Can This Sport Drink End GI Distress?

Photo provided by Maurten.

The Sub-2 Marathon Project taps a triathlete’s innovative hydration mix.

It’s a familiar scene that plays out at triathlons around the world: beleaguered competitors clutching their stomachs, hunched over with a pain. A nauseated face. A rush to the port-o-potties. GI distress is an oft-cited reason for race-day failure, and for good reason: it’s hard to move, much less set a PR, when all your body wants to do is hurl.

Mårten Fryknäs knows that feeling all too well. As an Ironman triathlete, he experienced GI distress on the course frequently; as a biology researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, he knew it was caused by his body’s inability to process the carbohydrates in his sports nutrition product, so he set out to find a solution to the problem.

When athletes push themselves, whether through intensity, endurance, or both, it requires energy. This energy is most easily delivered in the form of sport drink—a cocktail of water for hydration, carbohydrates for energy, and salt to replenish the electrolytes lost during activity.

Physiological research has shown athletes can make use of about 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, or 360 calories—a fraction of the amount an athlete burns per hour during endurance exercise; however, very few are able to consume 90 grams per hour without GI distress. The human body can only process so much carbohydrate at one time – our capacities are limited further when the body is in motion during a bike ride or run. Consume too much, and the stomach rebels. Because of this, carbohydrate levels in most nutrition products have been limited to a maximum of 5%.

Fryknäs wondered if the problem wasn’t the body’s ability to process sport drinks, but instead the sport drinks themselves. Could there be another way to deliver carbohydrate without crashing the gut?

His solution: hydrogels, an encapsulation fluid that goes down like any other sport drink but transforms to a jelly-like material in the acidic environment of the stomach. This should facilitate smooth transport of carbohydrate to the intestine, where the nutrient can be absorbed. Not only might this reduce GI distress, but it also should allow for an increase in the amount of carbohydrate that can be delivered in a serving—hydrogels can deliver a 14 percent carbohydrate solution, almost triple the amount of energy of traditional sport drinks.

After several experimental formulations, Maurten (an international spelling of the founder’s first name) was born. The product was so successful during initial testing with endurance athletes that within one year of development, some of the world’s best marathoners, including 2016 Berlin Marathon winner Kenenisa Bekele and 2016 New York Marathon Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, were using the product to fuel their training and racing. Because of their emphatic endorsement, Maurten was recently selected as a nutrition partner for the Sub2 Project, a collaboration of researchers and athletes working together to design optimal conditions for a sub-2 hour marathon.

So is Maurten the answer to a triathlete’s GI distress, as Fryknäs designed it to be? Maybe. Though the science makes sense and anecdotal evidence from current users is strong, hydrogels are still untested for sport nutrition application. Maurten is currently collaborating with several research institutes (including those affiliated with the Sub2 Project) to fully test Maurten’s physiological and performance impacts. Fryknäs and his team hope to have the first peer-reviewed article published this year.

Want to try it yourself? Maurten is currently available in Europe, with an anticipated launch in other countries (including the United States and Canada) by the end of 2017. For more info visit Maurten.com.