The Osmo brand is the latest to enter the already-crowded UK sports nutrition market, with a portfolio including this Active Hydration drink for use when racing, training or just riding hard. With an approach that's different from many other brands, it keeps your body hydrated and working efficiently, and also helps combat cramp.
We first reported on Osmo products here on road.cc way back in mid-2013 when Peter Sagan credited the drink for his success in the tours of France and California. Apparently he suffered from cramp in the heat, and Osmo helped overcome it. Of course, he's a professional so he's going to sing the praises of a sponsor's product, but other teams, including Saxo Bank, were spotted quietly using Osmo stuff, and now it gets official endorsement from Alberto Contador.
Away from the pro peloton, for humble Joes like the rest of us, the key questions are: what's in it, and does it work?
By the way, it is the product for Joes under test here. Osmo have different products for male and female athletes, meaning a separate range of drinks for Joannas.
First things first. What's in it? The ingredients list is topped by sucrose and glucose, then something called 'OsmoAct Beverage Base Blend', which is defined as a mix of Sucrose, D-Glucose, Trisodium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Citrate and Calcium Citrate. Other ingredients include citric acid and organic orange or blackberry powder (depending on the flavor of the drink), plus a selection of vitamins.
The packaging on the tub recommends mixing 20g of Active Hydration powder with 500ml of water (pro rata for other amounts). This 20g serving provides 72kcal of energy in the form of 18g of carbohydrate. There's no fat, fibre or protein. The taste is very mild, not sweet or sickly. I'm reminded of heavily diluted Ribena.
Compared to some other brands of energy drink, Osmo's 18g of carb in a standard 500ml bottle is relatively low. (SIS Go Energy drink, for example, provides 47g of carb per 500ml at the recommended level.) But this low level is deliberate: Osmo drinks are formulated on the premise that too much carb in an athlete's liquid is counter-productive and can lead to dehydration, which in turn leads to a drop in performance.
In fact, according to the Osmo website, the carb in the drink is primarily to help hydration, rather than to provide energy per se, so it's important to remember that, as the name suggests, this is a hydration product, rather than an energy product.
The Osmo website goes on to recommend that athletes get most of their energy needs from food, allowing liquid to focus on hydration. There are many scientific studies and papers quoted on the Osmo website to back up this claim. A lot of the studies are conducted by Dr Stacy Sims, who happens to be Osmo's chief research officer and co-founder, but nonetheless it's a very interesting concept that runs counter to the 'stack it high' approach espoused by some other energy drink manufacturers. It's also different from the 'zero carbs' approach taken by most sports hydration products.
Which leads us to question two: Does it work? The answer is yes. I have used this drink on a couple of two-hour training sessions and, despite having less than my usual amount of carb in the bottles, I powered along nicely. For most cyclists on rides under two hours, however, the body can use its already-existing energy stores, so my experience is not conclusive.
On some longer rides of around four to five hours I combined Osmo Active Hydration in two 750ml bottles (30g of powder in each bottle) with some large energy bars to eat in the second half of the ride, and I felt great, cruising around the lumpier bits of Cotswolds at a tidy pace without flagging on the hills or feeling tired towards the end of the ride.
Of course, this isn't a perfect scientific study, but based on my experience I'd say Osmo Active Hydration is definitely worth a try, especially if you find some other energy or hydration drinks too sticky or heavy on the stomach.
And what about the anti-cramping properties cited by Mr Sagan? Osmo Active Hydration certainly contains minerals or electrolytes – sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium – which some studies show replace the electrolytes you lose via sweat and thus help avoid cramp.
Other studies, however, show that you don't need extra electrolytes and that drinking water is enough, while yet more studies show that the electrolytes in the fluid, even if not actually needed, still encourage you to drink and stay hydrated, either for physiological reasons or simply because the taste is nicer than boring old water.
Either way, Osmo Active Hydration seems to have got it right. I occasionally get cramp in my calf muscles when cycling hard, and I did not suffer at all when using this drink. Whether it was the electrolytes, or just that I was drinking the correct amount of liquid along with the appropriate ratio of carb, or just that I was having a good day, I honestly don't know. But if you're prone to cramp, once again on the basis of my experience, I'd say Osmo Active Hydration is definitely worth a try.
On price, a 400g tub of Osmo Active Hydration (ie, 20 standard servings for 500ml bottles) costs around £16 – reduced to nearer £14 at some on-line stores. That works out at 75p a bottle, which ain't cheap compared to some hydration products out there, but for most cyclists, if it helps you go faster or just feel better on the bike, it might be money well spent.
Break-the-mould sports drink to help you stay hydrated, avoid cramp and perform better
road.cc test report
Make and model: Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration
Size tested: Blackberry
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
This is a hydration drink. Although it contains a small amount of carbohydrate, the manufacturer recommends athletes get their energy needs from food, leaving liquid to focus on hydration. The Osmo website says Active Hydration '...brings the benefits of Stacy's hydration science to everyone. Increase Power Output; Improve Endurance; Reduce Cramping. ... developed to maximize the rate of fluid absorption into the body and uses only the highest quality natural ingredients - like organic fruit.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
There's a lot of info on the website, but a key para from the FAQ page is: '...Osmo Active Hydration is optimized to maximize the rate of fluid and electrolyte absorption into the body. The rate of fluid absorption into the body is determined by two things: the combined rates of gastric emptying and intestinal absorption. These responses are directly influenced by the composition of the drink ingested. Of key interest from a formulation standpoint is that too much carbohydrate in a drink will delay gastric emptying. Most powdered drink mixes that people put in their bottles are designed to be a source of significant calories, which results in slow gastric emptying, thus slowing hydration. Our goal is to educate athletes about 'hydration in the bottle, food in the pocket.'
Performance is very good, in that I felt great on both short and long raining rides when using Osmo Active Hydration. Not at all scientific, I know, but based on my experience, other cyclists might like to give this product a try. If it works, stick with it. If it doesn't work for you, try something else.
Value is not good if compared on price alone against other hydration products. A tub of Osmo Active Hydration will fill 20 bottles for around £14. I tube of High5 Zero will do the same for around a fiver. But these products have different formulations, so it's not comparing like-for-like.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall, Osmo Active Hydration performed very well in that I felt great when drinking it on short and long training rides. And I didn't get any cramp. Whether it was the liquid-to-carb mix, or the electrolytes, or just that I was having a good day, I honestly don't know. But based my experience, I'd say Osmo Active Hydration is definitely worth a try.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Mild taste, no stomach discomfort.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd recommend they try it.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
In conclusion, Osmo Active Hydration performed very well. With this stuff in my bottles I seemed to go well and avoid cramp. On that basis it would score a 9. However, the price is high (even if it's a price you're prepared to pay for increased speed or comfort) so that docks a point, giving an overall score of 8.
About the tester
Age: 53 Height: 5ft 10 / 178cm Weight: 11 stone / 70kg
I usually ride: an old Marin Alp, an old steel classic My best bike is: an old Giant Cadex (can you see a theme here?)
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Trail riding and rough-stuff (off road on a road bike)