinks are designed to replace the nutrients you lose through sweat in a workout, energy drinks rely on stimulants like caffeine and taurine to give you an artificial energy boost. Those stimulants can actually make energy drinks dangerous during a workout, because they elevate your heart rate [source: Mayo].

Some sports drinks even have uses beyond the gym or the field. If you're traveling to a Third-World country where diarrhea-related diseases are a problem, sports drinks can be your best friend. Just like with heavy workouts, diarrhea makes you lose fluids, salt, potassium and carbohydrates, and sports drinks can help replace those lost nutrients [source: PennState Hershey].

Author's Note: Who invented sports drinks?

In 2011, I went through marathon training with my running partner, Bill. He was training for the Chicago Marathon, but my goal was never to actually run 26.2 miles. I just wanted to see if my body could make it through the intense training program. We used the Hal Higdon Novice I program, and the longest run is 20 miles. As training ramps up, you do some serious distance. A 10 mile run starts to feel like no big deal when you're doing that much mileage or more a few times a week, but it was on that very first 10 mile run that I discovered I just could not drink enough water. It was the middle of summer and hot despite our early start times. I drank and drank and was still tired and thirsty. It was a terrible feeling!

After that first 10 miler, my partner talked to his dad -- a doctor and fellow distance runner -- who suggested that we start putting salt in our water bottles. On our next long run, Bill and I each put the tiniest pinch of salt into our water. The amount was so small that we couldn't even taste it, but the difference it made was huge. This time we were doing 12 miles, and it was just as hot outside, but that salty water kept my energy going!

I never used store-bought energy drinks during my marathon training time, but that salted water trick saved me. Bill's dad explained to us that you sweat out your salt stores in endurance exercise, and replacing that little bit helped our bodies hold on to the precious fluids they needed to get through the miles.

Related Articles


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