This question, posed in 1965 by a Gator football coach to University of Florida renal physiologist J. Robert Cade, MD, PhD, led to the development of Gatorade and the tremendously successful sports drink industry.
Yesterday, the revered Dr Cade went to that Gatorade cooler in the sky, at age 80.
What a remarkable renal physiology study back in the 1960s: Cade recognized that football players in “The Swamp,” Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, were so dehydrated that they could not make urine.
But he and his colleagues took this one step further.
They collected sweat from football players to find out what electrolytes they were losing in their sweat. Cade recognized early that the business of osmotic pressure we learned in freshman biology or chemistry was to come into play. If players could replace the electrolytes, they would also maintain the water needed to continue to perform in the heat. Moreover, adding a source of carbohydrates would ward off fatigue:
Cade and colleagues determined that a football player could lose 16 to 18 pounds during the three hours it takes to play a game. They further found that 90 to 95 percent of the weight loss was due to water loss, and plasma volume was decreased about 7 percent and blood volume about 5 percent. In addition, the average loss of sodium and chloride was 25 percent of the total body stores of these electrolytes.
To develop a beverage that would enable athletes to perform well longer, the group determined they would need to supply enough water to replace the huge losses that had occurred and include additional sodium, which keeps water in the blood and in extracellular spaces throughout the body. They also would need to add the right amount of sugar, the key source of energy during exercise, and the proper amount of phosphate needed for the body to burn sugar.
The remarkable resilience in 1966 of University of Florida football players was noted by the press. The rest is history.
However, today’s university technology transfer officials would probably have convulsions (and be fired) if they ever brokered a deal for with such a poor ROI:
Gatorade is an enduring global marketing success, now sold in 19 flavors. Sales in 47 countries generate close to $2.1 billion in revenue every year, of which UF receives a little over $8 million in royalty income. Since 1973, UF’s share has added up to about $81 million.[emphasis mine]
Dr Cade was legendary on the Gainesville campus. His generosity with his part of the royalties supported future docs. He stood as a superb example of why the model of the physician-scientist should be maintained. And, he was a character.
UF medical student legend holds that Dr Cade would lecture early in the semester for 1st year medical students. During the presentation, he would ask for a volunteer. Like any overachieving group of beginning med students, hands went up all around the class. He was a gentleman (and you’ll see why next) to select a male student.
Dr Cade would call up the student and being a discourse on the use of rectal thermometers in assessing whether his early Gatorade formulations were making a difference for football players – indeed, many test subjects ran around in the Florida heat with thermocouple rectal probes.
At this point, the green medical student grew nervous. Dr Cade would say, “Let me demonstrate,” and at that point asked the med student to drop their trousers in front of their hundred or so classmates. When they hesitated, Cade would retort, “Son, you’re about to become a physician – surely you care about the demonstration of proper medical procedures.”
And with that, few medical students ever formally volunteered for classroom demonstrations.
In his later years, Cade drew criticism from colleagues about his supposition that a dialyzable protein factor from the blood was responsible for schizophrenia and even autism. Regardless, the sum of his career was that of a maverick, ambassador for the physician-scientist, and national centerpiece of a medical school literally built on a swamp.
Thank you, Dr Cade…and Go Gators!
Photo courtesy of The University of Florida News Desk