Which energy drink?

by parksey   July 23, 2014  

I've been reading the comments on the "fish and chips" topic with interest, as I've been thinking about my own approach to fuelling for rides recently.

I think we're probably all in agreement that mid-ride stops for cake or lunch are A Good Thing, but in my mind are only really relevant when you're riding in a group. I'm not one to sit in a tearoom or pub when I'm out by myself, so in those situations I prefer to refuel whilst I'm on the bike.

Before now, I haven't been doing much at all, just relying on whatever I'd eaten earlier in the day (or the night before), and then taking gels at points where I needed a boost. I do use electrolyte tabs in my water bottles, but they of course don't provide any energy.

However, I'm continually going further and faster, but in doing so am finding that fatigue definitely now sets in as the distance racks up, which I suspect is a consequence of not taking on enough fuel.

I don't particularly want to increase my gel intake, as it won't do either my bank balance or my toilet bowl any favours, and I've never really got on with energy bars either. If anything I find them less palatable than gels.

I've therefore been looking at the various tubs of powdered energy drinks that are available. Having an energy source as a drink makes sense to me, and as they mostly contain electrolytes then I can seemingly dispense with the separate tabs too.

It's a bit of a minefield of choice though. Do many people use these and, if so, are there any particular favourites out there?!

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If it's not all a bit too stereotypically 'health foodsy' for you, blackstrap mollases reportedly contains good levels of most electrolytes other than bog standard salt. I find scooping a teaspoon into a bottle of orange juice with a good pinch of salt contains enough sugars, water and electrolytes to leaves me hydrated and... full of sugar. Which is generally a good thing. OJ's not the cheapest thing to be guzzling down every day, but I only really use it on longer rides anyway. Squash, tea, or anything else could be used as the base liquid, but the mollases and salt are the main electrolytic components, and they're a lot cheaper than powders and the like.

Also, bananas are a cliched cycle-food because they're cheap, have decent levels of usable energy, and have some potassium as well. Dried apricots are also very good for potassium, as well as sugar, and dates are an excellent sugar hit. I think they all generally work out cheaper than bars. Finally, if all the sweet stuff is overpowering, rice balls (or onigiri) make a satisfyingly savoury alternative to rice cakes, and are very simple to make (http://justhungry.com/2007/01/onigiri_omusubi_revisited_an_e.html). You can balance any of that with gels, and get whatever mix of solid, real food, and sugary goop you find comfortable.

I'd get a second opinion on the molasses thing though, to make sure it's not just health-food clap-trap. If not, it should be cheaper than buying specialised products that do pretty much the same thing.

Hope that helps.

posted by Quince [378 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 13:26


Have tried Zipvit (yuck), won't touch SiS (artificial sweeteners, WTF?). Lots of people say that other brands give them bad guts and find Torq is the only one that doesn't. Only natural ingredients and I know Matt Hart and his mob are a great bunch so it's always Torq for me.

Having said that, I don't use it on normal rides, only in races or a really hard training session. Otherwise plain water and dried fruit/bars work perfectly well. Just discovered the mixed berries flavour Geobar, it's my new favourite.

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posted by Simon E [2414 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 15:02


Interesting comments so far, and maybe not as much love for the powdered drinks as I perhaps thought. Just for the avoidance of doubt, I'm not talking all-day riding here, rather rides up to about 4 hours/60 miles. Still need to work on the general fitness before I'll contemplate going much further in one go!

As I am looking at about £20 for a whole tub, I'll maybe pick up a few different individual sachets from my LBS and see how I get on with them, coupled with some solid "proper" food too. The likes of flapjack and dried fruit are perfectly good in my book, and easy to carry in the jersey pocket too.

I'm also intrigued by the thought of making your own energy drink too, doesn't appear particularly difficult, and especially if you're concerned about what's going in the ready-made ones. I do admittedly drink more diet Coke than I probably should do...

posted by parksey [362 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 16:46


For anything over a couple of hours I take a pocket full of fig rolls and jelly babies and drink dilute squash with a bit of salt in it. I find the commercial energy drinks a) too expensive and b) give me industrial levels of flatulence which is amusing for the first 5 minutes but the novelty soon wears off.

For an all day ride I'll strap on the Carradice and take a full-on packed lunch.

posted by keef66 [42 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 17:10



That is all.

posted by ajmarshal1 [402 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 17:38


If you want to diy then myprotein.com and other websites sell bulk powders. You could do a lot worse than adding plain Maltodextrin to weak juice/squash with water. That way you decide on both the strength and flavour.

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posted by Simon E [2414 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 17:39


I use High5 Mojito Energy Source....nice, needs more Rum though. Zipvit bars (good ingredients, very nice taste - all flavours) and a mix of High5 and Zipvit gels/isogels.

