The importance of energy gels, chews, and electrolyte drinks in endurance sports is undeniable. Gels get carbohydrates into the bloodstream almost instantaneously. Chews are a great alternative during a long training session when you need to sink your teeth into something. Electrolyte drinks ensure continued hydration by replenishing important electrolytes lost through sweat. They are staples in the diets of endurance athletes all over the world, however GU and other sports nutrition brands are largely absent in the arena of mainstream sports. So why the disparity in nutrition between endurance sports and traditional “team sports”? Why don’t we see a packet of GU in the hands of a football, basketball, or hockey player in the thick of intense competition?
It is not one factor, but many that contribute to the lack of specialty sports nutrition products in mainstream sports. American professional sports are extremely lucrative. Players are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the teams they play for are worth even more. With large amounts of money at stake, teams and the leagues themselves have no choice but to demand mega-deals from brands that can afford those deals. For example, in 2004 the National Football League renewed its contract with Gatorade at a value of more than 500 million dollars (Food & Drink Weekly, 2004). In such a partnership, the brand simply will not allow a competitor’s product or even logo to be visible to paying customers.
On top of the mega-deals that major sports leagues strike with companies, athletes themselves have contracts that they must honor. It’s no coincidence that you’ll see, for example, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning holding only a Gatorade bottle in training and Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose limiting himself to Powerade for all of his training. Millions of children worldwide idolize such stars, and emulate everything from their haircuts to the shoes they wear; nutrition falls under the same umbrella. As a result, young athletes from grade school to college are often uneducated when it comes to fueling their bodies properly while competing.
Though GU’s presence in mainstream sports may seem non-existent, word of its many benefits is slowly, but surely, getting around. Strides are being made to get gels and chews into the hands of not only endurance athletes, but athletes that frequent the cover of Sports Illustrated. For the 2010 World Cup (the most viewed sporting event in the World), GU was the unofficial nutrition sponsor of the Greek National Team and the extremely successful Brazilian National Team (official press release found here). GU has also been spotted courtside at countless professional tennis matches in the last couple of years. And while the previously mentioned contracts preclude many athletes from endorsing our products, we have many fans and users throughout the NFL. In fact, word on the street is that the New York Jets have taken quite the liking to GU Energy Gels and GU Chomps.
GU was invented for endurance athletes. It was tailored specifically for the demands of rigorous training and multi-hour racing. However, GU’s multitude of products can benefit athletes of almost any sport. Hockey players experience massive electrolyte loss due to bulky equipment and intense bursts of caloric output. Football players often miss significant game time resulting from cramps (the cause of cramps is still unknown, but numerous studies support dehydration as the cause). Tennis players are in a constant state of exertion, often playing multi-hour matches in sweltering heat. In an age of information in which professional athletes spend hours and hours studying every last detail of their own performance and the habits of their opponents, it is perfectly logical that they would be just as meticulous about in-game nutrition.
Leaping the hurdles that stand in the way of GU entering the mainstream is no small task, but it is not impossible. If high profile teams like the Brazilian National Team and the New York Jets have figured it out, it seems inevitable that the word will spread in the coming years. The American public is becoming increasingly conscious about health and nutrition, which will help the push to athletes to place a priority on sports nutrition. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the athletic world learns what endurance athletes have known since energy gel was introduced in 1991… it works, and for those looking to improve their athletic performance, it is time to hop on board.