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How Gatorade Went From Gainesville To Global Brand

Here's the story behind the brand and how Gatorade’s impact goes far beyond the world of sports.

Listen to the episode

Today, we’ll learn the story of Gatorade. Whether you’re a Super Bowl- winning football coach, a devoted Crossfitter or a kid after T-ball practice, there’s nothing quite like the beverage after working up a sweat.

But how did Gatorade go from a humble experiment at the University of Florida to the globally recognized cash cow it is today? In this episode, we’ll get the story behind the brand and learn how Gatorade’s impact goes far beyond the world of sports.

“What people don’t really realize is before Gatorade, there was no sports performance product line out there,” says Stephanie Bailes, president and executive director of Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville. The museum is named for the late Dr. James Robert Cade, a nephrologist (a.k.a. kidney doctor) at the University of Florida and the lead inventor of Gatorade.

“Actually, people were not encouraged to even drink water when they were working out. At the time, you were discouraged,” Bailes says in disbelief. “You were prevented from drinking water or hydrating during your sports exercise, because [experts believed] it would cramp you up. You would get sick.”

But that all changed in 1965. That’s when Dr. Cade and his research team developed a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage designed to keep athletes hydrated in the Florida heat. They called it Gatorade and tested it on the University of Florida’s freshman football players.

The results spoke for themselves. Freshmen who drank Gatorade began outperforming varsity players in scrimmage games. Coach Ray Graves then encouraged the entire team to drink Gatorade, and the winning streak continued. Today, Gatorade is a multibillion-dollar division of PepsiCo.

But Gatorade’s impact extends beyond the copycat sports drinks that inevitably followed. It created a pathway to commercialization for products developed at universities. And it saved lives.

“Before Gatorade was developed, dehydration was one of the top 10 killers of children around the world,” Bailes says. Today, beverages like Pedialyte
use the same basic carb-and-electrolyte formula that Dr. Cade’s team developed.

And like every good origin story, the history of Gatorade isn’t without drama.

“It could be a movie. This is a story that’s fraught with big ideas, and it’s a product that changed the world,” Bailes says. “But there was also an incredible lawsuit.”

So incredible that ESPN documented Gatorade’s history in its 30 for 30

“Everyone that’s involved in the story was a character, really,” Bailes says. “But it’s a great story.”

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