BY BRIAN FRANK
While exercising, do you prefer to drink plain water or a flavored drink? Determining which camp you fall into and taking that into account when devising fueling plans for multi-hour exercise can mean the difference between success and failure. Surprisingly, it’s a question that many athletes have never really pondered when developing a fueling plan for a long, hot, and or logistically challenging event. This article and accompanying video will help you decide which paradigm fits you best and how to apply that to your fueling practices. Once you’ve determined your innate preference in this area, you can use fuels and products that suit you.
For this discussion, let’s be clear that neither style is better; it's just a case of determining your preference. The exception is when logistics override your natural inclination, i.e., you are in a self-supported situation and need to carry as many calories in as little space/weight as possible. In this case, having concentrated calories and picking up water as you go will be necessary, if not preferred.
Personally, I’m a water drinker. Absent the need for calories, I always prefer to drink plain water, especially in extreme heat conditions. However, when helping athletes with their fueling plans, nearly 50% say they would rather have some flavor/taste in their bottle to encourage them to stay hydrated. Conversely, they tend to be averse to drinking plain water, especially when it's warm out. These athletes typically have trouble with multi-hour concentrated fuel mixtures, such as gel, because they tend to also go for flavored drinks rather than water. This can lead to over-consuming calories and other misses on fluids and electrolytes.
The General Idea
Water drinkers naturally prefer to have concentrated sources of calories and electrolytes, thus allowing them to drink water to meet their hydration needs. Drink drinkers prefer all-in-one or nearly all-in-one fueling systems with the desired amount of water, calories, and electrolytes in one solution/bottle. Below are examples of how each type can fuel.
For exercise lasting one to two hours, I carry a flask of Hammer Gel, a bottle of water, and a capsule dispenser with Endurolytes, consuming each separately while riding. For longer rides, I add a multi-hour bottle of Perpetuem (1.5 scoops per hour of expected exercise) and still carry a flask of Hammer Gel for variety and added calories if needed. Refill water bottles with water along the way. This system works really well for me and anyone who prefers water. HEED and Fizz are products I do not use. Depending on temperatures, this allows me to drink 12-24 ounces per hour of plain water while still getting all the calories and electrolytes I need. However, this scenario would be problematic and unsustainable for someone who does not prefer to drink plain water.
The drink drinkers' fueling protocol for exercise lasting for one hour or more hours usually involves "hourly" bottles that can be prepared in various ways. It can be as simple as 1 to 1.5 scoops of HEED per hour in mild conditions. 1-2 servings of Hammer Gel can also be mixed into a bottle instead of HEED. If heat stress is very high, 1-2 scoops of Endurolytes Extreme Powder can be added every hour or two. This keeps things simple in an all-in-one package.
When exercising beyond two to three hours, the hourly bottle options increase with Perpetuem and Sustained Energy as additional calorie sources, which can also be mixed into identical or different “hourly” bottles, depending on preference and logistics. This fueling format also requires forethought in determining approximately how many total calories per hour, ounces/ml of fluids, and electrolytes you'll want hourly and mixing that all into one bottle.
Hourly bottles can be a bit more complicated logistically. Still, they are necessary to keep you drinking the proper amount of fluid and simultaneously getting the calories/electrolytes you need. For more prolonged efforts, preparing "hourly" fuel bags with dry powder that can be carried and mixed along the way may also be necessary. Also, it's a good idea to have some extra electrolytes, just in case.
Hopefully, this article will give you the occasion to decide whether you are a "water drinker" or a "drink drinker." Of course, if you are unsure, call us; one of my staff or I will be happy to discuss it with you further.