A year ago, nearly to this date, Shaun and I ran 60k around a very picturesque part of New Zealand for a race called Kepler Challenge. It was a last minute decision to do this, as we were gifted a spot with 1 month notice as the “Media” contingent, so wasn’t really my “A” race for the year. I was focused on 2 bays 5 weeks later (which ended up being a disaster!). But that’s a different story.
So here we are in the South of New Zealand in a little town called Te Anau, a day out from the race and I still hadn’t decided what fuel to use. I like the idea of gels as they are so easy to carry and use. Powdered sports drinks are easier to consume, but trying to mix them out on course is too much hassle and time consuming. Plus, taking them premixed is just not an option! So my plan was to go there and use whatever was on the course. Not high on my list of recommended practices for an ultra, but as I said, this wasn’t a high priority race. Also, if things turned really bad, there was a jet boat ride on offer to take me back to the finish line! Bonus!!!
During race check in, there were the usual stalls selling all sorts of merchandise. One of them manned by someone by the name of Vajin Armstrong (who won the 2 bays 56k 5 weeks later in record time). I had heard of his exploits and have a huge respect for the man, so had a bit of a chat with him. He was actually selling a new gel on the market that he had been using with great success called VFuel. I thought, what the hell, if he uses it, it must be good. So I bought a box of 24 (mountain berry flavour) and gave them a go.
I took one gel every 40-45 minutes with about 250-300ml of water. I felt better at the 4 hr mark than I ever had in a race and continued to have good energy to the finish line with a good finish. For something that I was taking a massive gamble on, I was an instant convert. I tried it again at 2 bays 56k, but my body failed me this time. I don’t think I had given myself enough recovery time between events. But that’s life some times.
So what’s so special about VFuel over other gels? Let’s take a look at the ingredients and why they are there.
Firstly, there is no fructose. Fructose is a very low glycemic sugar that our bodies struggle to process. In fact, the liver can only process it by converting it to fat. Some people who consume too much fructose end up with fatty liver disease. Something previously only seen in alcoholics. Instead of fructose, they use a mixture of maltodextrine and dextrose, both carbohydrate sources that convert quickly and effectively into glucose, the primary source of energy for athletes (unless you’re fat adapted of course).
Caffeine is added, but at only 10mg (the average coffee has more than 10 times that), it is there primarily as a digestive aid helping the absorption of the maltodextrine and dextrose. Some gels use caffeine as a stimulant, but constantly consuming caffeine through a long event can lead to GI issues and urgent trips to the toilet! Not what you want mid race.
You may have heard of MCT oil? A fat quite common in coconut oil that has been shown to stimulate the thyroid and instead of being stored, it gets converts straight to energy. It gives you longer lasting energy than the simple sugars which is perfect for any endurance sport. Especially ultra running.
Taurine is an amino acid that helps with energy production. You may have seen it in the ingredients of many energy drinks, but it’s a naturally occurring acid found in most animal products (even breast milk) with some studies suggesting it can help with athletic performance. Especially when combined with caffeine.
I normally advise against having ingredients you struggle to pronounce, with some exceptions. One of them being glucuronolactone which is a metabolite of glucose helping in the formation of glycogen. Having glucuronolactone in a gel helps preserve your liver glycogen (where much of your energy stores are held) meaning you can have more energy saved for later.
Next on the list is Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate or OKG which has been shown to prevent muscle catabolism (where protein is broken down for energy) and can increase protein synthesis. Another ingredient, citrulline malate, works in conjunction with OKG to prevent build up of ammonia in the blood during extended exercise and allows the body to get rid of what has been produced. Ammonia is something you really don’t want in your system as it can cause a number of issues and increase recovery time.
Lastly, let’s look at the electrolyte content in VFuel. Lately my views have changed on the use of electrolytes to the point that we really don’t need them much at all. They can help absorption of fluids as we aren’t designed to consume pure water so a small amount of minerals can help your cells absorb the water. I personally add a pinch of sea salt to my water and find this is plenty.
VFuel have realized this and understand that we don’t always need massive doses of electrolytes, especially in cooler weather, so the levels of these are quite low. If you do prefer to take electrolytes while running, you have the option to take what you feel is necessary. So small amounts of magnesium, potassium and sodium are included.
Reading the ingredients list of VFuel can look scary, but you can be confident that everything in there, apart from flavouring, has a specific purpose. This is another reason I’m a big fan of this stuff. If you want to learn more about VFuel, or even purchase some, follow this link and get on the VFuel bandwagon. You won’t be disappointed.