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Finding the best sports nutrition is an enduring pain

Endurance and action sports are skyrocketing in popularity. What's the best kind of product to fuel this new legion of ultra-fit people?

I had an inkling this would happen when I participated in my first real group bike ride last summer: I am officially obsessed with road cycling.

Apart from the smooth sensation of bike riding (many physical therapists recommend it if you suffer from knee pain), I enjoy the pure physicality of the sport. Cycling in Colorado is difficult—both the mountains and the altitude render it extraordinarily strenuous. This July, along with a handful of similarly bike-crazed friends I’ll be riding in the fabulously named Triple Bypass —120 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Gulp, let the training begin.

After a particularly arduous ride this past weekend, a ride that left me completely spent, I realized the paucity of my endurance nutrition knowledge. What types of foods are really the best to eat while cycling? What kinds of foods should I avoid? Must I choose products that are specifically labeled for sports nutrition? In a world full of perpetual options and information, I’m still perplexed. What am I supposed to eat?

Sports nutrition strides

I’m not alone in my quest for the ultimate fitness nutrition: A recent report by Global Industry Analysts revealed that sports nutrition food and drink sales are projected to reach $55 billion by 2018. Given the meteoric strides in race participation like Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, IronMans, marathons and triathlons, it’s safe to assume that the majority of sports nutrition users aren’t professional athletes, but fit, active people hoping to stay that way.

Skeptics of fitness nutrition products say that gels, electrolyte powders and caffeine-filled gummies specifically designed for endurance fitness are frivolous. Indeed, if someone went on a 20 minute run, they don’t necessarily need a sugar-filled gel pack to refuel during that time. Assuming they’ve recently eaten carbohydrates during the day, they should have enough glycogen (a form of glucose) stored in their muscles to get them through a relatively short workout. But muscles have a finite amount of space to house glycogen. If you have a grueling, multi-hour bike ride ahead of you, muscles will rapidly deplete these stores and will start burning fat instead—a horrible feeling dubbed “hitting the wall” or “bonking."

What should an ideal sports nutrition product designed to be consumed while exercising be comprised of?

First and foremost, it needs simple carbohydrates like sugar. Sugar is easily digestible and can quickly be used as energy without digestive upset. It also needs electrolytes like sodium and potassium—you know, Gatorade style, except without artificial colors and a dreadful taste. Hard-to-digest protein should be avoided until after you finish exercise, and fat and fiber will just slow down sugar from reaching the bloodstream (usually a positive attribute).

Rooting around

I began my quest for the perfect endurance snack in the offices. I discovered gels with organic ingredients; vitamin- and mineral-infused gummies; and sophisticated electrolyte powders. And then I came across a stockpile of fruit and vegetable pouches. Shaped like a classic Capri Sun juice, pouches were huge at Expo West 2013 in Anaheim, Calif.—for both kids and adults. One brand, Smooch, contains banana, pineapple, mango, chia seed, acerola, and a dash of lemon juice—18 grams sugar with 100 calories. Plus, it’s in a handy, re-sealable packet, perfectly sized to fit in the pocket of my bike shirt. Was this the rogue sports nutrition product I’d been seeking?

Maybe it’s because sports nutrition is on my mind, but it seems like companies are continuously launching new endurance products. A few that I’m psyched to try: ProBar’s BOLT, energy chews containing USDA organic yerba mate, B vitamins, tapioca and agave; and PowerICE, a freezable, electrolyte-packed ice pop reminiscent of those nasty Fla-Vor-Ice Pops that cost 10 cents (and according to this commercial make delightful juggling props), although I wish they were organic. And I’m enamored with Honey Stinger’s delicious organic waffles and Clif's 95 percent organic shot blocks.

Are there any awesome new endurance-sport product launches out there that I should know about? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me at @jennablumenfeld.

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Dave Lyons (not verified)
on May 3, 2013

RevoH2O - Liposomal Encapsulated electrolytes. Gatorade and all other sports drinks are based on 50 year old science - osmolarity - which inherently cannot replace lost electrolytes and can take up to an hour to absorb via your rate limited Sodium-Glucose Pump.
Liposomal encapsulated - Revo absorbs instantly via you mucous membranes (starting in your mouth). It does not require digestive activity to absorb. Pro athletes using the product rave about it.

Yosh Nakano (not verified)
on May 3, 2013

Hi Jenna,
This is the product sheet for MaxATP, a natural energy drink not based on caffeine: Here are quite a few voluntary testimonials:

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 4, 2013

COCO HYDRO!! Dehydrated coconut water; single-serve, large pouches and SPORT (extra sea salt and trace ionic minerals). Sustainable cuz they're not shipping water around the world; convenient - and tastes great!

Stemtech (not verified)
on Jun 23, 2013

Athletes around the world, truly in 20+ countries, are consuming StemSport, the first nutritional supplement that assists in the natural release of adult stem cells - therefore supporting daily renewal and recovery. Go to to find out more.

on Jun 24, 2013

Thanks for the tip!

MichaelWM (not verified)
on Jul 5, 2013

Züm XR is the only natural sports drink utilizing an extended release delivery system, which provided a steady release of green tea caffeine and electrolytes for up to 5-hours (no crash, more energy). This allows athletes to go harder for longer and feel better afterwards via reducing perceived effort levels. Züm XR is made in Colorado.

on Jul 8, 2013

Sounds interesting, Michael--thanks for sharing!

on Jul 5, 2014


I have been competing as a distance runner for the past 23 years. I had, despite all my years of studying, biomechanics and exercise physiology ever heard of glutathione. Although your article doesn't mention it products like MaxATP and Cellgevity utilizes a compound Dr. Herbert Nagasawa created called Riboceine which helps the body produce and create increased levels of glutathione within the body. I am a 2.19 marathoner and have been using both these products for the past 7 months and HIGHLY recommend them over gatorade or powerade which are more or less sugared down drinks with no real lasting effects. Lowered glutathione levels within the body not only lower immune system functioning but also decreases energy production (ATP) as well as increases the aging process. Please visit or to learn more. I appreciate your post and wish you and your community the very best in your health pursuits and goals.

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