Thursday November 10th, 2016

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Gatorade is scheduled to start commercializing its Gx sports fuel customization platform in the first half of 2017, rolling out its 30 oz. squeeze bottles and pods filled with colorful Gatorade formulas to consumers.

When customers start using personalized Gatorade concentrated formulas in pods and squeeze bottles with integrated pod piercers, it will have come after the company collaborated with lead innovation partner Smart Design to develop the platform while running trials with major sports teams as they fine-tuned the product. Test subject Billy Donovan, then the head coach at the University of Florida, tried out an earlier version of the bottle with a bottom-loading pod piercer when things suddenly got messy.

“That exploded out actually on the head coach’s clipboard, and they’re not going to use something after it does that, so we made changes because of it,” said Drew Palin, Gatorade’s director of long-term innovation.

Gatorade not only is expected next year to launch the Gx platform commercially, but also to pro teams, doubling the number of teams currently testing it to about 50. Technological components of the platform include the digital weigh-in station that is integrated with a tablet to track weight and dehydration and set an athlete’s fuel strategy. Athletes in a position to go through Gatorade Sports Science Institute testing in order to determine their optimal hydration plan can do so, and in place of that testing in the future, a Gatorade innovation comes in the form of the digital sweat patch for real-time tracking.

The platform has already been used by such teams as the Kansas City Chiefs, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Broncos, Brazilian Football Confederation and FC Barcelona. Teams can implement any part of Gx that fits in with their program, and according to Palin, the Celtics, Chiefs, University of Florida and Brazil are more advanced having used the platform for the longest period of time.

“Believe me, these guys, they have a lot of smart people in the locker room that they know exactly what they need, so our intent is just to keep advancing on the development of the platform and always to be ahead of the game,” said Xavi Cortadellas, Gatorade’s head of innovation and design.

Added Palin: “We keep on adding components, they keep on seeing value to it.”

Gatorade's Smart Cap
Gatorade’s Smart Cap

The evolution of the platform includes the much-anticipated Smart Cap, which updates the current flipcap on the squeeze bottle with one that provides visual feedback to the athlete to pace hydration using LED lights. Solid lights represent that amount of liquid that an athlete has drank, and blinking lights pace the optimal pace to reach hydration goals. A turbine measures the amount of liquid coming out of the bottle. A coach can be alerted of a player needing to hydrate more efficiently as fluid intake recommendation is tracked wirelessly. No teams currently use the Smart Cap while Gatorade ensures accurate measurements, but consider it part of the company’s future.

Three years ago, Gatorade and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute first partnered with the Brazilian Football Confederation to exclusively test 25 players before, during and after practice to measure individual hydration needs and offer customized recommendations to combat fluid loss in real-time. The pods contained the proper amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes based on those recommendations in order to make up for sodium loss. The national soccer team was seeking an edge heading into the 2014 World Cup that Brazil was hosting.

“Basically we were able to prove that due to the use of personalization at this level in a professional team was possible,” Cortadellas said of the alpha version of Gx and pilot program.

Experimentation with the platform was expanded to professional and college teams as well as high schools including IMG Academy. Gatorade learned that athletes, especially younger ones, valued personalization beyond just unique hydration needs. Personalization also extended to everything from the color, design and name tags on the bottles to the choice of Gatorade flavors. Athletes became more drawn to fluid intake guidance at that point, according to Gatorade.

“Once we actually put a squeeze bottle in their hand and had their name on it and gave them access to pods, their behavior changed drastically,” Palin said, adding that the youth athletes reported fewer headaches and more energy.

“You’re moving the needle so much just making hydration top-of-mind.”

The plan now is to launch the platform for the everyday athlete.

“That’s a big bet for the brand next year,” Cortadellas said.

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