When the race outcome is on the line, how do you get enough fuel into your body? A savory rice cake packed with calories sounds great. But taking your hands off your bars to dig into your jersey pocket and unwrap your food isn’t practical, especially if you’re charging toward the base of a big climb, or navigating high-speed, technical singletrack.
So why not just drink your food?
You can: Maltodextrin-based drink mixes provide 200 – 300 calories per bottle. But the current array of food-in-a-bottle elixirs are often hard to mix, don’t taste great, and can cause race-wrecking gastrointestinal distress by delivering calories to your body faster that it can absorb them.
In late March, endurance athletes will have a new option. Skratch Labs is launching its new Sport Superfuel Drink Mix, which has the same aim as its maltodextrin-based counterparts, but does so using a different carbohydrate polymer that it claims alleviates those gastrointestinal landmines.
“Standard maltodextrin starts out as a large single molecule with a high caloric density and a low osmotic pressure, which allows a lot of calories to be dissolved into solution,” says Skratch Labs founder Allen Lim. “But that’s one of the dangers with maltodextrin: You can fool yourself into putting too many calories into a bottle. You think you’re safe, but if you drink it too fast, it empties from the stomach really fast because it’s already liquid, and by the time it’s in your gut, all those larger molecules have broken into little molecules. It’s the number of molecules, not their size, that ultimately exerts pressure on the gut.”
Conversely, Skratch Sport Superfuel uses what’s known as highly branched cyclic dextrin, which Lim says clusters into a ball (hence the cyclic). “And because it’s tightly clustered, it tends to not break apart as fast so you don’t get these big Trojan Horse-type explosions, which reduces the risk of GI distress,” Lim says.
Why hasn’t anyone else gone down this road before? Lim points to cost as a primary barrier. Skratch Sport Superfuel Drink Mix will sell for $5.62 per serving ($44.95 for an 8-serving pouch), with each serving delivering 400 calories plus 100 g of carbohydrates and 416 mg of sodium. By comparison, an equal 400-calorie serving of maltodextrin-based Hammer Perpetuem costs about $2.31, though the recommended dose is actually just 270 calories per serving.
“There’s not much of a margin with our product,” says Lim. “That’s why I don’t think other companies have pursued this avenue and why we’ll only be selling it through our website. Bike shops aren’t going to be interested because they expect a 50 percent margin. But we feel like it’s worth it just to give athletes another tool in the tool box.”
Skratch’s soon-to-launch powder has already gained a following within the professional ranks. Riders from the EF Pro Cycling team used prototype Skratch Sport Superfuel for much of the 2019 season.
“We were basically the guinea pigs when [Skratch] started testing it in January last year,” says reigning U.S. national road race champion Alex Howes. “I probably used it at 70 percent of the races I did, including three bottles of the stuff at nationals. The other stuff I’d used in the past I’d have to shake for 20 minutes to get it dissolved and I still had stomach issues a lot of the time.”
“I just found that it was a really good way to get energy without GI issues,” added fellow EF rider Tejay van Garderen. “It was really good for cold days when you didn’t want to take your gloves off to get into your pockets, or if we were racing on cobbles and you couldn’t mess around with unwrapping a bar.”
But Lim isn’t giving up on eating rice cakes, either. “This is not an absolute substitution for drinking a lower carbohydrate drink with salt and eating real food. That works just as well,” he says. “But I really believe this new product can help people who are in that niche where they want to — or need to — be able to drink their calories.”
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