Dr. Allen Lim has been the nutritionist to some of the biggest teams (Garmin, RadioShack) and stars, helping them stay fueled, healthy and upset stomach-free during hours and days on the bike. In 2009, he developed the Secret Drink Mix, which only recently has been made available to cyclists of average ability like you and I.
I met Dr. Lim briefly and grabbed a few samples at Interbike. They’re delicious, and they worked well for me. What makes them different is the use of real, freeze dried fruit to flavor the products and no artificial or extraneous anything. Even the packaging is bare bones plain jane. That leaves only his ideal of an electrolyte and sugar blend that has worked for many of the best riders in the world. Here are his thoughts on the development of his drink, good hydration and fueling practices and more:
BIKERUMOR: You have another version for non-workout use…tell us about that.
LIM: The Anytime. We’ve had it out for quite sometime actually, we wanted to give the guys a low calorie electrolyte drink they could use off the bike to stay hydrated. It’s actually a lot like Pedialyte, except it doesn’t taste like crap. It’s a 2% solution, so only 50 calories per serving. I gotta tell you, it works amazing for hangovers. It also works anytime for diarrhea or when (the riders are) sick. Hence the “anytime” name.
How did you first get into developing a sports drink? What was the catalyst, and what was the first step?
The catalyst were the guys constantly complaining – moaning and groaning- about their bad stomachs. It was like a bunch of little kids and you just get sick of hearing it. But it was also a real issue. People just assume it’s inevitable that an endurance athlete will get sick of their drink, that they need to train with the drink they will race with. That’s like saying you have to get hit with a baseball bat repeatedly so it won’t hurt when someone hits you with a baseball bat.
The first step was buying every other product on the market and trying them all. It was trying to find a drink rather than developing our own. It was kind of a pain in the ass. The second step was taking the existing products and adding back electrolytes so we could reduce the sugar content. Guys are always diluting the sports drinks, which might get the sugar content right, but it dilutes out the electrolytes. And the real purpose of a sports drink is to maintain sodium balance. We tried different versions of ingredients, too, ending up with sodium citrate rather than sodium chloride. Then I talked with Dr. Stacy Sims in 2009 and teamed up to make a drink from scratch so I didn’t have to worry about getting the sugar and electrolyte concentrations right by mixing things into existing drinks.
About a week before that Tour, we found a formula that worked, made a few hundred pounds in my kitchen in Girona and took it to the Tour.
What’s your background? You’re a doctor of….?
I’m a doctor of physiology. I have a degree in integrative physiology from the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory at University of Colorado Boulder.
What are other sports drinks doing wrong?
Too much sugar, not enough electrolytes. Too much artificial crap, sweeteners being one of them. They have weird flavoring agents that affect the osmality of the finished product (note: which determines the actual percent solution). We’re not adding back all these things to make it look and taste a certain way. Once you add all these superfluous ingredients, you’re kind of screwing things up, and that was the problem with these other drinks.
What in particular is wrong with artificial sweeteners?
One thing to to consider is that athletes that ride in the Tour are like a canary in a coal mine. They’re consuming so much of these things, more than most people, and what we found was that when they consumed a lot of sports drinks with artificial sweeteners, they had headaches, their stomachs were upset and the flavor wouldn’t leave their mouth, so they got flavor fatigue. All three hurt performance and make them not want to drink as much, which means they’d get dehydrated and that’s the one thing we definitely want to avoid.
You added Niacin (a B vitamin) to SDM, why?
It’s an important vitamin for energy metabolism, so we added a little bit back just to help things along. In the amount we used, it doesn’t hurt anything. And it’s actually a B-Vitamin complex, it’s just that only the Niacin is in a quantity high enough to require separate call out on the Supplement Facts panel. (Editor’s note: some people are extremely sensitive to niacin, which can cause a flushing, burning feeling on the skin, which is why I asked about this one in particular)
What about protein or amino acids for longer duration rides and races?
It’s interesting because the only protein I’ve found to work, and this works really well, is we put eggs in the rice cakes. The guys have never complained about stomach issues and we know they’re getting a bit of protein and BCAAs. This is a great line from Dr. Sims: “hydration in the bottle and food in the pocket”, and that seems to work for us.
Any plans for a gel or recovery drink?
We built a recovery drink for the guys in the Tour. It wasn’t a protein based drink, it was a high, high calorie carb drink to get the energy back in them. I don’t know if we’ll develop that for sale, we don’t use it all that often except in the grand tours. I don’t think we’re ever going to make a gel unless we really find confidence in something that that won’t upset tummies. As our experience and science changes, and as we find different ingredients, maybe that will change, but for now we don’t see the need.
Dr. Lim’s new The Feedzone Cookbook is out now, too. Check it out here. Full review coming as soon as it comes in the mail and we can whip up a few meals.