Book Review: First in Thirst

February 25, 2009

If you participated in any sport as a kid, are involved in them now or take part in more vigorous exercise there is no way you escaped the influences of Gatorade. I just recently finished reading the book First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon by Darren Rovell.

It is a short, to-the-point book about the history of Gatorade including its creation and marketing throughout the years. My husband read it first and knowing my conflicting views of the product encouraged me to read it.
I don’t mean conflicting to be negative. I’ve always felt the drink had its purpose, however, in many of the publications I’ve written, especially, those about physical activity in youth, I’ve felt the need to identify just when it is necessary and when it isn’t. For example, I, and many other nutrition professionals I know, feel that for exercise less than one hour water is sufficient to rehydrate the body. For exercise lasting more than an hour a drink, such as Gatorade, that replenishes and restores electrolyte balance can be beneficial.
The book provides an eye opening account of the marketing of the product. While certain characteristics are necessary for promoting and selling a drink, Gatorade has remained relatively true to their original purpose, although things have changed and progressed throughout the years. According to the book, it is important to keep the drink only in the sports arena and not open it up as a casual beverage such as a soft drink or fruit drink. I personally find this pretty respectable considering how they may be able to increase sales by promoting the drink to the general public in addition to athletes and exercisers.
Upon finishing the book my husband asked me right away what I now thought of Gatorade. He drinks it during his long runs, especially in the intense heat we experience in Brazil. He knows my concern with processed, fake foods and how I’m trying to eliminate packaged goods from my diet. My response has remained the same – Gatorade serves a purpose in the exercise and athletic world.
My main concern, which was addressed in the book, is with the calories. I’m talking about the average exerciser who puts in a 30 minute session a few days a week and wishes to lose weight. Drinking back your calories isn’t beneficial in this type of situation. However, when you are working up a sweat through hours of training, the few calories the drink adds isn’t going to matter much. Again, it has its purpose.
I think this book is a good read for anyone who is an avid exerciser or athlete. The book provides the positive details of the brand, but also covers concerns of critics. I am big believer in learning more about what we put into our bodies and this book is a good resource for doing just that.

If you’ve read the book or have an opinion about sports drinks, I’d love to hear about it.

Update: Okay, I knew I had read this somewhere and Andrea brought it up in the comments. Liquid Gatorade in the US now contains HFCS. I searched for this post by a Life Less Sweet, but couldn’t find it when I was doing my research for this post. There is no HFCS in what we buy in Brazil and the powdered does not contain it. I’m definitely not going to promote something with HFCS (not that I’m promoting the drink at all), but if you are going to drink it go for the powdered….or buy it in another country. Just kidding.

(Cross-posted at Charity Mile)

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  • Erica February 25, 2009 at 11:40 am

    hmm thanks for the review. I’m with you on your feelings on gatorade. To be honest, gatorade makes me feel sick if I drink it while working out unless I REALLY need it.

  • VeggieGirl February 25, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I can’t drink gatorade – I just rely on water and protein shakes to hydrate me for workouts.

    Wonderful review!!

  • February 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Well written — I especially like your comment about the 30 minute workout — thanks!

  • lesley February 25, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Sounds like an interesting book. My husband has always hated Gatorade because of all the calories and sugar … before he told me and before I became health conscious I had no idea it had that much sugar and/or calories.

    I guess what I don’t like about it is the fact that it’s something so many people who might not be very educated in health/nurtrion typically think of as “good” when you’re working out, etc and don’t realize how it’s defnitely not for every type of workout and/or activity!

    Thanks for the review!

  • lauren February 25, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    interesting book – I may have to look for that. Gatorade is a little too sweet for me. I do drink it, but usually water it down a bunch.

  • Lori February 25, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Erica – Interesting that it makes you feel sick. I’ve always liked the taste, but then again i tend to water down everything including my juice.

    VeggieGirl – Everyone has to find what works for them.

    Chefbliss – Thanks! Glad you liked it.

    Lesley – I guess I view the sugar as functional. We were always taught in my sports nutrition classes that the ideal carb component in a drink for exercise is 6-8% which is what Gatorade is. I do appreciate the science that has gone into its development. I definitely agree that it isn’t for all types of exercise, only the intense.

  • Lori February 25, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    lauren – I do too. I’ve always thought it was a bit sweet as well.

  • Andrea (Off Her Cork) February 25, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I stopped using gatorade when I saw it had HFCS in it. YUCK! Plus it started sitting heavy in my stomach making me feel blah. I stick with water for workouts. After long runs I replenish with chocolate soymilk.

