As I go through the list of ingredients of my hydration supplements (GU, Tailwind and good ol’ Gatorade), I kind of get the idea that they are mostly some sort of salt and sugar mixed in a certain proportion… Do you all get that feeling, too? Am I paying a high premium for what seems to be an expensive form of sugar? And what if I trained with just water with lots of sugar and a pinch of salt?
Yes, Gatorade has a lot of sugar.
Others have a combination of fructose and maltodextrin.
If it’s an occasion where your ability to absorb a large amount of calories while riding at high intensity is a key determiner of performance, then it’s worth every penny to buy something that is scientifically designed to provide the optimal balance of sugars, electrolytes, etc. In a long event like an IM or epic bike race, where you’re walking the tightrope all day between pushing hard and overdoing it, then the ability to maximise calorie intake without GI distress is often the difference between a great day and a terrible day.
If you don’t need to maximise calorie intake, and/or you’re not pushing the performance envelope all the time, then it becomes less important. Shorter events where you might need to top up glycogen stores but at a level that is pretty easy for your body to absorb. Or group rides/sportives where the pace is a bit more social and/or there are some rest stops or easy sections where your body isn’t working hard and can absorb some calories. For these situations I’ll get my calories more from real food, or from cheap sugar sources (Haribo!), rather than bothering with expensive sports nutrition.
Short answer: yes, it is expensive sugar.
Longer answer: the type of sugar matters, but only when you approach the limits of what your body can absorb in a given time. So if you’re pushing limits in a long race, it’s worth investing in a 2:1 glucose:fructose mix ratio. For shorter efforts, just sugar is fine imo.
The other aspect is taste and convenience. Just sugar in water just doesn’t taste like gatorate.
If you want a cheaper alternative, there are a couple of threads on here about mixing your own, for example
Exactly my strategy/belief at this point too.
Race + the couple huge weekends before taper? Tailwind and such.
Weeknight rides on the trainer? Honey water with salt, fruit snacks, and oranges.
That said, take the money you’re not spending on gels, and pour it into high quality carbs throughout your diet. It’s amazing what it does to the RPE, in my experience.
It’s like most things, you could pay for something, or you could buy the component parts and do it yourself for cheaper, but there’s a time investment and knowledge that has to be gained to do it.
Also there are things done along the way that add to the price, like SiS has ‘informed sport’ quality certifications, and r&d costs.
I’m a big fan of baking, so making food that’s good for z2/z3 rides is fun. As the higher intensity work starts to build and outdoor riding / racing starts I tend to take on more gels more out of convenience than anything.
Yeah, mostly just expensive sugar.
Imo you’re better off just buying the seperate ingredients and mix em up. Way cheaper.
I just spent 50 bucks for 5kg Maltodextrine, 5kg Fructose and 500g electrolytes. Will last me almost a year. Usually mix em up 2:1 + 1g the night before a ride. On the day itself just add water and shake.
I also started with plain sugar.
Switched to Malto/Fructose mix because regular sugar was causing GI distress.
Exactly what I do, I have a 5 litre tub that I keep topped up with a 2:1 mix and a scoop is 50g carbs ready to add water and electrolyte tabs, much more cost effective.
How does that taste?
That’s quite cool:
“ The carbohydrate test drinks were made up of 108g of either glucose or sucrose mixed with 750ml of water to give a 7% carbohydrate solution. Participants were given 600ml of the drink (86.4g carbohydrate) immediately before exercise, with a further 15ml (21.6g carbohydrate) given every 15 minutes during exercise.
The exercise involved a five-minute warm-up at 100 watts, after which power was increased up to 50% of the individual’s peak power output (established during preliminary tests) for the remaining three hours.
A special imaging technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) was used to examine the breakdown of glycogen in liver and muscle tissue before and after exercise.
The researchers took blood samples to look at glucose and lactate levels, as well as expired breath samples to look at oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. They also questioned the participants about abdominal discomfort and how tired they felt during exercise.
Four of the participants also attended on another occasion to perform a control exercise test, where they drank only water.”
And the source paper:
I don’t seem to be able to quote from that on my phone. But, in summary:
- they were looking at liver, muscle, and whole-body glycogen levels after ingestion of either glucose or sucrose
- muscle glycogen depletes with both sugars
- liver glycogen does not deplete with either sugar (but did in the water-only study)
- whole-body carbohydrate utization was greater with sucrose than with glucose (from the breath analysis)
Tastes pretty good actually. Not so incredibly sweet when using plain sugar. More of a neutral taste. You can always add something to change the taste though, like a bit of lemonade or a squeezed lemon.
Do you just use normal lemonade from the bottle?
Yes, you could. I don’t find I need any additional taste though.
108g seems like a lot of sugar in a 750ml bottle.