Seeing a gap in the market, a Toronto doctor sets out to develop the “first” customizable sports drink.
Sports drinks, also known as energy drinks, have come a long way since orange-flavoured Gatorade entered the market in the 1970s. Step into any grocery store and you’ll be dazzled by the abundance of Energy Drink on the shelves, many in vibrant colours.
But Dr. Douglas Stoddard, founder and medical director of the Toronto Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute, identified a gap in the market and filled it. “The first customizable electrolyte-replenishing sports drink on the market,” is how Dr. Stoddard describes eload.
A sports medicine specialist who works with endurance athletes, Dr. Stoddard says his “eureka” moment came two years ago while attempting to help a patient training for the Ironman triathlon and plagued by calf and thigh cramps. “Initially, we focused on stretching exercises and massaging,” Dr. Stoddard recalls. But nothing seemed to work until the patient mentioned the sports drink he was using – a brand that, according to Dr. Stoddard, contained only low levels of the electrolytes endurance athletes lose through prolonged sweating. Dr. Stoddard topped up the levels of salt in the drink and the cramps vanished.
Dr. Stoddard used the same strategy on other athletes who suffered from cramps, which earned him a reputation as “the cramp doctor” and confirmed his growing belief that the sports-drink market was ripe for a new formulation. “Marathons, triathlons and other endurance races have become a lot more popular since sports drinks first became available,” he explains. “The drinks haven’t kept pace.”
Early this year, Eload was finally set to go to market. One reason for the two-year lag between idea and execution, says Dr. Stoddard, is that he experimented with 40 different formulations before settling on one. The challenge was to achieve the required concentration of sodium without having the drink taste like soy sauce. “We finally hit upon a mixture of sodium chloride and sodium citrate, which has no taste, as sources of sodium.”
Until the advent of Eload, Dr. Stoddard says the most highly concentrated sports drink on the market contained only one-third of the optimal levels of such electrolytes as sodium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Eload, meanwhile, “approximates the electrolyte concentrations found in human sweat.” Like many other sports drinks, Eload also contains dextrose, “a readily usable carbohydrate that gives quick energy and promotes recovery.”
As Health Canada considered Eload to be more drug than drink, Dr. Stoddard had to get the formulation approved as a pharmaceutical product. The manufacturing process posed additional challenges. “I had hoped a single company could take care of the whole sequence,” says Dr. Stoddard, “but we have ended up using five different companies. One for mixing the powder, another for packaging, another for labeling, and so on.”
Eload is now available throughout the country (Canada) in about 200 specialty stores, such as bicycle or sports-equipment shops, and is penetrating U.S. markets as well. Dr. Stoddard says he has no immediate plans to compete in the already crowded grocery- store market. “For the time being, we are marketing to a niche and our angle is that we are more than a Gatorade,” he says.
To save on shipping costs, Eload is packaged in powder rather than liquid form. Costing $1.50, a single powder filled packet; called an Epak; yields a half-litre of fluid.
And here ís where the “customizable” aspect comes in: by adding extra capsules (Ecaps-ZoneCaps) to the standard formulation, users can increase the concentration of electrolytes in their drink. The reason?
“There ís a 75% variation of electrolyte levels between individuals,” says Dr. Stoddard. “People with constitutionally higher levels may not get optimal benefit from the standard formulation.”
Currently presided over by Dr. Stoddard’s wife, the Eload corporation is gaining visibility by sponsoring a number of high-pro- file sporting events including duathlons, triathlons and mountain-bike races. As the company’s medical director, Dr. Stoddard plans to continue experimenting with formulations and possibly add more flavours to the currently available strawberry and lemon.
A long-time fitness buff, Dr. Stoddard says he entered the field of sports medicine, which he prefers to call “activity medicine,” because no other branch of medicine held his interest. “If not for sports medicine, I wouldnít be a doctor,” he says. Having finally hit his stride, Dr. Stoddard says he plans to devote more and more of his day to Eload. “It ís a thrill seeing the physiology work on a practical level.”