How to sell bottled sweat – make it sweet.

By March 11, 2010Sugar

In 1965, Dr Robert Cade (a kidney specialist), noticed that if he fed Gators a drink which mimicked human sweat they could play American Football better than before. The Gators in question were not of the large bitey variety. They were his beloved University of Florida football team.

American football in Florida required very fit boys to run around (dressed in a space suit) in a climate similar to North Queensland for three hours at a time. And as you might imagine this took its toll on performance. The players were sweating up to 3 litres of fluid per hour and while they could (and did) drink water, their salt (sodium and potassium) levels were so diluted (by all the water) that nerve and muscle function became impaired.

Coaches routinely handed out salt tablets to combat this problem, but Dr Cade found that if he dissolved the salts in water, it was much more effective. He also theorised that since fatigue was a very real problem for the players, it would be good to slip some instant energy into the drink.

Cade chose to use glucose because that’s the sugar we use for energy (our ‘blood-sugar’ is glucose and most carbohydrates are eventually converted to glucose before we can burn them). He figured pure glucose would provide an instant energy boost. There was just one wee problem with that ‘solution’, it tasted a lot like, well – wee (at least according to the players). The glucose was not sweet enough to overpower the taste of the salts.

The answer was to chuck in an artificial sweetener – and Gatorade was born. Unfortunately Cade chose cyclamates as his sweetener just before the US Food and Drug Administration banned them. An urgent reformulation resulted in the glucose being replaced with sugar.

Sugar was less than ideal because it took the body time to split it into its constituent fructose and glucose. Even worse, the fructose half impaired the uptake of the glucose (because of its lower glycemic index). But hey, now it tasted great! And a great tasting drink that could be legally sold was better than an ordinary drink that contained a banned ingredient.

Gatorade (now owned by PepsiCo) has not looked back. It now controls 77 percent of the $11 billion US Sports drink market. Even Coke’s Powerade is struggling to dent its brand. Apparently no self respecting American athlete would be seen drinking anything else.

Australians are less sensitive to the footballing heritage of Gatorade, so here the sports drink market is a practical duopoly shared by Gatorade and Powerade. We still manage to put away over 300 million bottles of Sports Drink every year (and growing fast), so it’s a market the big boys take very seriously.

Both the major brands (and their minor competitors) are sweetened with sugar and as a result are largely indistinguishable from the carbonated brethren dispensed from the mother ship. Only one brand had (until last week) stuck faithfully to Dr Cade’s original idea (water + salt + glucose + artificial sweetener).

Staminade powder had resisted the pressure of competing with sugar sweetened goliaths. This made it a great option for people trying to avoid the harmful half of sugar (fructose). Glen was one of those people, so he wrote to the makers to protest the change.

In response the makers explained that glucose on its own was not sweet enough, so rather than continue to use an artificial sweetener they switched to sugar. Regarding Glen’s concern about sugar containing fructose, they patiently explained that “Sucrose is a disaccharide containing a molecule of Glucose & a molecule of Fructose. It’s like calling Water (H2O) as having hydrogen and Oxygen gases-once bonded to form water . Water becomes totally different to Hydrogen & Oxygen.

Well, there you go. Chemistry 101. And that would be all well and good except humans are mighty handy at splitting sucrose into glucose and fructose. In fact we can’t use sucrose at all until that little job is done. Water on the other hand is pretty darn useful to us just the way it is. Which is I guess, why we’ve never troubled ourselves to create a home electrolysis unit in our tum-tums.

The really ironic thing about sports drinks is that there is precious little science to suggest they are necessary at all. And any potential positive effects are enormously outweighed by the negative effects of consuming the sugar (such as the $20,000 of dental work former competitive triathlete Jacinta Worland is now facing).

Whenever we exercise we will need to drink water (hydrogen and oxygen to some). If we exercise (and drink water) for two and a half hours at a time, the water should contain some salts or we risk (potentially fatal) water intoxication. If we expect to be able to perform well for more than the first half hour of strenuous exercise, then it would be a good idea to include some glucose in that water.

Since very few of us meet the criteria for elite athletic performance, water will do just fine should we decide to don the lycra. The science says we don’t need to drink sugar and ordinarily we’d need some convincing that it was healthy to down a Coke or Pepsi. But colourful, flat, soft drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are more dangerous than their fizzy cousins because they come wrapped in a health message.

Even if you aren’t sporty, you’ll probably feel sporty with one in your hand. But they still pack a dangerous punch with 9 teaspoons of sugar in the average bottle (about the same as a can of Coke).

The reality is that Staminade had to go the way of its competitors for precisely the reason that they are competitors. We can’t expect them to fight an addictive sweetener like sugar with one hand tied behind their back.

And so, as the last fructose friendly sports drink retreats from our shelves, let us say R.I.P. good health.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Timmo says:

    Hi David,

    I noticed exactly this about 2 weeks ago, when I went to do the weekly shopping. Staminade now contains about 6% by weight of sugar rather than the dextrose it used to have.

    It’s pretty disappointing, as I used to really enjoy it as a sweet sugar free drink. I never found it noticeably less sweet than other cordials, and it was relatively cheap. It’s one less weekly sale they’ll be getting here, unfortunately, in favour of weak cordial or artificially sweetened soft drinks.


  • OzCableguy says:

    Nooo! Say it ain’t so!

    I know a sports coach that recommend(ed) Staminade specifically because it didn’t contain sucrose/fructose. I personally found it awesome for curing cramping issues on long bike rides in extreme humidity. What am I going to use now? Salt tablets I guess…

  • Hi David, Noticed the addition of sucrose to Staminade – after my last shop. Logged in to your blog to make a comment and see that you have already nutted it out. It filled a useful and cost effective alternative to Lucazade – please tell me that these guys haven’t turned to the dark side as well!
    Still having a difficult time convincing friends and family that fructose is bad for them so don’t think you will have much luck with the government. And probably Ironman Abbott was downing flat coke towards the end of his race (at least that is what organizers handed out when I did a 1/2 Ironman race some years ago) so don’t expect support on that front. The budgie smugglers are also why he likes warmer water temperatures!
    Not that I am a fan of Kev’s since we own an insulation company. Maybe I can retrain my workers to make fructose free-ades
    Thanks for all the entertaining and ever informative reading.

  • Tyciol says:

    I don’t like the idea of an artificial sweetener, are there any companies out there producing that concoction that they said tastes like piss? I like ginger and garlic and onions so I can handle that, makes me feel GAR like Archer.

    As for the glucose, I definitely think few of us work hard enough to need that. Starting out with just a water+electrolyte solution is good and then they could make limited-production advanced brands for people to buy as they become more fit and have increasing energy demands.

  • Neoporcupine says:

    Good news! Staminade Concentrate has 8.8g/serv carbs of which all 8.8g is glucose! The non sugar sweetener used is acesulphame potassium which is as good as any, I guess.

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