Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gatorade...and Ultrarunning

If you are like me, when you cruise into an aid station during an ultra I'm all business--get me in and out quickly.  As I enter, I have my bottle out and am handing it to a volunteer to fill, and grab for some food to place in my Ziploc bag to nibble as I walk the next uphill, whenever that comes. 

Depending on how I'm feeling and how far into the race it is, I typically ask the volunteer to fill the bottle(s) half with water and half with whatever energy drink they have that day.  Often it's Gatorade, the old standby.

As a result of reading this article in Wired.com, I may rethink my ultra drinking regime.  Seems that swishing the Gatorade around in your mouth then spitting it out is the way to go:

...the allure of sports drinks shows no signs of letting up. While Gatorade began as beverage for the Florida Gators football team - the seven tablespoons of sugar per serving were supposed to help replenish the carbs lost during sweat - it has since expanded into a Byzantine array of drinks tailored for different phases of the workout process. If we really want to maximize performance, then we can't just drink Gatorade while working out. We also have to drink Gatorade Prime before exertion, Gatorade Perform during and Gatorade Recover afterwards.

Needless to say, most of these claims are bullsh*t. But they're an interesting kind of bullsh*t.  Because it turns out that sugary sports drinks (like Gatorade, Powerade, VitaminWater, etc.) do generate significant performance benefits. It's just that these benefits have little to do with the replenishment of lost electrolytes. And that's why we seem to get the biggest benefits from these expensive liquids when we spit them out.

The article then goes on to describe the clever controlled experiment these researchers ran on some endurance cyclists.  The test was whether swishing a drink containing real sugar was any different that swishing an artificial sweetener.  Researchers found that basically your body gets an endurance boost--and a psychological boost--more from the oral swishing of a sugary drink than a fake one.  There are oral receptors that can detect sugar vs. sweetener, and tell your body that sugar is coming, even if your taste buds are fooled.

OK, I get it.  But then they sorta leap right over into saying that swishing with a sugary drink is better than the actual ingestion of same.  "Tasting energy was more important than ingesting energy."  That part of the article was weak, and endurance bicycling experimentation may not translate over into Ultrarunning.  Seems to me that the boost you'd get from swishing real sugar would be short-lived, and if you're gonna be out there for hours and hours as in an ultra, you'd be better off to actually ingest the sugar rather than relying on an ephemeral fake-out of your body.

Go figure.  Better check out the article yourself, but I'm going to experiment with some swishing, but only near the end of a race.

(ASIDE: I went over to the official Gatorade web site to look for an image that I could grab (failed), but I happened to notice that there was a login button.  Seriously, the site offers an optional login screen with username & password.  Who would actually do that?)

   

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