When wife gave him lemons, doctor made Gatorade
One morning in the early '60s in Gainesville, Fla., Dr. Robert Cade was enjoying coffee with a buddy, talking football, when he was asked what eventually would become the $2 billion question.
Dr. Cade's pal, Dwayne Douglas - a former assistant coach of the University of Florida's freshman football team and security officer at the university's health center - inquired why the Gator players didn't go to the restroom during or after a game. He also pointed out that players typically lost between 12 and 18 pounds each per game, sweating under the scorching Florida sun.
Dr. Cade, then assistant professor of medi cine and physiology at Florida, returned to his lab and responded to his friend's question by inventing Gatorade - today the world's leading sports drink, sold in 47 countries - that's earned revenues of almost $2.1 billion for parent company PepsiCo.
For this discovery and more, the university will honor Dr. Cade - a 1954 graduate of South western Medical School - in January. Dr. Donald Seldin, clinical professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and Southwestern Medical Foundation's vice president for medical center relations, is scheduled to speak at the event.
"Dr. Cade was a fellow in my lab many years ago. He was an outstanding individual with remarkable insight, and he explored problems and examined issues which very few others looked into," Dr. Seldin said. "Ultimately, he perfected a fluid replacement called Gatorade, which achieved worldwide status as a supplement for fluid losses following exercise. Dr. Cade had an unusual ability to apply physiological information to practical matters; this was only one of his maverick contributions to medicine."
But that morning in the early '60s, Dr. Cade's answer to Mr. Douglas was simple: The players sweated so much that they did not have any fluids left. The question spurred him into action.
"That started me thinking about how we could help regulate body temperature during exercise," said Dr. Cade, today a full professor at Florida.
Dr. Cade couldn't find any research on the subject, so he did his own - determining that 90 percent to 95 percent of the described weight loss was due to water loss. In addition, plasma volume decreased about 7 percent, blood vol ume about 5 percent, and sodium and chloride levels 25 percent. Such losses could possibly result in numerous health problems including dehydration, exhaustion, heat stress, heat stroke, kidney failure and more.
To correct those problems, Dr. Cade con cocted an initially "terrible-tasting" drink - a mixture of sodium and glucose - that was ab sorbed quickly by the body. He approached Gator Coach Ray Graves about testing it on his team. Coach Graves reluctantly agreed, but only allowed his freshmen players to be used as "guinea pigs."
Challenging the varsity team in a subsequent scrimmage, the freshmen trounced their elder mates.
Coach Graves was astounded and implored Dr. Cade to mix up another batch for the next varsity game, against Louisiana State University.
"We all met in the lab that night and realized we only had one bottle of glucose, and we needed at least 20," Dr. Cade said. "We started calling drug stores, supply houses and phar macies, and we couldn't find any. We were in a dark funk about this when Sgt. Douglas walked in, and we told him about our dilemma.
"A big smile crossed his face. Being a security officer, he had a key to every lab in both the hospital and the medical school, so we went around and borrowed enough glucose to make the stuff."
Game day came, with a temperature of 102A1. Players downed the beverage at the game's start, but were behind at halftime by 13 to 0. During the second half, however, they made a dramatic turnaround, defeating LSU 14 to 13. The players and coaches were convinced it was Dr. Cade's brew that brought them victory - even though most admitted it tasted horrible.
"The football players thought it was because of my stuff, and they drank it every game after that, which always caused them to play better during the second half," Dr. Cade said. "They went to the Orange Bowl that year and played Georgia Tech and won."
News of the team's wonder drink - which seemed to correlate with the Gators' superior second-half performances - began to spread.
During a game against Miami University in 1966, a sports columnist from the Miami Herald asked Coach Graves what was in the milk cartons from which his players were drinking.
The coach referred him to Dr. Cade, who explained that the mixture included water, sodium, potassium, phosphate, artificial sweetener and fresh-squeezed lemon juice - the final component, suggested by his wife and taste-tested by his research associates, that had significantly improved the original drink's flavor.
"After we'd made our first batch back in 1965, we wrote out the recipe and how much of each ingredient went in," Dr. Cade said. "We met in the lab and mixed it up, and it tasted terrible. My assistants took one sip and spit it in the sink.
"I went home that night and asked my wife what we could do to cover up that bad flavor. She first mentioned pepper, but that didn't sound good. Then she suggested lemon, so the next night we met in the lab again with three dozen lemons and started squeezing them in."
Once the Miami Herald article broke about the rejuvenating magic of Gatorade - the story having been distributed worldwide by the Associated Press and United Press International news services - requests for Gatorade began pouring in.
"We started getting letters from all over the world," said Dr. Cade. "People in Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, England - they all wanted it."
In 1967 Stokely-Van Camp obtained licensing rights to Gatorade and began marketing it as the "beverage of champions." Quaker Oats later bought the rights and merged with current owner PepsiCo in 2001.
The Gatorade Trust - which includes Dr. Cade and about 65 others, many of whom helped with the original project - receives royaties from Gatorade sales, as does the University of Florida. The university's share to-date adds up to more than $81 million.
Although his most famous achievement, the development of Gatorade is only one of Dr. Cade's medical contributions. At age 76, he continues to work in his lab five days a week and has no intention of retiring.
His latest research projects focus on children with autism, Down syndrome and certain types of schizophrenia, and finding new treatments for hemorrhagic shock. From earlier studies of children with autism, Dr. Cade developed a special diet that is now used worldwide, resulting in about 80 percent of patients improving dramatically or recovering completely.
He also stays busy writing a nearly finished autobiography, playing the violin, growing roses and restoring antique Studebakers with his son.
As for Gatorade's phenomenal success, Dr. Cade is somewhat amazed.
"When we first saw how well it worked, we thought that other teams in the Southeast Conference would have to start using it to stay competitive. So we thought it might spread because of that," he said. "But, we didn't even think about marketing it to the general public. I'm still a bit surprised at how well it's taken off."