Proper hydration is essential in endurance sports. There also is no linear formula for the “right” amount. Each person is different and trial and error tends to be the best way to determine the “right” amount. What to drink is also a question – water only? Combination of water and sports drink? Only sports drink? And the biggie – which sports drink?
What works for me is something I stumbled upon to be honest. Ever since I started in endurance sports fourteen years ago I never questioned sports drinks. The biggest change I made was moving toward a sports drink that included a little protein – 5 grams. For the most part most sports drinks are made up of 8% carbohydrates or 180 calories per 20 ounces of water. I have known many people who water down their sports drink, but in doing so they are also reducing the electrolyte content. Having a history of cramping in long workouts and races, I opt for full power sodium and potassium and on hot days supplementing with electrolyte caplets.
Last September I had a terrible time in a half iron triathlon with bloating and gas. It impacted my performance significantly. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong. I ultimately blamed it on the fiber in a whole wheat bagel I ate the morning of the race. Truth be told I was never fully satisfied with that answer. With all of the nutrition research I have been doing I have learned that the body adapts to a consistent diet and higher fiber shouldn’t impact me on race day. My regular diet has at least 30 grams of fiber and I rarely have GI stress during training.
Also last year I started paying more attention to nutrition and managing my metabolism. That was when I came across Nuun. One tablet dissolves in water with only 8 calories but packs 360 milligrams of sodium and 100 milligrams of potassium. I would use this for short workouts under an hour and a half and always in my water bottle when I swim. After my experience in the half iron triathlon I thought I would try Nuun more and make sure to consume gels and energy bars during long workouts. I even used it in the California International Marathon. A lot went wrong in that race, but my digestion was not an issue.
Earlier this year I was on a run and very hungry. I thought I should switch back to the higher calorie sports drink and see what happens. It helped a bit but I did notice I bloated more. Connection? (More on why I was hungry in my next post) About a month ago I went to my running store to pick up more Nuun and the owner also told me about Skratch. A bit higher in calories than Nuun, but half than that of most sports drinks at 90 calories and 4% carbohydrates but has 366 milligrams of sodium and 80 milligrams of potassium. Also, it is all natural with no preservatives. He mentioned the maker created it for professional cyclists in the Tour de France and it was called “the secret drink mix.” I bought a few packs and did a little research. I entered “Nuun vs Skratch” in my web search and found this article. (Click the link to read it.) I was intrigued because it was on Nuun’s web site but talked up the benefits of Skratch. The first two paragraphs caught my attention. Professional cyclists were complaining of gastric distress from drinking heavy carb sports drinks. I knew exactly what they were complaining about – I experienced it in that half iron triathlon. This was a much more acceptable explanation for what I went through rather than blaming a bagel.
The article is very fair, it explains how the founders of Skratch came about their philosophy of separating calories for food and electrolytes for drink. Additionally the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute weighs in with his view. I read it with the understanding that what works for one may not work for another. For me, separating my calories into solids – gels and energy bars – and electrolytes in fluid work. The article also suggests for intense or hot (or both) workouts to add electrolyte supplements to the drink – plop a Nuun in. Experimenting with favors is fun too. There are over laps for a consistent flavor – lemon lime for both. Or mix Skratch raspberries with lemon tea Nuun for raspberry ice tea (my favorite blend).
Several of my friends are tried and true sports drink users and have never had GI stress. If it works, there is no need to change. For me, I made the change and I have seen an improvement. Flexibility is key, but so is keeping an open mind. Enduring 70.3 miles in a half iron triathlon brings enough stress, I want to be able to raise a glass to toast my accomplishment without any added stress.