The Problem with Gatorade

As SportsBiz describes, Darren Rovell of ESPN has written a new book about Gatorade.

If you go into pretty much any NBA stadium, you will see huge Gatorade billboards all over the place. Sometimes it's POWERade instead. The big insulated drink dispenser the players drink from during the game, that'll have the same big logo on it.

But in the locker room after the game, nowadays you will typically see players drinking something else entirely. Often they are odd concoctions that are mixed up by the trainer.

What gives?

Well, it turns out that the research that led to the formulation of Gatorade, POWERade and all those sugar-based workout drinks was done as long ago as the 1960s. Since then, researchers tell us, science has learned to do a much better job of determining what will work to help your body recover from working out. Gatorade hasn't changed to keep up.

(On the blog about his book, Darren Rovell addresses the new breed of drinks. He also does an embarrassing amount of slathering warm-and-fuzzy love all over Gatorade for no apparent reason. His blog has cornball posts about how much Elvis loved Gatorade, how admitting he loves Gatorade makes swimmer Michael Phelps a person of strong character, and how Gatorade is so popular this summer that Rovell's super market can barely keep it in stock.)

But, thanks to the marketing muscle of Gatorade and its kin, those new drinks are still pretty much underground. Even though I have seen NBA players from countless NBA teams drinking them, when I wrote an article about them for Men's Journal a few years ago, initially no one from an NBA team would talk to me about it. Some even had the nerve to cite the team's contract with Gatorade as the reason.

God love brash Dallas owner Mark Cuban, though. With his permission, the Mavericks' nutritionist, Tracy Siravo, spilled the beans about what she was putting into the players after the game.

But still, these new drinks haven't had an easy time. Their outdated competition pours a lot of money into winning the hearts and minds of editors, publishers, fans, TV producers, and the like. And it seems to be working. The article I wrote for Men's Journal? They paid me for it. But for reasons that were never explained to me, it was never published. (Update: Men's Journal did just do a similar story, though, years later.) Until now. Here it is:Sports Drink 2.0
by Henry Abbott

"We didn't know if we had enough in the tank," says Dallas Mavericks' All-Star point guard Steve Nash, sitting in the visiting locker room at New Jersey after back-to-back road victories, "but we wanted it, and it's gratifying." He smiles quickly, then chugs a large plastic cup of a dirty gray, blended concoction. Makes you wonder: what exactly is in his tank?

The answer, it turns out, is a new generation of sports drink that includes surprise! protein. "The old school says to just drink carbs, carbs, carbs," says Tracy Siravo, the Mavericks' nutritionist who started mixing Truwell's Post-Workout Recovery Drink for Nash and his teammates this season, "but the way it's heading is towards sports drinks that include a little bit of protein."

Accelerade, Elite Series Distance, Endurox R4, Go Shakes, Revenge more new-breed sport drinks hit the market every day. Dr. John Seifert, professor of exercise physiology at St. Cloud State University says "the best carbohydrate-to-protein ratio seems to be somewhere around four-to-one." At that level, which is way less than you'd find in a protein shake, protein has been proven to improve performance by increasing glucose uptake. Many of these drinks are even more beneficial after the workout, when the protein dramatically speeds recovery by quickly repairs microscopic tissue tears. An avid cyclist, Seifert says he drinks Accelerade and Gatorade when he's riding, and, like Lance Armstrong (according to a New York Post article), he recovers nicely with Endurox R4.

Insiders say professional athletes of all kinds quietly swill masses of sporty protein drinks. But you don't hear about it much, probably because so many teams have marketing contracts with Gatorade and other carb drinks.