Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Running: energy replacement

All distance runners use some kind of energy replacement product on their long runs. They’re popular with triathletes and other endurance athletes as well. Magazines on these sports frequently carry articles reviewing the range of products available out there.

In Singapore, the range of products available is somewhat limited. And they’re usually hideously expensive, the consequence of being imported in small quantities from the USA by specialty distributors, who obviously take the opportunity to mark up the prices. Sometimes, it really sucks to live in a tiny insignificant market like Singapore. A viable alternative to buying products retail here is to buy the products you need online in bulk, and ship them over to Singapore. It helps if you have friends to team up with or if you’re part of a spree. Sprees are sometimes organized on the local running or triathlon forums.

About the availability in Singapore, Powerbar and Powergel are literally everywhere; the more “cult” brands are harder to find. Clifbars, so ubiquitous in the USA, are less common here in Singapore. Not that Clifbars taste so great. “Compacted birdseed” is probably the most apt description I’ve heard. As for Powerbar, no one would ever accuse it of being a cult product. Admittedly, the current range of Powerbars does taste okay, although I think the simple sugar content is a bit too high, and if memory serves, is composed partly of high fructose corn syrup. The old school Powerbars I tried a few years ago, however, turned me off Powerbars forever. The type that is extruded and looks like a black bar of chocolate. Melts in the wrapper into goop under hot conditions, while hardening into an inedible BRICK in colder climes. And it obviously tastes terrible at temperatures when you can actually bite into it. Apparently, the Powerbars of yore were a running (sic) joke among mountaineers and trekkers.

There are other brands of energy bars out there, though much less common. As for energy gels, I’ve seen Powergel and Hammergel in Singapore, but not Gu or other brands.

So what do I use? For runs of less than ten miles: nothing. I hydrate myself and grab something to eat before the run and I can go up to ten or twelve miles without fluid replenishment, provided I run in the early mornings or evenings when conditions are mild. For runs of between ten and eighteen miles, or when conditions are more severe, I use a mix of honey, fresh limejuice and a conventional sports drink, usually the uncarbonated version of H-two-O. It’s cheap and it serves my purpose. Up to one liter usually suffices.

For longer runs of more than eighteen miles, I use Hammer Perpetuem, bar none the best energy replacement product that’s easily available in Singapore (relatively). Unfortunately, Perpetuem tastes truly horrible. I made the mistake of drinking it for the first time while on a long run without tasting it at home first. I had to abort the run because I ran out of energy halfway and I just couldn’t stomach the drink. FYI, I used the unflavored powder version that is dissolved in water by the user, not the single serve sachets that could possibly taste better.

For the uninitiated, Hammer products are great because they contain maltodextrins, longer chain branched carbohydrates that provide sustained energy without the surge and crash of simpler, sugary gels like Powergel. Perpetuem is especially good because it has a higher calorific content (energy density) than Hammer gel, so you take in more energy for the same mass that you ingest. Helps a lot if you have limited carrying capacity. How does it have a higher calorific content? Answer: Perpetuem has fat. So it basically tastes like unsweetened, fatty milk powder dissolved in water.

I know, totally gross right? Doesn’t help that I’m a supertaster. I can literally feel the fat molecules pressing down on my tongue. I still use Perpetuem powder, but mixed in my own original blend. It helps to mask the flavor, or lack thereof. Here it is. “Scoops” refer to the scoops that come with the corresponding original containers.

For 700 ml of solution
4 or 5 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem (big scoops)
12 scoops of Hammer Endurolytes (little scoops)
[I have a tendency to cramp post-20 miles, so I supplement my mix with Hammer Endurolytes. They may not be required for other runners as Perpetuem has a full electrolyte profile]

About 80 ml of honey (use a darker, more full-bodied honey for added flavor)
Freshly squeezed juice from one orange
Freshly squeezed juice from two limes
[Any sour fruit juice will help cut through the fat. The honey is there to balance out the sourness.]

Top off with your favorite conventional carton juice to capacity (I use apple). Dissolve and mix well with a long spoon.

The mix won’t be a solution, concentrated as it is with the Perpetuem that does not dissolve well. There’ll be lumps and it will be more of a suspension. But I’ve tried this mix and it can last me for upwards of 3 hours, provided I take along additional fluid replenishment, typically 1 liter of an undiluted sports drink. I weigh about 65 kilograms or 145 pounds, so adjustments will be necessary if you’re lighter or heavier.

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