  • Michelle February 25, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I always thought Gatorade’s electrolyte thing was a marketing ploy more than anything else. Plus, I hate the taste. Have you ever watched the movie Idiocracy? It’s hilarious–they replace all the water with Gatorade except it toilets.

  • Lori February 25, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Andrea – Do the labels in the US say HFCS? It, of course, isn’t in the product we buy in Brazil and I just brought some powdered down with me from the States and it does not contain HFCS. Fructose is known to cause stomach cramping in athletes which the book talks about and is why, I thought, Gatorade doesn’t contain it. Perhaps things have changed.

    Michelle – Haven’t seen the movie. I’ll have to check it out. While I don’t believe the development of the product is a marketing ploy, I do think it is for intense exercisers such as football players who workout in heat several hours a day. This was the basis for its development. While I’m not completely sold on its use, I do believe its development was grounded in honest science, however, what happens when a company gets a hold of it is always controversial.

  • Mrs H February 25, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    This was a really interesting post, thank you! I don’t personally care for gatorade but my husband drinks it when he is playing softball or other sports especially in the summer. What are your thoughts on the “diet” version of the product?

  • Lori February 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Mrs H – I’m not a big fan of the diet versions just because they often contain artificial sweeteners and other chemicals. Some people don’t mind those, but they make me feel bad. I’d rather just have sugar.

  • cathy February 25, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    OH – I need to do a follow-up post on Gatorade! They actually contacted me after that first post and talked to me about it. Needless to say, I’m not satisfied with their reasoning for using HFCS.

    I haven’t read this book – or even heard about it! – but it sounds interesting. And yes, if you’re in the US and are at all concerned about HFCS, go for the powdered!

  • Meg February 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Very interesting!

  • Heather February 25, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    great book review. personally, i’ve never been a gateorade person. i’m always one of those people trying to lose a few pounds, so the empty calories kills me. i also just don’t want something so sugary and sweet after a workout. when i get off my treadmill every morning, the ONLY thing i want is water. so i’m with you on the gateorade issues.

  • The Happy Runner February 25, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Definitely interesting. I hadn’t heard of the book; thanks for the review!

  • Tangled Noodle February 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for this information. My husband used to keep a supply in the ‘fridge, precisely for what you termed ‘recreational’ drinking. I thought nothing of it but your information makes a good point – such products are beneficial in the right circumstances.

  • Blake Hagen February 25, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I’m with you on Gatorade. I do find it funny when people walk for 10 mins on the treadmill then guzzle a bottle of the stuff. I’m a water guy, but during/after long runs or bike rides, or a combo I have something in addition to water. Thanks for the info on the powdered gatorade.

  • Lori February 26, 2009 at 4:14 am

    cathy – How interesting that they actually contacted you regarding that post! I can’t wait to see the follow up. I knew I had seen that Gatorade had HFCS, but when I went to search I couldn’t find the post I was thinking of. I’m glad it was brought up so I could clarify.

    Meg – Thanks. It was a good read.

    Heather – I’m in the same boat. I don’t want to drink back calories. Since moving to Brazil I drink it a bit more often just because the gym is not AC-ed and I sweat soooo much there in the summer. It is so hot!

    Happy Runner – It is a few years old, but a very interesting read if only for the accounts of the history of sports. Such as how coaches thought drinking was a sign of weakness. Death from heat exhaustion happened all the time. It is awful.

    Tangled Noodle – Honestly, if it is a person who doesn’t need to lose weight and they are going to drink something besides water and juice I admit I’d choose Gatorade over soda. But I do feel it is really meant for workouts.

    Blake – I always have the same thoughts. The worst for me is seeing an overweight kid drink it after doing nothing physical at all. Sometimes I think the image thing can be negative like drinking it makes you an athlete. Not quite, gotta put in the work. 🙂

  • Caitlin February 26, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for this review, I’m definitely interested in checking this book out. I am with you in terms of your concerns with the drink, one of my professors works closely with WIC (women/infant/children) and found that a high number of women were giving Gatorade to their young children, unaware of the ingredients….definitely not the athletic target audience it was made for.

  • kilax March 9, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    That sounds really interesting! I’ve been trying the Powerade light, or no calorie drink or whatever it’s called, because I need the electrolytes, but don’t want the calories. But then I feel guilty for putting chemicals in my body after a long run anyway!

  • Lori March 10, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Caitlin – I’ve heard of things like that too. Although in the hills of KY they give their babies Mountain Dew in bottles. I’d probably have to go with Gatorade if there were a choice. 🙂 Not really funny, I guess, pretty unbelievable.

    kilax – Thanks for stopping by with your comments. Sometimes making the healthy choice almost feels like a no win situation, but at least we are trying. 🙂