The first time Robert Cade tasted his specially formulated sports drink, he vomited. It tasted disgusting. One person compared it to urine, another to toilet bowl cleaner. This, perhaps, should not have been surprising. The clear drink consisted mostly of water, fructose, and replacements for sodium and potassium—sodium citrate and monopotassium. This wasn't ideal. The drink was supposed to make the University of Florida's football players feel better, not worse. It needed to taste better.
Robert Cade and Dana Shires started working on this drink—what would become Gatorade—after colleagues who coached football sat down with Shires once for lunch and told him what was happening to the football players. Two dozen had been laid low by heat exhaustion in the humid Florida fall; players would lose 15 pounds during a three-hour game. Cade was a physician specializing in nephrology, the study of kidneys, and Shires a nephrology research fellow. Together, they examined the players, and found that the plasma volume in their blood could go down by 7 percent over the course of the game.
The two of them quickly thought about new research they had heard of, research that showed that if water was mixed with small amounts of salts and easily absorbed glucose, in a certain section of the small intestine, the body would more easily suck that water right up. They started concocting a formula that would keep the football players hydrated without making them sick.
After the initial, disastrous taste-test, a colleague in the pharmacy department suggested adding cyclamate, an artificial sweetener cheaper than sugar and 30 times sweeter. Cade credits his wife for suggesting they add lemon. (A lot of lemon.)
With those adjustments, the drink became palatable, at least. The researchers started testing it on the freshman football squad; varsity was off-limits. But the results were impressive enough that soon the University of Florida's Gators were slurping it up. Not long after the players started drinking Cade's concoction, the team had a particularly good season. Apparently, it helped not to be dangerously dehydrated. Even if the drink didn't taste good, it helped. For about 15 years, the only flavor available was lemon-lime. But after the company that produced the drink was sold to Quaker Oats in 1983, fruit punch Gatorade made its debut. Today it comes in all kinds of sizes, colors, and consistencies.