With nearly 50 years dedicated service to the science behind sports nutrition, Gatorade has built a reputation for extensive research and development, identifying that no two athlete’s bodies behave the same while under strain. BikeBiz finds out what else the brand is learning alongside its partners at Loughborough university, Team Sky and rugby stars today…
What goes into developing a sports drink from start to production?
For us the process hasn’t changed much from 1965 when Dr Robert Cade and his team at the University of Florida invented the world’s first sports drink for the Florida Gators. Developing sports nutrition products means identifying athletes’ physiological and functional needs, then carrying out research and producing the best possible solution, after which you need to continually test and evolve products with real athlete feedback. It’s what Dr Cade did back then and we like to continue in that spirit of genuinely science-led innovation.
Has it always been in the pipeline to develop and sell your product to the cycling world?
Gatorade has been involved in endurance sports for many years – particularly triathlon. Many people will remember our partnership with Ironman since the 1970s, for example. Working with endurance athletes gives us very specific data about how the body works at the very limits of human ability. Our work in cycling today is a continuation of this.
Tell us a bit about your link up with British Cycling and Team Sky?
Gatorade is about fuelling athletic performance. In order to do this we need to work with the best athletes and their support teams – it’s these singularly focused guys that give us the cutting edge scientific data to feed into our research and development agenda.
From Usain Bolt to Serena Williams, the National Football League in the US to the Brownlee brothers here in the UK, we have to work with the very best in their respective fields in order to develop the innovations that will provide transformative sports nutrition innovations in the future.
British Cycling and Team Sky fit squarely within this strategy – there isn’t a team we work with anywhere in the world right now that is as singularly focused on finding marginal gains to drive excellence. Dave Brailsford and his team are all about success – they strip away anything that doesn’t drive it – and they only work with partners that can support this vision. We like this singularity of focus – it’s what Gatorade is all about.
How much R&D work do these partnerships produce?
Our team at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) based at Loughborough University work with BCF and Team Sky on various research projects and collaborations. As the relationship progresses more and more of these will happen.
What do athlete’s typically ask you for?
Athletes want to better understand their own body’s nutritional needs and plan the strategies to fuel them to success. Often they overlook the fact that each body’s needs can be very different and our GSSI team are trained to identify these differences in detail and prescribe strategies that work best for each individual.
A good example of our work that most people know about by now is the triathlete Chris Legh. Chris infamously broke down with a dehydration-induced bowel shutdown in the finish line chute at the 1997 Ironman Hawaii. As it was a Gatorade event, our team were there to see the awful moment first-hand and we made the offer of some specific testing at the main GSSI labs in Chicago. At these labs we have an environmental chamber, which can replicate the extreme temperature and humidity of Kona and after countless sweat and blood tests we discovered that Chris had a relatively unique sweat rate. The team were able to formulate an individualised protocol for Chris to be able to the replace the amount of sweat and sodium he was losing. Chris still refers to those two days of testing as, “the best two days I could have applied to my career”.
That story sums up what we’re here for – we work with all types of athletes – from the world’s most successful teams and individuals, to everyday athletes achieving the incredible. Another example is Mark Bayliss who is trying to be the first person to do the Enduroman Arch to Arc (87 mile run, English Channel swim and then a 181-mile bike ride) without a wetsuit during the swim. The sport scientists at the GSSI help these athletes maximise their potential and the payback is the knowledge and data that each new interaction provides. And we don’t just work with sponsored athletes – almost every level of athlete can teach us something, so the GSSI team strive to work with as many different types as possible. If you’re interested in performing at your body’s very best, the GSSI can help.
The G Series is your main performance focused line – what do these bring to the table that’s new?
They are designed holistically with the athlete in mind; not just backed by the best science and made with the best ingredients – which is the minimum you’d expect from Gatorade – but also designed to be usable in the way athletes need them to. One example is taste – there are so many products out there which functionally have some of the right ingredients, but they don’t taste great, so voluntary intake can be an issue. We know that how a product tastes is just as important as the functional ingredients it contains – every athlete is also a human being and human beings – even those working at the limits of athletic achievement – like stuff that tastes good.
Take our Recover product, it provides the protein athletes need towards the end of a hard session to bounceback, which you would expect. But we’ve designed it to be ready to consume and without a shake-like consistency, meaning it is palatable whether chilled, or at room temperature. So an athlete can gulp the bottle down immediately after a session, wherever they are and without the need for a fridge, ice, milk and a shaker. This means that the athlete is more likely to consume and in turn recover more effectively.
Another example – the new Prime product has been designed with packaging that won’t burst in your gym bag and you can open one-handed with your teeth on a bike – it’s the difference between understanding the theory of sports nutrition and the reality of how athletes actually train and compete.
British Cycling and Sky aside, you’re involved in many forms of cycling and other sports – what other athletes and disciplines contribute to Gatorade’s work?
Well we’ve been around longer than pretty much any of the other sports nutrition guys, so we’ve had the chance to work with the best athletes in every major sport on the planet; more elite athletes in the world use our products than any other brand. This heritage and scale gives us a very broad base of experience from which to develop our strategy and products.
Here in the UK we are focusing on cycling and triathlon (working with Ironman UK, the Brownlee Brothers and Stephen and Bella Bayliss for example) and Rugby (all 12 teams of the Aviva Premiership) predominantly, but we also work with world-leading Olympians such as Dr Tim Brabants (Kayak), Joanne Jackson (swimming) and Victoria Pendleton (cycling) among others.
Any plans to develop solid foods, gels or tablets tailored to sports use?
We definitely have more products coming out – details of these will be coming later in the year. Just follow @gatoradeuk on Twitter for updates. Of course the really exciting innovations are the transformative ones that will be unlike anything currently in the market, but I can’t tell you about those at the moment – but watch this space.
Gatorade is distributed to the cycle trade via Chicken Cyclkeit, contactable on 01525 381347.