Finding an alternative to sports drinks

Posted: June 16, 2013

When I ran the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon, my trek included 26.2 miles of running and four port-a-potty stops.

The culprit, I believe, was the bottles of sports drinks I consumed in the days leading up to the race and that morning, thinking I would be providing myself with the right hydration to run a marathon.

Not quite.

Skratch Labs to the rescue. They're working on ways to provide better options for endurance athletes, in both drink and food.

Allen Lim, a sports physiologist, was the director of sports science for the Garmin-Sharp Pro Cycling Team. In 2008, as the athletes were preparing for the Tour de France, he took a closer look at their fuel.

"We got a lot of complaints about the food and hydration products - the prepackaged stuff - making them not feel so good during exercise," Lim said. Runners complained about things like upset stomachs, foods that were hard to chew, and sports drinks that left a bad taste in their mouths.

The problems with the sports drinks, he thought, was the sugar content.

"What you're trying to do with any hydration strategy is replace the water and the sodium," he said. The danger of losing water is obvious, but without sodium, your body can't perform some of its most basic functions.

Glucose, though, didn't need to be replaced in the same way, and too much sugar was making his athletes sick - the same kind of problem I experienced during the marathon.

So he started tinkering with creating his own sports drink with lower sugar levels but higher electrolyte content. His cyclists became "canaries in a coal mine," he said, and he used the paint shaker at a local hardware store to make vats of the stuff.

In 2012, Skratch Labs was born. The hydration mix has 30 to 45 percent less sugar than traditional sports drinks, and two to three times the sodium. What's not included are any artificial ingredients - the flavor comes from freeze-dried fruit powder.

They're also tackling the problem of fuel with real food alternatives to mixes and energy gels and recovery shakes with Feed Zone Portables, a new cookbook written with chef Biju Thomas. The book includes recipes for things like sweet-cream grits and cinnamon apple rice cakes and cheesy potato waffles, in proportions for athletes and sizes that can be wrapped up, put in your fuel belt, and eaten on the go.

Even though the hydration mix is being used by runners and other endurance athletes, it was developed for cyclists, so the best place to find it locally is at bike shops, but Lim says most of their product is sold online.

The food, though, can be made right in your kitchen.

"Until we could figure out a way to make a protein recovery drink that tasted as good as a bowl of chicken-fried rice, we'd keep making chicken-fried rice," he said.

Running Schedule

Twilight All-Comers Track Meet, The Hun School, Princeton, N.J. Sign-in: 5:15 p.m.. First event: 6 p.m. Events: 3,000 meters, 100 meters, 800 meters, and 4x400-meter relay. Entry fee is $10, Browning Ross Summer Series: Rowan University, 7 p.m. $5 fee. Every Thursday through Aug. 29 except July 4. Peggy Spiegler Melanoma Research Foundation 5th Annual Talk While You Walk/5K run. Cooper River Park, Pennsauken, N.J. Registration 8 a.m. Race: 9:15 a.m. Celebration 5K: Norristown High School and Norristown Farm Park. E-mail 5th Annual Run Over Cancer 5K: 8:30 a.m. at Council Rock South High School, Registration: 7:30 am. $40. $30 preregistration, first 300 registrants will receive T-shirts. 33d Annual Avalon 5 Miler: 8 a.m., Avalon, N.J. Benefits: CONTACT Cape-Atlantic,, $20 preregistration, $25 race day. Stroehmann Back on My Feet 20in24 Challenge: 8.4-mile loop starting at Lloyd Hall at 1 Boathouse Row. A 24-hour race.
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