I've looked into making some homemade bike food, like rice cakes, flapjack etc. and it's pretty straightforward to do, basically something a bit carby and if you can cram some vitamins and minerals in there too all the better.

bashthebox wrote:
So even if you don't immediately like it, you ought to be eating bars or flapjacks or bananas or even just a sandwich. The pros do.

Agreed. I saw Terpstra have a Banana and a sandwich during a stage once, it automatically made it cool to eat Bananas and sandwiches on the bike. I enjoyed my squashed sandwich the next day.

posted by J90 [256 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 21:25


^ What they all said above... Plus, coming back to your original question:

As far as on-bike energy drinks go (and gels for that matter), I really like High 5.

For the bigger rides over a number of hours, I find High 5 EnergySource 4:1 to be best at keeping up the energy levels which includes a dose of protein in with the carbs.

For shorter rides, or more general training, the regular High 5 EnergySource is good (no protein) or the plus version with caffeine.

But taste/palatability of these drinks vary by person, so YMMV.

[I once discovered I had run out of High 5 gels the day before a race, could not buy any in the local shops, and bought an alternative brand instead. Found them very hard to consume and got stomach cramps mid race. Won't make that mistake again!]

posted by Tjuice [162 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 21:44


Simon E wrote:
If you want to diy then myprotein.com and other websites sell bulk powders. You could do a lot worse than adding plain Maltodextrin to weak juice/squash with water. That way you decide on both the strength and flavour.

Sweetened energy drinks get really sickly quit quickly when you're going hard. Fig rolls are OK but, again, sweet stuff starts to feel sickly. For drinks, I've found that maltodextrin with a High 5 zero (flavourless) electrolyte tab (or two - depending on temperature) and maybe a small splash of squash for flavouring. It tastes foul at the beginning of a ride but like nectar of the gods when you've been on the edge for a couple of hours.

Training is like fighting a gorilla. I've never got around to that either.

posted by SteppenHerring [298 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 23:26


Instead of using stupidly expensive sports gels, just get jelly sweets from your supermarket. E.g. Aldi own brand cola-bottles are stupidly cheap, and the ingredients, sugar and energy content are pretty similar to gels that are 10× the price.

As a general rule, all these "sports" drinks, gels and jellies are pretty much just fairly basic, staple ingredients, remarketed for "Sport!" at massive markups. There are pretty much always cheap alternatives - read the ingredients list and use your head!

posted by Paul J [816 posts]
23rd July 2014 - 23:51

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My advice is to have a strategy and stick to it during your ride. If it doesn't quite work then make small changes on next ride. But, stick to your fluids and feed strategy. If you just react to when you feel thirsty or hungry it could be too late, especially on longer rides, and so later into the ride you could start to get cramp or bonk (the slow trudge home - usually happens with a hill still to climb too!).

I keep my fluid source and energy source separate, as I want my fluid to go fully towards the job of hydration. So my bottles just contain water and electrolyte tabs. On shorter rides, just water and a little fruit juice to taste.

So, an example of my strategy - eg, 120km ride, drink every 6km, feed every 20km (feeds alternate between gel and proper food).

Examples of 'proper food' I take - small banana butties, flapjacks, slices of banana malt-loaf, Mr Kipplings small fruit pies - basically, anything with good carb source from a small amount so it can be easily carried in rear jersey pockets.

Tip, if you're wrapping sticky food (like banana malt-loaf or sweet flapjacks) then scrunch & unscrunch the tinfoil first. That way it doesn't stick much to the food.

posted by daddyELVIS [661 posts]
24th July 2014 - 9:05

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High 5 4:1 - not excessively sweet and I think there's something about the ratio of fructose and other sugars that works, and the protein seems a good idea, especially on longer rides.
From the Torq and SIS stuff I've tried it is all too sugary and I feel my system spike and shut down. But I would try stuff and figure out what works for you.

I don't know if you work out with a HR monitor as that may help you understand what you need. If you are red lining too much you'll eventually burn up your bodies ready sources of energy and so glucose shots are what you need, your intestinal tract will shut down so you won't process complex food like fats and proteins. But if you're working sub-threshold you'll be able to deal with a host of fuels and will be processing your resources far better.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1620 posts]
24th July 2014 - 9:38


let me know your route/s on ride. i can supply you with a list of drinking houses where they are sociable so your not alone. warm pies, hand pumped beers and all believe it or not near a bus stop where you can ride home on the bus, bike in the river and have a good well deserved kip. fred whittam next wed if your free.

remember stay safe, healthy happy, sleep well and be kind to the missus. life will be fantastic.

