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A FRIEND recently returned from a run...


A FRIEND recently returned from a run grumbling about drinks. He said that water doesn't rejuvenate, Gatorade doesn't satisfy, PowerAde tastes like colored water and All-Sport might as well be called "All-Soda." He then set off in search of 10K, a beverage meant to heal him from the 10K he'd just completed.

What's going on here? Not too long ago, the choices were obvious. If you got your kicks playing basketball for nine hours or biking up the Rockies, the beverage industry had a drink just for you. Gatorade, introduced in the early 1970s by the Quaker Oats company, was the first nationally recognized "sports beverage." It used a unique blend of sweeteners and minerals, to design a drink to restore vital nutrients lost during a workout.

The idea sold, and for years Gatorade monopolized its own market. Attempts at competition (the Japanese company Suntory introduced 10K in 1986, Snapple Beverages Inc. released Snap-up in 1991) yielded lackluster results. Gatorade even looked nutritious, a lovely green and orange beverage next to the murky browns of soda.

Now, a couple of Davids are sizing up the Goliath Gatorade. Last year, Coca Cola released PowerAde and Pepsi produced All-Sport. Backed by celeb endorsers, the drinks are attempting to take a bite out of Gatorade's 85 percent share of the sports beverage market. They currently are ranked five and six and growing.

Their plan: belittle Gatorade as a drink for sweaty middle-aged athletes, whose name sounds like a benefit for retired Floridians. Sell their own products as talismans of hipness and youth. Radio ads refer to PowerAde as the "next thing," a drink with "style and attitude." All-Sport spots feature basketball in the future where the hoops are 90 feet high, players can jump like Sonic the Hedgehog and, naturally, everyone drinks All-Sport.

All this leaves us confused. All-Sport's taste stands out because it's carbonated but that's really the only difference we detect. Of course we haven't tried Snap-up and Pripps and heaven knows what else. Knowing what to chug after a workout might become so bewildering that people avoid exercise altogether. Then where would the sports beverage be?

Ahhhh water!

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