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What is Pocari Sweat?

If you’re a regular at any of Saigon’s countless convenience stores, chances are you’ve noticed a beverage in the refrigerated section with the curious name of Pocari Sweat.

I discovered the drink several years ago after realizing that most beverages with “sports” or “healthy” on the bottle are basically just sugar water. It didn’t take me long to figure out that downing a Revive or ‘Zero Degree’ green tea after playing football at night kept me up for hours thanks to the caffeine and sugar content. I figured something produced by a Japanese company would likely be better for me, and I’ve been an avid consumer of Pocari Sweat ever since. The smooth, lightly citric taste is perfect for tropical Vietnam.

However, one thing I never knew was whether there was any significance behind the name. It turns out there is no deep meaning: ‘Pocari Sweat’ sounds cute in Japanese, so that’s what it’s called.

The isotonic drink is produced by Otsuka Pharmaceutical, a Japanese pharmaceuticals company headquartered in Tokyo, Osaka and Naruto. Introduced in 1980, Pocari Sweat was the result of the company’s efforts to create a drinkable IV solution, an area it specializes in.

Therefore Pocari Sweat boasts a formula that is similar to your body fluid, with no carbonation, no caffeine, no preservatives and a small amount of sugar, since the human body also contains sugar. As a result it is actually even better for rehydration than water – in fact, the body absorbs Pocari 2.2 times faster than water, according to a study conducted by the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine. A survey conducted by Emsley Corporation, Japan's largest medical professional website, found that out of 1000 doctors surveyed in Japan, 90% recommends Pocari Sweat. Clearly, the drink holds true to the concept of a “drinkable IV solution.”

Your body also produces less waste, i.e. urine, when metabolizing Pocari than water, so you take on more rehydrating fluids more quickly. I can share from experience that Pocari helps you recuperate quickly after a run or bike ride in the heat of Saigon. In fact I usually leave one in the fridge before I work out so that I have an ice-cold bottle waiting for me when I get back. Best of all, you can drink it after evening exercise and not worry about being up all night.

Unsurprisingly, the drink has become a phenomenon in Asian markets: it is the top isotonic beverage in Japan, Indonesia and South Korea, and the second-most popular in its sales channels here in Vietnam. However, it is not present in Europe, North America or Australia thanks to its odd name.

Otsuka does, however, sell other products in the west under its brand of a “nutraceuticals” company. Readers may be familiar with Nature Made vitamins and Crystal Geyser bottled water, which follow the philosophy of only selling products that are good for you.

What’s always stood out to me about Pocari Sweat when perusing beverages at a convenience store are the nutritional facts. For example, one bottle of Pocari contains just 25 calories of sugar, while a can of Coke has 48 calories. Bottled teas, which are often considered healthy, are packed with 46 calories of sugar and don’t offer the hydration benefits of Pocari.

As a result the drink is useful for a variety of situations: the athletic and sports communities have embraced it since it allows consumers to quickly rehydrate after playing sports or, for example, if a patient is suffering from dengue fever and losing large amounts of body fluid. It is also useful if you happen to be hiking to the North Pole.

Pocari is also great for hangovers, something I can attest to first-hand, in addition to hydrating in the morning when you first wake up. The body’s speedy absorption of the drink quickly gets your muscles and brain moving at optimal speed after losing water while sleeping.

Suffice to say, Pocari Sweat is a rather amazing drink, as I’ve found out first-hand. If you’ve avoided it due to the funny name, it’s time to get on the bandwagon.