I have been training and competing for teams since 1989, and have tried more products than I can shake a stick at, especially coming from northern California, where many of these products came into being. I also find that advocating for one type of energy or nutrition over another can be tricky, mostly because what works for one does not necessarily work for another. HOWEVER (comma, crazy eyebrow, pause for effect) I am going to go ahead and give you the lowdown on my picks for training and racing, because I believe in the efficacy and the integrity of the below products.
Skratch Labs - I got turned on to this by a fellow Marine, who found it while racing with her cycling team in Colorado. I like this because it is all natural, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors, which is rare to find in sports drinks. I also like that it is not overly sweet, so no watering down required. I have tried Heed, Accelerade, and a bunch of others that hit the market in the 90s but this trumps them all for me. My flavor picks:
- Exercise Hydration Mix: Raspberry - A straightforward flavor, not too sweet, and no chemical aftertaste, which is awesome. I sometimes mix this with the Lemons + Limes to get a psuedo raspberry lemonade.
- Exercise Hydration Mix: Matcha + Lemons - If you've had iced green tea, and liked it, this might work for you. It's got a true lemony flavor, but with my penchant for iced tea, this is great, plus it has caffeine.
- Exercise Hydration Mix: Apples + Cinnamon - I have tried this once, as a taste test, as it is intended to be hot, and it is lovely! This will be perfect for the winter training and racing, although I am not sure it will be a carry-along, more like a fuel stop or a post-run warm-up.
- Hyper Hydration Mix: Mango - This is intense and I will be taking this to Morocco without a doubt. It has significant salt overtones but the mango tempers it and it fits the bill perfectly for those runs/races of high-electrolyte depletion, much like my beloved pickle juice.
RuckPack - Another Marine, my buddy Mosi S., who is an amazing ultra-athlete, told me about this and I have to say that I was a little skeptical initially, but after trying it, I can't say enough about it. There is no caffeine, which is great, since I've found that my pre-race coffee intake plus my race tea provide enough (plus the one time I tried a caffeinated shot, I felt terrible as my heart raced and I felt jittery and nauseated.)
The new flavor, Blood Orange, is pretty tasty; while it has a vitamin-heavy overtone, there is no lingering aftertaste. The energy boost is sustained, and I took half a bottle before the start of the YT50, which I think accounts in part for how rapidly my first 20 miles went. There is also no "crash" as it wears off.
A disclosure, which just happened after the MCM: I was selected as a RuckPack ambassador! Why I am humbled and honored: the company is veteran owned/operated, they are not a gimmick, and the company believes in giving back - 10% of their profits are given to military charities.
- GU Energy Gel: Chocolate, Mandarin Orange, Salted Watermelon and Just Plain.
- GU Chomps: Blueberry Pomegranate, Orange, Raspberry
Honey Stinger - If you've ever shopped at World Market, you may have come across the StroopWaffel. I first encountered the SW while in grad school (1995!!) at the local coffee shop, where they placed one with caramel over my cup of coffee so by the time I got to my seat, the caramel had softened into a gooey, lovely cookie treat.
When I encountered the Honey Stinger Waffles, I was elated that my treat was completely compatible with running six-hour races! They are organic and made by a company out of Colorado that began in the 1950s. I have never had a digestion problem with them, and they're not too sweet, which I find to be a problem with so many of the energy items out there. I've tried all the flavors except strawberry but have ended up with only two: Gingersnap and the original Honey.
This is a weird one, because I have to be careful about too much dairy since my surgeries. I used to love chocolate milk but now I do unsweetened almond milk with a vegetable protein powder, chocolate syrup and blend it up. Sometimes I add a banana and spirulina powder.
I actually really enjoy the Bolthouse Farms Protein Shake in Mango (dairy-free) and their Vanilla Chai Tea (dairy-free), the latter which I often bring to my ultra races. The mango protein shake is great post-race/post-long run, although I can only drink half at a time.
I was obsessed with Orgain Protein Shakes last year and still use them occasionally.
My other recent recovery snacks are 2% Fage greek yogurt mixed with pine nuts, honey and banana slices and, for a quick recharge, I grab a tablespoon, scoop a bite of Nutella and then cover that with cashews (roasted and reduced salt).
I still rely on the "real-food" staples that existed before the energy food market came into play, but the products above have found a permanent place in my training and racing arsenal.