Raise a Glass to the Father of Energy Drinks

Dr. J. Robert Cade, left, with Dr. James Free, who helped Cade create Gatorade.  Photograph courtesy of Bloomberg. 

Dr. J. Robert Cade, left, with Dr. James Free, who helped Cade create Gatorade. Photograph courtesy of Bloomberg. 

The New York Times reported today that the "Father of Energy Drinks," Dr. J. Robert Cade, has passed away at the age of 80.

Dr. Cade's research into human performance helped him develop the first widely-used electrolyte replacement beverage, Gatorade.

Anyone who has bonked, or come close to bonking, during athletic activity owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Cade.

So today, please join me in drinking an electrolyte-rich toast to Dr. Cade. Cheers!

See you on the trail!


Chip Hinton trying J. Robert Cade's invention in 1965.  Photo courtesy University of Florida, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Chip Hinton trying J. Robert Cade's invention in 1965. Photo courtesy University of Florida, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

J. Robert Cade, the Inventor of Gatorade, Dies at 80


J. Robert Cade, a nephrologist who mixed water, sugar, salt and cunning dashes of whatever to invent Gatorade, of which 12 million bottles are guzzled daily by electrolyte-depleted athletes, post-operative patients and the simply thirsty, died yesterday in Gainesville, Fla. He was 80.

Stephen Orlando, a spokesman for the University of Florida, announced the death.

The sports and energy drink industry — led by Gatorade and worth more than $19 billion last year, according to a British study — began with a question asked in 1965 by Dwayne Douglas, a football coach at the University of Florida: Why didn’t his players urinate after a game?

Part of the answer came quickly: football players lost so much fluid in sweat in swamplike Florida that they had none left to form urine. It took longer to explain how the loss of fluid and electrolytes affected blood pressure, body temperature and the volume of blood.

In a subbasement, Dr. Cade and his researchers then concocted a drink to rehydrate athletes, and to replenish carbohydrates, in the form of the sugars sucrose and glucose, and electrolytes (sodium and potassium salts). There was one problem.

“It didn’t taste like Gatorade,” Dr. Cade said in an interview with Florida Trend in 1988. In fact, a football player who tried it and spat it out more than hinted that it tasted like bodily waste.

Being a student of kidneys and their bodily neighborhood, Dr. Cade did a taste test, comparing his still-unnamed concoction with that golden fluid. His new product was only marginally better. Dr. Cade’s wife, Mary, suggested adding lemon juice, which helped a lot. Jim Free, a research fellow, came up with the name Gatorade.

Florida first used the new product in a game against Louisiana State University in October 1965, in 102-degree heat. The L.S.U. Tigers wilted in the second half.

In 1967, when Florida beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Bud Carson, Tech’s coach, said his team lost because they did not have Gatorade.

By 1969, Hank Stram, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, attributed his team’s Super Bowl title to Gatorade.

The stuff became a Super Bowl ritual in 1985 when New York Giants players dumped it on coach Bill Parcells after his team beat the Washington Redskins. Later, slick marketing gave Gatorade a lightning-bolt logo and a Michael Jordan endorsement.

Off the field, Dr. Cade faced more complicated challenges. When he first approached university officials about marketing the drink, they declined. So he sold the formula to Stokely-Van Camp. The deal gave him and his associates a cut of the royalties. A few years later, when these reached $200,000, Florida Trend said, the university noticed.

“They told me it belonged to them and all the royalties were theirs,” Dr. Cade said. “I told them to go to hell. So they sued us.”

After a 31-month legal battle, the parties settled. The product was later sold to Quaker Oats. which merged with Pepsico, and royalties continued to flow to Dr. Cade’s group and the university. He donated some of his to the university.

James Robert Cade was born in San Antonio on Sept. 26, 1927, and ran a 4:20 mile in high school. He graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and joined the University of Florida as an assistant professor in the medical college’s renal division in 1961. At his death, he was a professor emeritus of nephrology.

His other research interests included investigating a possible link between the inability to break down a specific milk protein and autism and schizophrenia. He collected Studebakers and violins, which he sometimes played with symphonies. . He also invented football gear and gadgets to help polio victims.

Dr. Cade is survived by his wife, the former Mary Strasburger; his sons Michael, of Texas, and Stephen, of Gainesville; his daughters, Martha Cade, of Gainesville; Celia Cade Johnson, of Oregon; Emily Morrison of Boston; and Phoebe Miles of Washington; 20 grandchildren; and 8 great-grandchildren.

Even if Gatorade was a brilliant idea at the right time, the same cannot be said of all Mr. Cade’s brainstorms, like his fruity, alcoholic Hop’n Gator, a 1970s invention.