• Drink but only as much as you need. (Steve Thomas)
Cycling Central recently caught up with sports nutrition leader Allen Lim about eating for cyclists. This time we move to a more fluid theme. Water, sports drinks, coffee and alcohol.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
29 Dec 2017 - 11:58 AM  UPDATED 29 Dec 2017 - 12:09 PM

Steve Thomas: Skratch energy drinks really put the company on the nutritional map, what is different about your mix and what is important to consider in a sports drink?

Allen Lim: Simplicity, that's it. I don't think we're doing anything unique. Our drink is incredibly simple, probably like Gatorade used to be when it was first made.

When you're exercising you're using salt and sugar, and that's basically what Skratch is, sodium and a little bit of sugar. This is good for health reasons, and to keep your blood sugar and glucose levels up so that your body can transport water, with a little flavouring added to make it taste good.

All you're trying to do is replace the water and sodium that you use during exercise, and thirst is a great natural monitor of this. But what people maybe don't realise is that we use more water than salt/sodium during exercise. As you sweat out sodium it exaggerates the thirst effect, and if you just drink water you will probably take on more than you actually lose and need. Adding salt to the drink reduces the thirst by levelling the sodium.

As you lose water (maybe 2-3 per cent volume) then performance declines, so by taking on a simple mix that maintains the balance and reduces decline in performance,

That said, although it's very simple there is a lot of science behind it. We have a ratio of fructose and glucose that we believe best matches the demands on the body and lower intestine, which in turn helps absorption of the fluids.

Because it's so simple the molecular osmolality in our drink is just 160, which is important; blood is around 280, so if it's below that you will always get the water through by osmosis, and not have to rely on active transport of the molecules.

If that ratio is higher it means that the small intestine has to drive molecules through. That ratio is not just made up of sugar and sodium, the colourings, flavourings and emulsifiers all add up, and many drinks run out at 320 or so, which can negatively impact on absorption.

This simplicity is what makes the product actually work. People could mix similar drinks in their own kitchen, but most people don't want to go to those lengths.

Allen Lim's recipes for cycling success
Colorado-based Allen Lim is one of the worlds leading cycling coaches, and a nutritional guru with little parallel. He is also head chef at Skratch Labs, a leading and practical sports nutrition company.

ST: Do you think that as athletes we may drink too much water at times?

AL: Potentially, yes. The real question is how much do you pee. If you urinate more than five times or so a day you may be drinking a little too much water. Thirst is another indicator - if you're drinking just for the sake of it then your kidneys will just filter out that water into urine, they are remarkable for maintaining sodium balance. But, it's all down to the individual, we're all different, listen to your thirst.

ST: Caffeine, what's your take on its place in sport?

AL: Caffeine is a really effective organic aid. It helps mobilise fatty acids, stimulates and helps clarity; but of course, you do de-sensitise to its effects. To get any performance boost from it you need to refrain from using it at times and then re-introduce it when needed.

Coffee is also a big part of our culture, it's enjoyable, and social too. There is no major performance gain from it by drinking it daily, but it definitely has a cultural role in cycling, which has its own advantages.

ST: Alcohol?

AL: I think it's probably perfectly fine. It only becomes a problem when people are drinking so much that they are not focussing. There is a big difference between having a drink and being an alcoholic, in moderation, it's fine, and social, which is very important.