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The world of sports nutrition can be overwhelming, with nutrition companies constantly adding products, debuting new flavors and changing formulas. To simplify things, here are three large nutrition trends we saw at the 2014 Interbike Trade Show.
1. Sports drinks with lower osmolality
Osmolality, a quality in beverages that has to do with its density and how quickly a drink can be absorbed and passed through a person’s system, has been a hot topic in the sports nutrition world over the last decade, and especially in the last few years. Nutrition companies (and athletes, through firsthand experience) have found that a beverage with high osmolality sits in your gut, especially in longer-course racing, leading to G.I. distress.
As a result, companies such as Infinit Nutrition (Infinitnutrition.com)—who pioneered the world of custom sports nutrition and has helped to pair athletes with their perfect sports drink; Skratch Labs (Skratchlabs.com), founded by exercise physiologist Allen Lim; and Osmo Nutrition (Osmonutrition.com), founded by exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, have all focused on providing endurance athletes with drinks with low osmolality to maximize nutrient absorption. Other larger brands are catching on this year.
GU Brew (Guenergy.com)
The originator of the energy gel, GU, came out with its GU Brew earlier this year, which is focused on hydration (with 250 milligrams of sodium and 30 milligrams of potassium per serving) before fueling (18 grams of carbohydrate and 70 calories per serving). Brew utilizes a 50:50 ratio of fructose to maltodextrin as the carb source, which makes it able to be utilized by more of the body’s transport systems, GU says. The drink is easier for your body to absorb by lowering the carbohydrate content, and it also has a much lighter, less sweet taste profile, making it much more palatable for long, hot workouts. Brew is available in single-serve stick packs and a smaller 24-serving canister, and it added to its drink flavor line-up: In addition to orange and lemon-lime, drinks are available in Tastefully Nude (an extra light, essentially unflavored drink), watermelon, lemon tea (which contains natural caffeine from the tea leaf) and Blue Pomegranate (with a double serving of electrolytes).
CLIF Shot Electrolyte Hydration Mix (Clifbar.com)
CLIF Bar reformulated its hydration beverage so that it focuses on electrolytes more than fueling, in line with the other low-osmolality beverages. It features 40 calories, 10 grams of carbs, 125 milligrams of sodium and 25 milligrams of potassium per serving. Its flavor, available in Lemon Lime-Ade and Cranberry Razz, is extremely light and crisp, making it refreshing without any aftertaste.
2. Lighter flavors
Athletes, especially endurance athletes, are sick of sweet. Spending too much time on a hot ride or long run consuming sugary gels, chews and drinks gets old, so athletes are looking for lighter tasting, less sweet products to fuel their workouts.
Nuun Energy (Nuun.com)
Nuun has had the corner on the electrolyte tab market, wooing us with their range of fun flavors and zero-calorie hydration drinks in convenient tablets, perfect for on the go. Building off their success, the company launched Nuun Energy—it’s made to give you some fuel (not just hydration), with caffeine, B vitamins and 3 grams of carbs but with Nuun’s same signature refreshing, light taste. Each serving of Energy also contains 359 milligrams of sodium and 101 milligrams of potassium.
Skratch Labs (Skratchlabs.com)
Founded by exercise physiologist Allen Lim, Skratch Labs has built a reputation of producing good-for-you and good-tasting hydration products. Its lineup of Exercise Hydration Mix flavors are light, and its newest flavor is no exception—made with matcha (green tea leaves) and lemons, it has a pleasantly subtle green tea and citrus flavor that’s only barely sweet. Added bonus: It’s the first caffeinated exercise drink from Skratch, with 16 milligrams of caffeine, which comes from pulverized tea leaves, in a 16-ounce drink. As with all Skratch products, it’s gluten-free, vegan and kosher.
CLIF Bars (Clifbar.com)
Northern California-based CLIF Bar has a well-rounded profile of products, from drinks and gels to protein bars and protein drinks. But its original product—the CLIF Bar—will be made available in two new tasty flavors starting in December: Nuts & Seeds, and Berry Pomegranate Chia. Both are less sweet than previous CLIF Bars, but still maintain CLIF’s high standard of high-quality, great-tasting products.
3. High-quality ingredients
There’s no sneaking a list of 30 hard-to-pronounce ingredients past athletes anymore—they’re reading nutrition labels, and more and more they’re purchasing products that have whole-food ingredients, have fewer allergens and taste more like real food.
Bonk Breaker Bars (Bonkbreaker.com)
Don’t let the packaging through you off—Bonk Breakers are not just another highly processed nutrition bar. With just 10–12 ingredients that are all recognizable (e.g., brown rice syrup, cashews, gluten-free oats, honey, flaxseed), Bonk Breakers actually taste like real food (yay!). The company has a commitment to putting out the best-quality product on the market (“We want to be like Ferrari” of the nutrition bar world, says co-founder Chris Frank), so it doesn’t skimp on the quality of its ingredients.
PowerBar Performance Energy Blends (Powerbar.com)
Even major sports nutrition companies are following the less artificial, more real food trend, with PowerBar putting out products like its Performance Energy Blends, a fruit puree-based product that comes in a pouch. It’s made with just a handful of ingredients (primarily pureed fruit) and designed to be taken before a workout for a 2:1 glucose to fructose blend of carbs for quick energy, plus a solid dose of vitamin C.
Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels (Honeystinger.com)
Honey Stinger has made a name for itself with its honey-containing energy products ranging from waffles and bars to gels and chews, and many of its products are organic. Sticking to that focus, its two newest Organic Energy Gel flavors, Kiwi Strawberry and Chocolate are made with organic honey and organic tapioca syrup, are 98 percent organic and are the company’s first caffeinated gels, with 32 milligrams of natural caffeine coming from green tea.
Osmo Nutrition Hydration for Kids (Osmonutrition.com)
Osmo founder and exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, mother to a 2-year-old, wanted to give parents an option for keeping their kids hydrated without overloading them with sugar. She came up with this kids’ hydration formula, which contains 100 milligrams of sodium per serving (compared to 320 milligrams in the men’s hydration formula) and 30 milligrams of potassium (versus 100 milligrams), and the Awesome Orange flavor has added monk fruit for sweetness (a naturally calorie-free melon in dried powdered form), plus organic freeze-dried fruit for color and flavor and tangerine essence for flavor—but zero fillers or flow agents.