30 August 2010

Nutrition review

Today's blog is a review of several different nutrition products that I've been training with/using during this process so far.
As for the theory ... there are three basic parts to the theory of nutrition while doing endurance exercise or activity: before, during, and after activity. In short, before the activity, an athlete should be full up on muscle and liver glycogen (if possible, but absolutely full up on muscle glycogen), and have some carbohydrates in their bloodstream; after the activity, it is important to take advantage of a glycogen replenishment window (more important if the athlete has depleted glycogen stores and will be doing another workout within about 24-28 hours).

During-activity nutrition is dependent on how long the activity will take. For any activity, hydration is critically important. Outside of that, plain water is fine rehydration as long as the activity is less than about an hour, though adding electrolytes (without carbohydrates) is not a bad idea if the activity is 30-60 minutes long, especially if you know you are a "white-streak" sweat-er, or if the environment tends toward very hot  or very humid (both of which tend to result in higher losses of fluid or electrolytes). For any activity lasting one to three hours, carb replenishment is a necessity; anything longer than that really requires "real food" ... watch the Tour de France riders, or go volunteer at the el Tour de Tucson or similar races in the feed zone, and you'll see what I mean (cantaloupe, banana, pb&j sammys, etc.).

Since most of my spins have been < 1 hour, I haven't done a whole lot of in-ride nutrition, so I'll leave that for another time. What I have been doing is a pretty high percentage of spins (and runs) early in the morning, before breakfast. Since having been asleep (and, not eating) for seven to eight hours, my muscle glycogen stores should be totally full, while my liver glycogen is pretty well depleted (from glycolysis all night). So, I've tried a few different ways to pre-fuel: PowerBar Gel (two different flavors) and PowerBar Endurance (a drink mix) from PowerBar, Clif Shots by Clif Bar, and Hammer Gel and HEED by Hammer Nutrition. I'll review each flavor/item separately; the gels in this entry, then the drinks in the next.

Quick note: all the gels are designed to be eaten but followed by 8 oz. of water, which (of course) I always did. In theory, you could eat the gel by itself but it's pretty concentrated and would take a lot longer to empty from the stomach that way.

My initial choice for pre-fuel for early morning workouts was Green Apple PowerBar Gel. This flavor is caffeinated (has "1x" caffeine ... which is 25 g according to their website), which is great for people like me who are caffeine addicts and can't really function that early in the morning without some.

The taste is really good, it's super-easy to down, and I never had any problems with it sitting in my stomach during the subsequent workout.

I can't forsee using this flavor during activity (since I already drink a lot of caffeine daily), but it makes a really good pre-activitiy fuel early in the morning.

The PowerBar Gel gets their fuel from a proprietary blend called C2 Max, which is basically a 2:1 glucose:fructose mix.

Later, I went and picked up a case of Tangerine PowerBar Gel, which is also caffeinated ("2x", or 50 g according to PowerBar's website). The flavor is again very agreeable, and it seemed to clear the stomach quite readily. I did, however, feel like the extra caffeine in this product brought my heart rate up more than I'd have preferred. I intend to perform a more controlled test of that theory in the next couple of weeks, and will post the results of that.

Tangerine, like all PowerBar Gels, uses the C2 Max blend for fuel.

I also picked up a case of Clif Shot Razz Energy Gel from Clif Bar. This flavor is not caffeinated, and because of that I've used it primarly as a pre-fuel for workouts later in the day, after I've had my daily coffee or Monster.

The Razz is raspberry flavored, and is quite tasty. The base fuel for the Clif Shot products is Brown Rice Syrup, which is thicker than the C2 Max from PowerBar. However, I actually prefer the slightly more viscous Clif Shot; it's easier to hold in my mouth while grabbing the water bottle.

Additionally, the packaging is superior to the PowerGel (or Gu, or just about any other I've come across). It comes with a LitterLeash® (Registered by Clif Bar). This is really an ingenious solution to the problem of "what the heck do I do with the top of the package?" after opening a serving of the gel. The package is cut so that when you rip open the top of the package, the top is still attached to the base. It's hard to describe, but I'd suggest going to your local outdoor, biking, or sports store and looking at the tops of the Clif Shot as opposed to just about any other gel out there. It means less litter on the trail/road/whatever.

In addition, I found myself in a local bike store recently (BikeMasters, up in Oro Valley), and picked up a bottle of Hammer Nutrition's Hammer Gel (Montana Huckleberry flavor). These multi-serving bottles are intended to be used along with a flask, most of which are graduated with markings to show how many servings are in the flask (the one I picked up is a Hammer-specific flask, and holds up to six servings when completely full).

The flavor of this product is awesome, kind of like a tart blueberry (to which the Huckleberry is related). The thing I don't like about this product is how thin it is; it is really hard to keep in the mouth while getting the water bottle out to swig from. If you like to eat your gel immediately, and then swig from the water bottle separately, then this gel is probably perfect for you. Another thing I dislike about this style (the multi-serving bottle with a flask) is, actually, the convenience! It's weird (I'm weird, so this should not surprise anyone), but having multiple servings available in the flask is a down-side to me. It would take a lot of trial and error to determine exactly how long to squeeze the flask for exactly one serving to come out, either that or I'd have to sit there and take a squeeze, pull back, see how much of the serving was left in the bottle, re-sqeeze, re-check, etc. all while trying to either not crash into the peleton or the curb (or, in my case, trying not to fall off the stationary trainer). However; I can see the utility of the flask-style for longer events. Since each serving is about 21 g of carbs, and at my current weight it is recommended to get 40-60 g per hour of activity, putting 6 servings in the flask, and eating about half of a flask every hour after the first, would be easier than having to decant two gel packets back to back. Some judicious planning, and a well-instructed team in the feed zone, could easily make the flask a preferred in-race solution.

So, what do I recommend? So far, what I'd suggest is that if you are a person who likes and can handle the caffeine, try the Tangerine PowerBar Gel as a pre-ride fuel, especially for competition (though, check with your coach, trainer, or local organization about the current limits for caffeine if you're competing in USA Cycling events. I seem to recall that it's not a banned substance, but does have limits). During the ride, check out either the Clif Shot (if you prefer the individual packets) or the Hammer Gel (for the flask oriented). On a cursory look at the Clif Bar website, they do not offer a multi-serving bottle of their gels, so if you like the flask method you will have to get something else.

Later today, I will post a review of the drinks I've used so far. Also, I have Gu and Accel gel products coming soon, which I will try out and review at a later date.

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