The Myth of the All-in-One Convenience


BY BRIAN FRANK

When it comes to deciding on the best way to consume fluids, calories, and electrolytes during extended exercise (2+ hours), perhaps you are one of the athletes who thinks, “I just want everything in one bottle” because it sounds convenient and means that you don’t have to think about fueling while you’re riding or running. Not surprisingly, this apparently logical approach has been heavily encouraged by companies selling “all-in-one” fueling products. They constantly tout the “convenience” of their all-in-one fuel product—“just drink this and you’ll be all set” they say.

My approach to fueling is 180 degrees opposite. I personally believe that the most effective way to fuel is by taking fluid (water), calories, and electrolytes separately and independent of each other. After you read my reasoning, I think you will agree that fueling using three separate “buckets,” as opposed to tossing everything in one “bucket,” is actually the most logical approach and guarantees the best possible outcome across the entire spectrum of conditions and applications you will encounter during 3, 6, 12, or more hours of continuous exercise.

The problem with combining your fluid, calories, and electrolytes into one container is that it will only meet your body’s needs in a very narrow set of temperature, duration, and intensity situations. I’ll illustrate my point by using an analogy of a single-speed bike vs. a 22-speed road bike. The single-speed bike represents the all-in-one fueling approach. This analogy excludes those of you who ride single-speed bikes for the added challenge—we’re only talking efficiency and maximum speed/minimum time from point A to point B here.

That single-speed bike will work great for you on relatively flat surfaces and at a speed that has you spinning between 70 and 100 rpm. But what happens when you encounter steep climbs or long descents? Now you are walking your bike up hill and coasting down due to your single gear option. The same is true with an all-in-one fuel. Single-speed bikes are cool, but for most of us, they have a pretty limited appeal and certainly would not be our choice if we were limited to owning only one bike. Same goes for the “all-in-one” fuel bottle—limited appeal and certainly not what I’d want my entire race to be dependent upon.

So, unless you always exercise in the exact same temperature and humidity (plus or minus five degrees and 5%, respectively) from start to finish, for no more than 2-3 hours, the all-in-one formula will leave you hanging every time.

Now consider the 22-speed bike. You can change gears to accommodate anything that comes your way—from short, steep climbs to long, grinding climbs, or long gradual descents—and still maintain maximum efficiency and pace. Thus, you have the same ability when you manage your fluid, calories, and electrolytes independently of each other and are able to make adjustments as conditions change. The flexibility afforded by separating the fueling components during extended hours of exercise is crucial since the temperature, humidity, terrain, and pace will undoubtedly change significantly between the time you start and when you finish.

To bring the concept home, let’s consider a typical iron distance triathlon, double century, 100-mile MTB, 50-mile trail race, or the like—basically 6–24 hours of continuous exercise. These events start in the early morning hours when it’s nice and cool and continue on through the hottest part of the day, and sometimes back down to cooling temperatures. 20–30 degree variances are typical, and you may encounter as much as 50-degree temperature differences.

During the first few hours when it’s still cool, your caloric intake should be at your optimal level (for me, that’s 130–150 calories per hour), while fluid intake will be well below your max and the need for electrolytes is minimal. However, as the heat intensifies and the body becomes increasingly depleted, you’ll need to reduce your hourly caloric intake (the body can process more calories in cool temps than in hot temps) while simultaneously increasing your fluid and electrolyte intake. These diverging needs can easily be met when you fuel separately. On the other hand, you cannot manage these changing requirements with an all-in-one fuel bottle.

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2 comments

For an 8-hour event, I have suggested using Perpetuem (made in a multi-hour bottle, and frozen the night prior to the event), Hammer Gel (using the 5-serving flask), and the occasional Hammer Bar. I have received a lot of positive feedback from athletes who have followed this plan.

Regarding Perpetuem, instead of making a 1-hour bottle, which would mean I’d have to drink a full bottle of flavored liquid hour after hour (which I wouldn’t like), while also having to stop and make more (which burns up precious time), I would make a 4-hour bottle of Perpetuem (you can make it even more concentrated, if desired).

I personally use 1.5 scoops of Perpetuem an hour, which supplies 202.5 calories, an amount that works well for larger athletes like me at 190+ pounds. To make a 4-hour bottle I’d start by using the smallest water bottle I have (less flavored drink mix I have to consume). Then, I fill that water bottle 1/3 full of water. I’d then add a couple of scoops of Perpetuem, put the lid on, and shake well. I’ll repeat the process until I’ve mixed 6 scoops in my one bottle. Now I only have to drink ¼ of that bottle every hour, augmenting that with water from another source to take care of my hydration needs. For athletes lighter than that, an amount of 1.0 scoops (135 calories) to 1.25 scoops (168.75 calories) per hour works really well.

Again, the benefits of using a multi-hour bottle of Perpetuem:

• I don’t have to drink so much volume of flavored liquid hour after hour. Because I have 4 hours’ worth of fuel in one bottle, I only need to drink ¼ of the bottle every hour, augmenting that with plain water from another source (water bottle, hydration pack) to take care of my hydration needs. I personally find—as a lot of athletes do—that plain water quenches my thirst better than liquid fuels do, and drinking water to cleanse the palate makes taking another drink of flavored fuel even more palatable.

• Because I have 4 hours of Perpetuem in my bottle, I don’t have to stop and make more every hour, which saves me time.

If you need to, take a Sharpie pen and mark your bottle off into four equal sections. This will give you a visual as to how much to drink on a given hour.

NOTE: If the weather is going to be hot, make your 4-hour bottle the night before and put it in the freezer. Perfectly acceptable, and it will keep the mixture cold for a longer period of time.

Filled to the top, the Hammer Flask holds 5 servings of Hammer Gel, which represents 2.0 -2.5 hours’ worth of fuel.

1/2 to 3/4 of a Hammer Bar will easily cover an hour’s worth of calorie needs.

On a hot-weather event, here’s a good way to fuel using Perpetuem, Hammer Gel, and Hammer Bars to cover your calorie needs (one of the Endurolytes products will cover you electrolytic mineral needs.

• Hour #1 – ¼ bottle of Perpetuem + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #2 – ¼ bottle of Perpetuem + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #3 – ¼ bottle of Perpetuem + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #4 – ¼ bottle of Perpetuem + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #5 – ½ to ¾ Hammer Bar+ water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #6 – Up to ½ flask of Hammer Gel + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #7 – ½ to ¾ Hammer Bar+ water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)
• Hour #8 – Up to ½ flask of Hammer Gel + water + Endurolytes (or Endurolytes Extreme)

Hammer Nutrition

When you are in a long event, say 8 hrs + and the temps have risen what would you suggest is the best way to get calories into your system?

James L Veale

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