Scott Dixon, Hamish Carter and Sir Ben Ainslie are just three of the names endorsing SOS Rehydrate, an atheletic rehydration system that's as effective as an IV drip.
Looking back on his athletic career, Tom Mayo laughs at the ridiculous mixes he and other athletes took to treat dehydration.
“Eight or nine years ago we didn’t know what we were doing,” he says. “We’d make some sort of concoction. I used to mix Red Bull with sodium bicarbonate. Then my coach told me to mix orange juice, salt and water. How archaic is that for one of the most important things in an athlete’s life?”
As a former competitive middle-distance runner (he competed at the Commonwealth Games and other major world championships over 1500m), Mayo knows the effects of dehydration better than most.
Along with his former athlete and ex-military brother James, and James’ wife Dr Blanca Lizaola, a specialist in gastroenterology, Mayo saw a massive disconnect between how athletes rehydrated on and off the field compared to how dehydration was treated in hospitals.
“It’s funny actually, these athletes all come out of the woodwork with exactly the same problem we all have as athletes, in that not one of them drinks the products they’re given at a stadium,” he says.
“They grab it and open it because it’s there, but they don’t use it for training or anything else. If you go to a hospital, you get an intravenous drip. But if they can’t get an intravenous drip in your arm, what are they giving you for rehydration? There’s a big gap.”
In April last year, the trio launched SOS Rehydrate – a World Health Organisation (WHO) certified oral rehydration solution that can treat mild to moderate dehydration as effectively as an IV drip.
Having a doctor as part of their team has been integral to its success, Mayo says. Not just the skills she brings to the table, but as a brand extension to talk to athletes about dehydration.
The secret to the success of the powdered product, which is packaged in military-like reflective sachets and is mixed with water, is its low osmolarity.
“Just beneath your stomach, there’s an area called the first portion of the small bowel,” Mayo says. “Eighty percent of your liquid is absorbed in that area. The science behind that is it needs a molecule of salt and a molecule of sugar, and water will transfer. That’s the perfect balance. Sugar unlocks the door, salt follows through and water always follows salt.”
This balance has been achieved with SOS, effectively meaning that it helps your body absorb water much faster than other products.
The biggest challenge, according to Mayo, was maintaining this balance while producing a product that also tasted good.
When first manufacturing SOS, they found what they produced adhering to the WHO guidelines on treating dehydration to be overly salty. The flavour also had to taste good both before and after exercise as your taste buds change after a workout. Eventually, they struck gold with a mild lemon flavour.
With a small production facility in the US, they then went about trying to get it on the shelves of sports stores and gyms in the city of James and Blanca’s residence – San Francisco. That was difficult – as Mayo says, you have to prove your product is better than your competitors to be stocked.
After James went door knocking and gave some SOS to surfers from retailer Aqua Surf, they tested the product out and loved it. The store is now one of many to sell SOS in the US.
Mayo says he feels immense satisfaction when he gets positive feedback from athletes who have used SOS, a number of who have already endorsed the brand.
Kiwi IndyCar driver Scott Dixon was the company’s first major crash test dummy.
“Scott would lose so much liquid through sweat during a race. We’ve knocked out four litres, and when you’re in a race car for that long it’s going to have some effect.”
After Dixon signed up it was Oracle tactician and multiple Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie’s turn to get on board.
During the 2013 America’s Cup, Ainslie was so impressed with SOS that he got most of the crew on to using it too. Of course, Mayo says this is what gave Oracle the edge over Team New Zealand.
Dixon and Ainslie, along with NBA basketball player CJ Watson and Olympic gold medallist Hamish Carter, represent some impressive coups for the young brand.
But above all, Mayo says SOS is for people who have that 24/7 mentality; or for people who want that 24/7 mentality but are too hungover to achieve it.
A packet of five sachets retails for about US$9 (NZ$14) and a ready-to-drink product and different flavours are being explored.
Expansion into Mayo’s native United Kingdom, from where he moved to New Zealand seven years ago, is one of many ongoing ventures for the business.
For now, Mayo is astonished at far they have come and how many incredible supporters they have gained in such a short space of time. “We’ve been amazed at how easy it was to establish a product quite like no one else before. It was amazing that when we actually got into the game that no one was actually solving the problem.”