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The basic sports drink formula hasn’t changed in 48 years. That doesn’t mean newer is better.
In 1965 a 37-year-old associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida developed the first sports drink, which became known as Gatorade. It contained water to rehydrate athletes, salt and potassium to replace the minerals they lost in sweat, and sugar to maintain blood glucose. Over the next several years this concoction was extensively studied and found to significantly boost athletic performance compared to plain water.
Cade did not nail his sports drink formulation on the first try. He had to fiddle with various concentrations of minerals and carbs to arrive at the formulation that had the greatest beneficial impact on hydration and exercise performance. Scientists use the term “osmolality” to refer to the total concentration of dissolved particles in a solution. A solution is said to be hypotonic when its total concentration of dissolved particles is less than that of the body’s cells and blood. A solution is said to be isotonic when the concentration is equal. And “hypertonic” describes a solution that has a greater concentration of dissolved particles than the cells and blood.
In theory, isotonic beverages are absorbed more quickly through the intestine into the blood stream because the gastrointestinal system does not have to do as much to adjust the osmolality of the fluid. But Cade ultimately settled on a formulation that was slightly hypertonic, because adding a little more carbohydrate yielded the separate benefits of making the drink more palatable and providing more energy to the working muscles.