You sick of spending a fortune on sports drinks? Do you like some sports drink brands but wish they’d get rid of the more exotic items on their ingredients lists? Do you wish there was a simple sports drink containing just carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes? Have you ever wondered why you pay so much for sports drinks when the essential ingredients are widely available commodities? Do you want steak knives with that?
A few years ago when I was getting more serious about my cycling and mountain bike racing, more frequently I answered a resounding YES to all of these questions. Being a bit of a nerd, I thought I’d try to formulate my own home-brew sports drink taking elements of various products that I liked as inspiration. I wanted an all-in-one drink to sustain me in marathon and 24hr MTB races. Part of my motivation came from struggling with solid foods after about 10 hours of hard riding. Hours of eating bars and sandwiches would leave me feeling bloated and nauseous. I thought a predominantly liquid diet would be easier on my stomach. The liquid-diet options, for the most part, seemed to contain at least one crazy ingredient to justify their high prices. I really didn't want “slippery elm bark” in my sports drink, just carbs, protein and electrolytes please!
I won’t bore you with the details but studies have shown that certain types of carbohydrate in certain ratios are better absorbed by the body than others during heavy exertion. The Torq brand takes this into consideration in the formulation of their bars. They opt for a 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose ratio. This seems to be a ratio that works well for me so I stole it for use in my home-brew cycling mix.
I also like to consume some protein in longer events. I don’t think it’s necessary for performance, but I have a theory that it reduces the mental fogginess I experience after hours of hard riding. Anyway, there is evidence that certain ratios of carbohydrate to protein promote muscle recovery more than others. I figure that after enough time in the saddle the body uses every opportunity it can to recover. Ratios from 2:1 to 4:1 (carbohydrate to protein) have been used in recovery formulations, but during endurance events consuming carbohydrates is critical, so for my home-brew I like to go with a 4:1 ratio.
So there we have it. For carbs I go with a 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose ratio and a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Putting this together results in an 8:4:3 (maltodextrin : fructose : protein) ratio. Lots of numbers, I know…but what do they mean?
There’s a lot of debate in the literature about how much carbohydrate you can absorb during a serious cycling session. I find that the commonly used 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour works for me. When I’m in good shape, I weigh around 76 kg. That means I’ll shoot for 75 – 80 grams of carbs every hour during the longer events. With my home-brew mix, I try to get 60g of carbohydrates in a single 700 mL bidon. To get the right ratio of carbs and protein I’ll use 40g of maltodextrin, 20g of fructose and 15g of protein in a single bidon and mix it up with water. That’s 75g of mixed up powder all up. Check the numbers. You’ll see this works out to be the right ratio.
With 60g of carbs in a single bidon, if I drink one per hour I only need another 15 – 20g of carbs per hour. I often find I don’t finish a whole bidon every hour, so I try to get 20 – 25g of carbs from solid food every hour. This works out to be about half a bar or one gel. If I need to wake myself up, I’ll be sure to have a caffeinated gel. These work well late a race, but be careful not to overdo it if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
Back to the home-brew mix… I don’t mix the bidons up individually. I like to mix up big batches of my home-brew powder in old sports drink containers. The bigger the better! Just mix up the ingredients in the right proportions (just use some kitchen scales) and give it a good shake. Use an old scoop from a previous sports drink mix purchase and weigh the amount it holds - I use an old scoop that dishes up about 75g of powder in three scoopfuls. That way you’ll have a big batch of home-brew mix and a measuring scoop ready to go.
You should be able to buy basic commodity maltodextrin, fructose and protein (I like to use a soy protein) powders by the kilogram in health-food or sports nutrition stores. You’ll find them much cheaper than the glossy, big brand sports drink powders. There’s a final ingredient in the home-brew mix that I haven’t mentioned yet – electrolytes. Again there are studies that show the benefits of magnesium in delaying the onset of muscle cramps during exercise. So apart from the basics, sodium and potassium, I make sure there’s some magnesium in my home-brew mix.
I find the easiest way to get the right electrolytes into the home-brew mix is to drop in an electrolyte tablet. I like to use the neutral flavoured Zero product (made by High5. I’m not supported by High5 in any way, but it works perfectly in the home-brew mix. Why? It contains minimal carbohydrates (we’ve got them sorted with the powders), no artificial flavours / sweeteners (I really hate these – some give me serious stomach issues) and all the essential electrolytes (including magnesium). There are plenty of artificially sweetened electrolyte tablets out there, but they don’t work for me – aside from the stomach issues I get with artificial sweeteners, the finished mix tastes way too sweet for my liking, especially with fructose in the mix (it’s sweeter than table sugar). I really would love to get the electrolytes from table salt and a bit of orange juice (for potassium), but I haven’t found a good, dense source of magnesium to use. So for now I’ll just keep using the neutral Zero tablets.
In some ways, the formulation of the home brew is like hand building yourself a nice carbon wheelset, you have hub choices, rim options and spoke variations to help you achieve optimal riding performance. So in your liquid mix, you can leave out the electrolytes in some bottles if the weather is cooler or dose it up in hot conditions. If you find the mix too sweet, just reduce the fructose content a bit. If you don’t like the grittiness of the protein, leave it out altogether! Simple! Experiment with the mix a little until you find something that works.
Now I’ll admit to having a spreadsheet that works out how much of each ingredient I’ll need to make up enough home-brew mix for any number of bidons. I’ll also admit to this spreadsheet taking the carbohydrate and protein content of the raw powders into consideration (for example 100g of my maltodextrin powder contains only 94g of carbohydrate). But that really is starting to get a little too nerdy for this post, so I’ll leave it there!
Contact us or post to our facebook page about your version of the home-brew. Will you admit to it?
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