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posted by Stanley [44 posts]
24th July 2014 - 12:39


Stanley wrote:
let me know your route/s on ride. i can supply you with a list of drinking houses where they are sociable so your not alone. warm pies, hand pumped beers and all believe it or not near a bus stop where you can ride home on the bus, bike in the river and have a good well deserved kip. fred whittam next wed if your free.

remember stay safe, healthy happy, sleep well and be kind to the missus. life will be fantastic.

Laughing . It's mostly around the Hampshire area - New Forest, Test Valley, Meon Valley. In fairness, my routes generally pass a lot of pubs, we're not short of good old-fashioned country pubs round this way, I'm just not inclined to stop at them when I'm out by myself.

Comments I guess are otherwise to be expected, differing opinions on which sports drinks taste/work the best, so will still pick up a few small sachets of each at the weekend and give them a trial, coupled with a pocketful of something like flapjack (I make a pretty mean one myself - so easy to modify it to include a bit more in the way of nutritional content).

Having a small child also means I'm never in short supply of Haribo either...

posted by parksey [362 posts]
24th July 2014 - 13:35


I usually buy whatever's cheapest/on offer when it comes to buying energy drink powder, and if i don't like it i just add some squash (so keep it basic like orange or blackcurrant flavour powder - makes it easier to flavour match) and it works just as well.

Recovery drinks are more important anyway, but that's for a whole different thread Wink

Pffft Gears, who needs them

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posted by JackBuxton [44 posts]
24th July 2014 - 14:45


I've found that for rides that are 2+ hours in length I do best with a mixture of electrolyte fluid and bars otherwise I tend to bonk. Since I live in the US, most of the brands that I have are probably not available in the UK but the general categories should be mirrored across the pond. I switch between Skratch Labs daily electrolyte mix which is mainly water with electrolyte replacement and a small amount of sugar, not chock full or carbs like sports drinks (http://www.skratchlabs.com/products/daily-electrolyte-mix) and plain old Gatorade when I need the extra sugar. I live in a fairly temperate place (18-35C) so I haven't had the need to use their hyper hydration mix (lots of salt meant to be used in situations where you're sweating a lot and can't replace electrolytes). I have had probs with some electrolyte solutions that have too much calcium in them which is apparently not uncommon and why Skratch Labs (called Secret Drink Mix by the guys on the TdF) was created as some of the sponsors' sport drinks were causing the riders to get stomach cramps (Called SDM because apparently the riders would dump out their sponsors' drinks and fill their bottles with SDM). I've actually tried High 5 (got a ton of free samples from PBK) and that one was really hard on my stomach Sick

In terms of refueling on the ride, I find it easier to digest food rather than gels. I usually eat a fruit bar (dried fruit and granola, what you guys call flap jacks?) every hour beyond 2 hours and carry a packet of Pro Bar Bolt energy gummy chews if I really need extra calories. http://shop.theprobar.com/PROBAR-Bolt/c/ProBar@Bolt

+1 on onigiri, it's very easy to digest and mostly painless to eat on the bike. Spam musubi has a great combination of sweet & salty and protein & carbs. Shiozake (salted salmon) musubi is a great alternative if you don't like spam/pork products. https://gekiuma.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/%e5%a1%a9%e9%ae%ad%e3%81%ae%e3%...

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [143 posts]
24th July 2014 - 19:41


Water mixed with orange juice for hydration, fructose and electrolytes.
Fig rolls for sucrose, sucrose and fibre.
Honey in a refillable baby food pouch as a much cheaper gel alternative.

Ice cream, sweets, chocolate Yopp and Soreen at the village shop.

posted by Nick T [906 posts]
24th July 2014 - 21:01


750ml bottle: 3/4 water 1/4 coke (or your own brand of fizzy pop) cheap as chips & does the job.

posted by Cyclist [307 posts]
25th July 2014 - 19:21

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I used to buy big tubs of Lucozade Isotonic powder from Tescos, from what I recall it was cheaper than "proper" sports drinks, but not sure about all those fancy electrolytes and what not. Just plain honest, nice tasting sugary drink, basically what you pick up in the fridge at the service station, but in powdered mix it yourself form (like all those fancy brands that cost 2+ times as much.

posted by dazwan [313 posts]
6th August 2014 - 22:14


Just by way of an update, picked up a small bottle of SiS GO Electrolyte powder, blackcurrant flavour. Sad to say it was almost disgustingly sweet and sickly when made in accordance with the instructions. Ok for maybe the first half-bottle, but after that I really didn't enjoy it.

