In the 1960s, football players “weren’t allowed to drink water during practices and games.” In 1965, an assistant coach for the University of Florida Gators football team saw two team doctors taking a break at a coffee-snack bar.
“Doctor, why don’t football players wee-wee during a game?” he asked [Kidney specialist Dr. Robert] Cade, according to Cade’s documentation of the story of Gatorade’s creation in his writing, “The Piss Prophets.”
That question changed many lives.
The three surmised over coffee and doughnuts that it must be all the sweat the players expel that cause them to go restroom-free. The two doctors went to the library and read everything they could find on thermodynamic physiology during exercise.
If you’ve not visited Gainesville in the summer, you might not be able to imagine what an August football practice session in full gear might feel like. The average low is 75°F (23.9°C) and average high is 90.7°F (32.6°C). Average relative humidity: 78%.
Moreover, the average heat index is 114.3°F (45.7°C). “With exposure to direct sunlight, the heat index may be increased by up to 15 Fahrenheit (8 Celsius) degrees.”
A recipe for heat exhaustion, that.
Research that fall revealed that freshman players lost 8.14 quarts of water on average. As a result, perhaps, their electrolytes were out of balance and both their blood sugar and total blood volume were low.
[B]y the beginning of the 1966 season Gatorade, as it was now called, had become a staple on the Gators’ sideline. After the first scrimmage that August, seven Gator players were brought to the Shands Hospital emergency room with heat-related illnesses. The next day, 17 players went to the hospital and eight were admitted. Deeply concerned, [Coach Ray] Graves asked Cade for enough Gatorade to keep all players supplied during both practice and games. Over the next five years, only one player had to be hospitalized for treatment of a heat-related illness. Turns out, he had not drunk any Gatorade.
In addition to keeping players out of the emergency room, Gatorade turned the tide, so to speak, on wins. In the 1966 season, the Gators went 9-2. They won the Orange Bowl for the first time in the school’s history, defeating Georgia Tech 27-12.
Other football coaches requested the drink after the national publicity following the Orange Bowl win.
Cade tried to interest the University of Florida in manufacturing the drink, but they weren’t interested.
In 1967, the Gatorade Trust sold Indianapolis-based Stokely Van-Camp the rights to the sports drink for $25,000 up front, a $5,000 bonus and royalties in perpetuity. According to ESPN, the original trust “had nine members including doctors, two trainers and a lab technician.”
Both the Trust and the University of Florida continue to receive royalties.