Fueling while running is a very individual thing. What works for some, may not work for others. So I find trial and error is the best way to find the most ideal approach for you, the individual. But with so many pills and potions out there claiming to be the best for endurance, the easiest on the gut and the most ideal balance of nutrients, it can be difficult to sort the good from the bad.
The first thing I look at when choosing is the list of ingredients. Is there enough fuel of the right sort to get you through your event? Whether it be a half, a marathon, an ultra or if you just use it for recovery after a hard intense session. Are the ingredients of a natural source? Some sports drinks contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame K which are just chemical substitutes. I have no idea why they would do this as sports drinks need some sugar to fuel us and to use anything artificial that has no nutritional benefit to it just does not make sense. It is purely a flavour thing.
However the most important thing I look for is how it works. How do I feel during the run and even more important, how do I feel post run? If you come off a long endurance session and feel like you could crash out on the couch all day and just drink a ton of water, well your nutrition plan may not have worked. If you feel OK with not much thirst and your energy levels were quite consistent during the run, you may be on a winner.
Recently I decided to give something g new a try as I had heard a number of people talking this drink up and seeing a few good runners use it in some big events with success. It’s called Tailwind. A powdered drink that comes in a number of different flavours. The four I tried were berry, mandarin/orange, lemon and naked (unflavoured). There are a couple more that contain caffeine for that extra kick, but I’m not a coffee drinker so like to avoid it.
The advantage of tailwind is the fact that it contains a really good mixture of electrolytes with sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The four main electrolytes our body uses and excretes while sweating during exercise. So no more juggling gels, followed by electrolyte capsules. It’s hard enough o stay on top of your nutrition in race situations, so the less you need to think about the better.
The carb source they use is a combination of dextrose and sucrose. Studies have shown that combining fuel sources is far better for long term endurance than a single source. Although many manufacturers use fructose as a secondary source, which I don’t think is great. It’s actually too low in the glycemic scale and generally gets converted to fat buy the liver rather than used as energy. It can also cause gut issues in some people.
The only problem I can see with using both dextrose and sucrose is they are both quite high on the glycemic index, so can spike your sugar levels a bit too much. While exercising, this is not so much of an issue compared to normal as you absorb the sugars far more readily without an insulin spike, but when consuming high glycemic drinks like this during training or racing, I usually advise sipping at it rather than gulping it. During winter it’s usually not a problem as we drink less so it can be made stronger, but during warmer weather, you can just dilute it more.
So how has it worked for me? I have used it on a number of longer runs over the last few weeks including a 3.5hr night session along the 2 bays trail. I drank 200 calories per hour mixed into 400 ml of water after the first hour (nothing in the first) as we were on a relatively easy pace compared to normal as I was tour guide for 16 other runners. I took a mouthful of drink every 15 minutes or so and my energy levels and thirst were quite consistent and afterwards felt quite good. I almost considered heading back the other way rather than getting a lift home. If it weren’t so cold and I wasn’t out of drinks! Maybe next time…
Another great thing about this product is the fact it comes with a scoop that measures out 100 calories worth of powder. So if you want 200 calories per hour, it’s just 2 scoops. I’m generally closer to 250 calories per hour so 2.5 scoops would be ideal for me. If you are a larger male runner that consumes more, I wouldn’t advise going over 300 as you may get GI issues as you can’t digest much more than that while running. Women would be more likely to be around the 200 calorie mark.
Although I haven’t used Tailwind in a race situation, I can see the benefits of it and will definitely give it a go in my next ultra, which looks like Two Bays 56k in January with a shorter race or 2 in between where I will be giving it a go. Taste is fine, even the naked flavour was quite good as there was just a mild sweetness about it. You could even consider using it in conjunction with the flavoured ones to dilute them if the flavour was too much for you. But as far as I am concerned, they are quite palatable which is very important on those longer races where you could be out for hours on end.
If you want to try it out for yourself, head to the Tailwind website and if they ask, tell them who sent you.