Also picked up a High 5 "Race Pack" in my local TK Maxx, mix of powders and gels for a comparative bargain at £7.99 (there's about a dozen gels in there alone). The High 5 Energy Source powder tasted good, particularly in citrus flavour, and was miles more palatable over the course of a ride than the SiS GO.

The surprising thing though was that both of them did actually seem to work...

I'm stating the obvious, but from paying attention to fuelling properly, including a rather tasty homemade banana flapjack, I did see an increase in my average pace on a few known routes over the last couple of weeks, particularly on the climbs.

So, plan for now seems to be to stick with an energy powder in the bottle and then try and then look to boost my flapjack recipe for some solid sustenance.

Interestingly, I did see John Torode on The Cycle Show a couple of weeks back making a granola/flapjack thing which he (apparently) eats on the bike. Can't for the life of me find it anywhere online though.

Maybe it's time for a separate "what's your best flapjack recipe?" thread... Laughing

posted by parksey [362 posts]
7th August 2014 - 16:01


Not that you'll be wanting any gels (especially with the high5 box) but did you know Evans currently have a BOGOF on the multipack of IsoGel


That's 50 gels for £25. They aren't the little gels though these are more like a shot of fruit juice with added gunk. Opinions at mixed, but at least they are fairly watery and don't have the consistency of man juice Sick

posted by dazwan [313 posts]
7th August 2014 - 19:20


Those pate des fruits from Decathlon are good value, individually wrapped, lots of flavours. Most corner stores you pass also sell own brand cheap version of red bull, good for a quick fix.

Je vie dans l'espoir constant

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posted by Strathlubnaig [115 posts]
7th August 2014 - 20:14


Aldi have these apple puree-solids + strawberry juice bars that are 15g carbs, 10g sugars per 20g bar. They market them as "Strawberry fruit bars", though they're mostly apple solids with strawberry and pear juice to flavour. These bars have maltodextrin added in - 2nd ingredient - which is a very easily absorbed sugar. Maltodextrin has a higher glycemic index than glucose. They're sold as 5 bars together in a small mostly white box.

I find they're tasty, cheap (well, much cheaper than sports marketed stuff), not disgustingly sweet, have some fibre, and so really good for bringing on bike rides. Only problem is trying to not scoff them all before my bike rides. Wink

posted by Paul J [816 posts]
7th August 2014 - 23:27


enough said

Stanley's picture

posted by Stanley [44 posts]
14th August 2014 - 8:16


I have had some difficulty tolerating high sugar carbs on longer rides, mainly gels. On the prudential I decided to not have gels and only ate oat flapjacks and bananas. My drink stayed the same SiS Go electrolyte with a salt/potassium tablet dropped in. It worked, I didn't suffer later with a bad guts. I had a little cramp mid ride but found I just needed to up my drinking and food intake a little. I will now set about making huge stocks of flapjacks Smile

posted by CXR94Di2 [699 posts]
14th August 2014 - 8:35

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Not hugely experienced in these things but picked up one of the High5 race packs at the RideLondon show for £5. Did the "86" with one bottle made up with Energy Source powder and one bottle of blackcurrant squash, a couple of lumps of homemade flapjack and about eight gels. Almost certainly more carbs than 'necessary', but given the wet I did *not* want to bonk and finished on an absolute flyer. Big Grin

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

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posted by Gizmo_ [1248 posts]
14th August 2014 - 10:19


For the last year Ive been using Elivar products as theyre catered for over 35's, with low index glycaemic sugars so I dont spike so bad with them. Always had issues with other drinks when out on rides & sportives and on a few occasions have had to cut it short due to stomach issues caused by them.

Other than that, I'll mix 50:50 pineapple juice with filtered water and add a sprinkle of salt.

I've made my own rice cakes using short grain/sushi rice and added various flavours such as crushed/chopped nuts (almonds or pistachios), dried fruit, chopped bananas and chunks of dark chocolate [A batch I made a while ago]. Usually make up a large batch (20 - 24 portions) then wrap the individual portions in foil and freeze them, moving a few into the fridge the night before a ride.

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posted by zanf [722 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 14:03


Seeing as I'm just old enough for that Elivar stuff then I might give it a go. Looks like they've got a sample pack for a tenner without committing to a whole tub.

Chocolate and banana flapjack is working out alright for me so far, but I still need to "boost" it somehow. Will head up Holland & Barrett and see what they've got.

posted by parksey [362 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:23


The Elivar protein powder makes a terrible shake. Bad mixability, not a great taste and texture. I am used to premium grade protein though, which most companies don't sell.

posted by J90 [256 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 23:35


Perhaps not Omo Activ & Sport which some poor folk didn't realise was in fact detergent for washing their cycling kit. Oops.


posted by Nat Jas Moe [88 posts]
1st September 2014 - 19:42

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