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The Florida Connection to the History of Sports Drinks

L. Cane

If you watch professional sports today, you'll likely see elite athletes drinking sports drinks like Powerade and Gatorade during games and competitions. Many consider these sports drinks an essential part of recovery during or after strenuous activities, but it wasn't always this way. There was a time when athletes and sports teams were on their own for hydration and replenishment.

In the history of sports drinks, one thing seems to be clear - the spark that ignited the industry was lit early in Florida. What isn't quite as clear is whether that spark came out of the University of Florida or Florida State University.

The Origin Story of Gatorade: There's little debate as to how Gatorade was born. According to data from the University of Florida, assistant Gator football coach Dwayne Douglas approached UF kidney disease specialist Robert Cade in 1965 to inquire about why players lost so much weight during practices and games. A former football player himself, Douglas knew that he'd personally lost as much as 18 pounds during a game.

To address the problem, Cade and a group of researchers from UF came up with a water solution that had salt to replace the salt lost via sweat and small amounts of sugar to keep blood sugar levels steady. The concoction wasn't an immediate success. It reportedly had such an unpleasant taste that few could stomach it.

Eventually, lemon juice was added, and the formula for Gatorade was born. The sports drink got its name from UF's football mascot - an alligator. Today, Pepsico owns the rights to Gatorade, but the University of Florida and the original inventors - the Gatorade Trust - have received royalties.

Florida State University's Seminole Firewater: Sometimes in articles or podcasts that discuss UF's history with Gatorade, discussions ensue about Florida State University's Seminole firewater. According to the Huffines Institute, there is a narrative that FSU's 1962 team physician, Dr. R. A. Johnson, put together a drink containing lime, salt, and sugar to give to football players as they battled the Florida heat. There is also allegedly a Tampa Tribune article from September of 1962 that substantiates the story. If true, it would appear that FSU was giving their players a homemade sports drink before UF.

However, it would seem that the difference between the two (other than the formula) is that UF eventually sold their rights to Stokely-Van Cam Company, who began to sell the drink nationwide. Stokely-Van Cam eventually sold to Quaker, who then sold to Pepsico.

Whichever team invented the first sports drink in Florida, it appears that it was born of necessity because of the Florida heat, which is something many can arguably identify with. Because of these inventions, many have been able to replenish their bodies with something besides water.

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