On a rocky ridge, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the muscle cramps started kicking in. It was 2016 and Sourabh Kharait was hiking Clouds Rest, a granite peak higher than Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.
For years, he’d been hiking up different mountains in California, but this time, the thin air and terrain took a physical toll. As a physician, he knew immediately what was happening.
“As you go on long endurance hikes or run a marathon, you lose a lot of electrolytes,” Kharait says, “and that results in muscle cramping and dehydration.”
It wasn’t so much his body that was the problem. It was the types of drinks he had been consuming: artificially-colored, sugar-loaded, preservative-heavy drinks with hardly any electrolytes.
After Clouds Rest, he searched the market for a healthier option. Finding no naturally-flavored alternative, Kharait set out to make his own. In 2017, he launched Gray Mountain Sports Drinks, a Sacramento-based company that makes magnesium-rich sports drinks to support enhanced hydration.
The startup’s first drink is MagNaK, which stands for magnesium, sodium and potassium, three macro-minerals the body needs to regulate functions and produce energy. Full of electrolytes, this drink supports light to strenuous activity levels, repleting and rehydrating the body without excess sugars and calories, Kharait says. Each “grab-and-go” bottle contains 25 percent of the recommended daily value of magnesium, which helps prevent muscle weakness, cramps and fatigue.
Kharait is still full time in practice as one of the managing partners at Roseville’s Summit Nephrology Medical Group. Gray Mountain Sports Drinks is his first business, Kharait brings his experience in sports medicine and cellular physiology to a growing market that has been dominated by Gatorade for 50-plus years. At University of California, San Francisco, he treated patients with electrolyte disorders and kidney diseases. It is his belief that his background as a nephrologist separates his product from the pack.
“At Gray Mountain, we are dedicated to making the most balanced electrolyte replacement solution with the most natural ingredients,” the website claims. “And we have scientific data to prove the math!”
Co-founder Ishita Shah is associate director of microbial programs at the Foods for Health Institute at UC Davis. (Shah and Kharait are married.) Shah oversees social media with marketing partner HaneyBiz and conceptualized the logo for MagNaK with a graphic designer. The website shows a comparison chart of nutrition labels, pitting MagNaK against the most popular sports drinks.
Gray Mountain Sports Drinks has raised $200,000 from angel investors to date and will be evaluating for a series A round in the near future, Kharait says. The company has partnered with Kovar’s Satori Academy of Martial Arts, which sells MagNak at nine schools in the Sacramento area.
Chad Shepherd, head instructor at a Kovar’s in Roseville, understands the importance of drinking right. He recalls a previous MMA fight about a decade ago when improper hydration caused him to become sick and fatigued.
“I ended up getting tired and got knocked out in the second round,” he says.
Shepherd has since tried many other options for hydration: alkaline water, tomato juice and Pedialyte, which he says wasn’t too bad compared to Gatorade. But, he says, MagNaK works best at replacing electrolytes, which can recognize because he feels less lethargic, less fatigue in the muscles and dehydration headaches subside.
“I got a chance to try it out and my entire fight team uses it now,” Shepherd says. “It doesn’t replace pre-workout drinks, but it does help you after your workout because it puts electrolytes back quickly.”
Still, educating people remains Kharait’s biggest challenge. How do you convince fans of popular brands that sports drinks on the market might be doing more harm than good? How else do you explain that consuming beverages rich in high-fructose corn syrup and excess sugars leads to many problems, including diabetes?
With research, Kharait identified the target demographic as young adults active in hiking, biking and other endurance activities. He picked four “influencers” who believed in the product to support the brand by posting videos and pictures on social media pages about MagNaK to their followers. Once it becomes clear which influencer has the most engagement, the startup plans to employ them to do more selective campaigns and product promotion, highlighting Kharait’s experience as a kidney specialist.
“My background in medicine and treating patients helped me understand electrolytes,” he says. “Unless a doctor makes a drink, there’s no way you have a formulation that’s unique.”
Do you know an entrepreneur who has what it takes? Recommend their company for our “Startup of the Month” here.