In the sports drink market, you have a ton of options with a basic sugar, carbs and electrolyte mix. At the extremes, you have minimal, hydration focused formulas like OSMO that restrict caloric content and suggest real food for maintaining energy levels. Then, you have calorically dense, meal-in-a-bottle type brands like Infinit Nutrition that aim to put everything you need for all day rides into conveniently used liquid form.
Obviously, the concepts don’t see eye to eye, so Marc and I thought it’d be fun to pit them against each other over a seven day stage race and see who came out feeling and performing better. There are blatant flaws in our test, like the fact that we have 45lbs of bodyweight difference, our GI systems are obviously different and our native habitats are wildly different. But, we’re pretty evenly matched in terms of endurance, fitness and speed.
And, we’ve both used both of these products, sort of. Marc’s tried OSMO’s main competitor, Skratch, and had no complaints. I’ve tried Infinit’s endurance blend with protein on several medium rides and one not too fast five hour road ride. Honestly I had no GI issues and finished that ride without eating anything and without feeling hungry. But, that wasn’t seven consecutive days of several hours in the saddle each day.
Grab a drink and slip past the break to read the thought process behind our decisions…
Tyler and his Osmo and Larabars
OSMO co-founder Dr. Stacy Sims’ research tells her the body is best able to use fluids and calories when the two are kept distinct. By optimizing the osmolality to be just lower than that of your blood, fluids are pulled out of the stomach and absorbed quickly. The formula uses a blend of electrolytes with a small amount of sugars to achieve this…and it’s no where near enough calories to sustain the type of riding I’ll be doing over the next seven days. For that, she says to eat. My question to her: “Won’t food just cause fluids to be redirected to the stomach to digest the food, taking them away from working muscles?”. To which, Sims replied:
“I get this question ALOT! The body is not linear and doesn’t follow an algorithmic method of digestion. Our bodies are inherently lazy- in this vein, pulling water into the stomach to help digest solids is a no-go, There are mechanisms in place to deal with the solids in the stomach- first of course, you have stomach acids/bile that breakdown the fat, protein and carbs into smaller parts. But because each of these macronutrients are different molecular lengths, they breakdown at different rates (oxidation rates). Once into the smaller parts, these molecules signal rate limiting feedback mechanisms to allow a certain amount of energy (in the form of fat, pro, carb) to titrate out per hour.
“A straight dump of carb (aka a gel or concentrated drink) doesn’t work in the same fashion as mixed macronutrient- (the macronutrients in a sense help breakdown each other through the feedback mechanisms)- the straight dump of carb overloads the signalling and the body “freaks out” saying- holy shit, I don’t know what to do with this sudden change in osmotic pressure and this concentration of carbohydrate- thus the response is to dilute, dilute, dilute! until it can slowly release the carb via rate limiting response above.
“Because it is a chemistry equation and the whole is more effective at causing “panic” than the sum of the parts, fluid with the physiological components to maximize fluid movement across the intestines is not mitigated by this same feedback mechanism.”
With that in mind, I mentioned I’d bring my own homemade fruit and nut balls, made of finely chopped nuts and seeds blended with chia and dried figs and dates in a food processor. To which Sims replied:
“You will want to rethink having fruit (especially dried!) on the Transylvania Epic. The fructose and fiber are not friendly on the best of days during exercise; and for a seven day stage race you will want to minimize that kind of stress for sure! More fat and more protein with carb will fuel you and be much easier on the intestines. Try quinoa, not the typical oat/corn/rice.”
Personally, I try to limit grains, particularly during rides, and my fruit and nut balls have treated me well on three hour mountain bike rides at a solid clip. But, to mix it up a bit, I contacted Larabar since they just introduced their new ALT and Uber bars, which add in more fat and protein from nuts and peas. I’ll rotate through the different types of bars, including the massive variety of flavors of the original Larabars, to keep it fresh and (hopefully) my tummy happy and legs turning.
In addition to OSMO’s hydration drink, I’ll be pre-hydrating with their Preload. Then, I’ll be capping the ride with their Acute Recovery drink and the evening with their Goodnight Recovery mix. The latter started off as a publicly available product, but is now available to their sponsored pro teams on demand only. Co-founder Ben Capron said the demand simply wasn’t there and, admittedly, the taste didn’t exactly keep people coming back for more. They’re reworking the nighttime recovery drink concept and should have something new to show in the fall.
Marc and his Infinit Nutrition
Everything in the bottle. In contrast to OSMO’s ‘drinks are for drinking, food is for eating’ premise, Infinit’s aim is to simplify the athlete’s nutrition and hydration intake by providing everything needed to complete a ride in a single beverage. By delivering calories, electrolytes, and hydration in one place, dosing becomes easier while sugar highs (and lows) are moderated. And they’ve been moderating the Garmin pro team for five years.
In emails with founder Michael Folan, he said I’ll be riding light while Tyler’s “having to carry around a roast beef sandwich” or something. And that I wouldn’t have to worry about eating something every hour or be otherwise encumbered.
But wait, you say. What about osmolality and moving all that fluid out of the stomach? How can you cram that much stuff into a drink and still have it be isotonic? Here’s Folan’s reply:
“A lot of it has to do with the materials we’re using. Maltodextrin can be used in high concentrations without affecting the osmolality. Being a long chain polymer, it doesn’t spike osmolality, so we use that for the bulk of our calories, plus a bit of sugars. As soon as you start adding protein, it spikes it a little tiny bit, then it flattens out. It’s tougher when you have a really big guy that’s prone to cramping, then it really becomes a balancing act. But if you’re drinking sports drinks or water, eating gels and popping sodium/electrolyte tabs, you have no idea what all you’re getting. It works for the pros, because they have people feeding them and telling them when and what to eat. For the rest of us, that’s just not practical. With our stuff, it’s brainless and bulletproof – you just drink it and ride your bike.
“A typically hydrated person will have blood in the 260-280 mosmol/kg. If your drink is matching that density of blood, the fluids will transport very easily across the cell boundaries. And that’s where our drinks are. If it’s a shorter distance formula, there’s more sugars to bring the number up with fewer calories. For longer distance formulas, it’s a higher percentage of maltodextrin.”
While the company offers a whole suite of off-the-shelf hydration, energy, and recovery drinks (reviewed here), their custom formulation program allows riders to work with an Infinit consultant to design drinks tailored to their own tastes and bodies- and even to particular events. My TSE nutrition preparation began with a phone call to Infinit, where I spoke with consultant Ryan about the upcoming 7 days’ riding, my body type, in-ride concerns such as hunger and cramping, and flavor preferences. The result? Two custom lemon-lime flavored drinks: one for shorter days (such as the 11mi prologue and 22mi enduro stage) and another for the longer 30-50mi days. Each bottle will have about a cup of coffee’s caffeine dose to keep my spirits up and focus on the trail.
In addition to the intensive and endurance blends, I’ll be starting off the day with the brand’s coffee-flavored Mud beverage and recovering with the Repair protein/carb mix and tryptophan-enhanced Nocturne nighttime mix.
Stay tuned to see how we, and our stomachs, fare…