My history with nutrition and hydration, as it relates to endurance sports, triathlon in particular, goes back as far as 1986. My first “long distance” triathlon (and second triathlon ever) was the Liberty-to-Liberty Triathlon. This was a swim-bike-run journey from the Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell. After six plus hours drinking nothing but water – and likely not nearly enough of that! – the whole race was one long blurr. I don’t remember exactly how I finished or how I did in that event, but even as a neophyte triathlete, with no expectations, whatsoever, I know it was not remotely close to what I was capable. I stuck with shorter races for a while and didn’t give much thought to hydration or nutrition and seemed to do ok.
The next long distance attempts, including one marathon and one Ironman distance event, were all completed consuming mostly water and a couple of figs and bananas. How old school is that? It wasn’t until the Oxford Triathlon in 1988, where I tried a “Powerbar” between the run and bike legs, that I felt like I was actually “racing” from start to finish rather than “surviving”. I remember thinking to myself – dang, I wonder if this is legal? I ended up winning that race and qualifying for Kona. Yes, 4.5 hours on 1 Powerbar and water – oh to be young…. In my first Kona attempt, my plan was to eat several Powerbars (about 1 every hour) and drink water. This had worked well in all of my long training efforts. Unfortunately, I failed to factor in the heat and humidity and the fact that I slowed down and took my time to open the wrappers and eat during training. Chewing and swallow isn’t as easy at 150-160 bpm. Ultimately, I finished the bike course with one Powerbar half eaten and four others in a melted, gooey mess on my top tube. Try as I might, to get something solid down during the run, the best I could do was drink the Gatorade and water at the aid stations. Fortunately, going into it, I had decided to “cruise” rather than “race”. I wanted to see what the event was all about and didn’t want to relive my previous Ironman experience. I stayed very much at a “fat burning” effort level so I didn’t suffer too badly for my lack of fuel, and finished in a little over 9 hours.
I came to realize, the best way to fuel during a race was liquid nutrition – solids and chewing did not work – at least not for me. Over the next two years, in my Ironman races, I attempted to consume and replace the same amount of calories I was burning – all liquid. Yeah, think Carnation Instant Breakfast and Ensure meal replacement drinks. Seriously? Well, at least I was able to get it down. Unfortunately, most of it didn’t stay down. I can laugh about it now but…. It’s kind of hard to believe it took that long to get wise to the fact that one could never replace what one burned while exercising, at least not in real-time and on an hourly basis. Even then, in 1991, I still didn’t get it quite right and was somewhat under fueled – I drank only Gatorade from the start of the bike to about mile 16 in the run. At that point, I ran out of gas. Between miles 16 and 18 my 6 minute mile pace was reduced to a walk while I ate lots of cookies, pretzels, bananas and drank several cups of de-fizzed coca-cola. Once it all “kicked in”, I was able to run well over the last 7-8 miles to finish 3rd overall. (Of course, my wife’s response to that was something along the lines of “What!?! You were in 2nd place and gaining on 1st and you finished in 3rd?!? How did you screw that up?”)
It was at that point that I truly began to study the science behind endurance sports nutrition. Water, Gatorade – not enough. Solid food, 800+ calories per hour – too much, insane really. Carbohydrates, mostly complex, in the form of glucose or “maltodextrin”, electrolytes, protein, branch-chain amino acids, etc. all became an integral part of training for and competing in longer distance events. It took the better part of 6 years to figure out exactly what worked for me, and what didn’t, right down to the grams of carbohydrate and protein, ounces of fluid and amounts of electrolytes per hour. Mixing up my workout “potion” required no less than 3 different products in various portions depending on the intended training session and weather forecast.
I used many different products, successfully, during my last several years as a professional triathlete, as well as during the past 14 years, as an endurance sports coach. Advanced Sports Nutrition, Twinlab, Champion Nutrition and Hammer Nutrition have all been great to work with. All, I believe, make very good products that work well and I thank them. That said, I have experienced problems with them all – both in my personal use and in use by the athlete’s I coach. Most of the products can be used “as suggested” for most athletes, but they often require some “tweaking” to make them more palatable or to get just the right amount of carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes for individual needs. In other cases, athletes are just more finicky than others when it comes to taste, flavor and consistency and won’t drink the product whether it works or not. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have received a call the night before an athlete’s race asking about what should be mixed in each of their bottles and how many scoops of this and how many scoops of that, etc. Worse is the call after the race with the tale of how “I stopped drinking because the drinks just didn’t appeal to me or taste good….” If you don’t drink it, it’s not going to work.
Enter Infinit Nutrition. Infinit Nutrition came onto the scene 7 years ago and, at the time, I thought it was a great concept. Several athletes I coach began using it, loved it and use it to this day. I knew then, it was not just a great concept, but a great product. However, having used Hammer Nutrition products for so many years, I was reluctant to make any changes. As they say, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I would only go so far as recommending Infinit to athletes when they found, after many trials, that Hammer products simply did not work for them. Over these past few years, the number of those athletes has gradually increased, particularly when training for and competing at the Ironman distance events. In some cases, it is a taste or flavor issue, in others it stems from problems with soy protein and what happens to the mix after it gets warm. Other athletes find it too cumbersome and confusing to know which product to use when, which to mix with another or how many pills of this or that to take and how often, etc. The bottom line, IMHO, comes down to OSMOLALITY. It’s a big, hoy-floy word and I know just about everyone starts to glaze over when it’s mentioned, let alone explained. The best way to think of it is this – everything that gets mixed into an energy drink affects how well it can be absorbed and emptied from your stomach. Mix in too much stuff and it becomes more difficult and, potentially, impossible to absorb. Some nutrition experts would have you believe that simple sugars are the “devil incarnate” and should be avoided like the plague. Make no mistake, excessive sugar in your diet or your energy drink will cause problems. However, used judiciously and in appropriate amounts that maintain optimal OSMOLALITY (yes, it can be done) they can make for a better tasting drink AND can actually enable higher absorption and oxidation rates of carbohydrates than a single complex carbohydrate mix.
Infinit Nutrition addresses all of this with truly custom blended mixes, enabling athletes to custom design a drink mix to fit their exact individual needs. The flavor, amount and type of carbohydrate, amount of protein, electrolytes, caffeine, anti-oxidants and amino acids can all be adjusted. And they guarantee optimal osmolality of your blend. Once your ideal blend is determined, it becomes as simple as 2 scoops in a water bottle and be on your way. I like simple.
So, this past summer, I decided to try Infinit products for myself. I think I was “sold” when drinking their “preset” Ride Formula. The taste and consistency made me think it was their version of other basic carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks. It was not “heavy” like other mixes that include protein and it actually tasted good – warm or cold. I was very surprised when I saw that it did, in fact, contain protein in the blend. I have always found that I, personally, perform better with some protein during exercise – really, regardless of the length of the workout or race – a little less for shorter and more for longer. Unfortunately, most of the carbohydrate/protein products available – both premixed and more often for me, custom mixed – are too “thick” to easily get down, especially if they are not ice cold.
I am proud to come on board with the Infinit Nutrition team and call Infinit the Official Drink of Devlin Coaching. I am currently working with Infinit to develop my own custom blended mixes that will be available soon. Use them as designed or use them as a starting point when developing your own ideal drink.