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Seminole Firewater and Gatorade

Seminole Firewater and Gatorade

Have you ever heard of Seminole Firewater?  We recently put up a podcast with Dr. Jeff Zachwieja who was with the Gatorade Sport Science Institute, and of course, the importance of hydration during exercise with certain sports drinks was talked about.  That podcast led to an interesting email exchange with one of my colleagues (Dr. Maury Dennis) who happens to be a Florida State University alumn.  He wanted to know when we were going to do a podcast on "Seminole Firewater"...  I don't know about you, but I had never heard of Seminole Firewater.  But I've dug a bit and it is an interesting story...

The story supposedly goes that in 1962, Dr. R. A. Johnson, who was the Florida State team physician at the time, put together a mixture of salt, sugar, and a lime drink and gave it to the FSU football players to help battle the high temperatures and humidity that accompanied pre-season football practice in that lovely haven in Florida.  According to a Tampa Tribune article from September 25, 1962, Dr. Johnson had been motivated to make Seminole Firewater because of the death of an SMU football player from heat exhaustion earlier that year.  If this indeed happened in 1962 - and the only proof is a handwritten date on the top of the copy of the article that have been posted online - this is a great example of sports medicine scientist working in conjunction with an athletic program to improve performance.

It wasn't until 1965 that Gatorade was developed at the University of Florida by Robert Cade, with subsequent successful use by the Florida football team. Here's another example of a sports scientist working with an athletic program to improve performance.  The difference between the two stories was the attention that Gatorade got - you couldn't beat the marketing punch when the losing coach in the 1967 Orange Bowl attributed the loss of the Bowl game as a result of his team not having Gatorade.  Suddenly, here is a coach that is attributing his team's loss to the lack of a sports drink.  Shortly thereafter, Gatorade was commercialized by Stokely-Van Camp and the NFL named Gatorade the 'official drink of the NFL'.  The rest - as they say - is history.

Given the rivalry between FSU and UF, there of course have been charges and counter-charges over the years that UF ripped off the FSU Seminole Firewater recipe.  This controversy was actually highlighted in an ABC/ESPN nationally televised game in Nov. 2008, when the network ran a "Did You Know?" segment where they gave credit to FSU for the invention of Gatorade.  In fact, there was so much uproar over the issue, ABC/ESPN had to later issue a retraction. However, interestingly, FSU in general has not pursued any claim to the success of Gatorade or any of the money that has been made from the product.  Thus, it seems that this might be one of those situations where Seminole Firewater was invented earlier than Gatorade, but yet, none of the FSU scientists - nor the University for that matter - understood or recognized the potential commercial value of the product they had made.  (And this is just one example why Universities are now very, very careful about any products that are invented on campus.)

In the end, does it matter who was first?  Certainly for particular FSU alums it does matter.  There are many examples of where the second iteration of any invention is much more popular than the original (Mac vs. Windows is a great example), so it may not be that surprising that Gatorade, though invented later, was successful because of a number of factors, including having inventors that were very entrepreneurial.  So, does it matter?  In a bigger scheme, not really.  What we all got was the concept that by adding a bit of salt and sugar, you could replace needed electrolytes that you lost during exercise - substances that aren't present in plain water.  There is no doubt that sports drinks, when used properly, can help your body deal with exercising in the heat. So, whether you are drinking Gatorade, Powerade, or a homemade sports drink (yes, those recipies are out there!), the key take home message is to make sure you are hydrated when you exercise in the heat.

And sometimes?  It is good to listen to the sports scientists - every once in awhile they know what they are talking about! 

Until next week, I hope you stay active and healthy.

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