As a continuation of our previous post: A Few of My Favorite Things: Pre-Ride Edition we will now cover a few of my favorite things during a ride. I have used a lot of different products over the years, but with the market for such things so saturated and overwhelming, I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything that is out there and available. It is nice to have the variety but it can also be a bit overwhelming. I invite you to reach out and let me know some of your personal favorites as I am always open to trying new things.
1st Endurance EFS (Electrolyte Fuel System). Long gone are the days that the only choice is which flavor of Gatorade you want. There are so many drink mixes out there it is hard to sort through them all. My personal favorite these days is 1st Endurance EFS. I am partial to either the orange or the lemon lime flavor. What do I like about this particular mix? The flavor is pleasant but no too overwhelming or sweet, and it has the highest concentration of electrolytes that I have been able to find. I sweat a lot when riding, and as I have mentioned previously, I sometimes have problems with cramping during particularly long, hot, or strenuous rides or races. In fact, cramping has frequently been a big limiting factor for me. I have tried electrolyte capsules to supplement my hydration, and other things (see below) but it remains an ongoing battle for me. With the high electrolyte content of EFS, though, I feel like there no need for additional supplementation. And if I can minimize the amount of things I need to put into my system during a race, that is better. A bit of the technical specs: It provides over 1,000mg of all five electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium) as well as clinical doses of the amino acids glutamine, leucine, iso-leucine, and valine to provide glycogen re-synthesis and delayed onset of fatigue. It also contains three different high glycemic carbohydrate sources that provide both a quick burst of energy as well as improved endurance. It also contains no artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, or added sugar.
Hotshot and/or Extra Strength Pickle Juice Shot. Have I mentioned that I sweat a lot? And cramp too? One of the challenges in the search for the magic elixir against cramping is that the true cause of muscle cramping is not completely understood. Hopefully science will soon figure out the true cause of cramps (which is most likely multi-factorial anyway) but until then, I have leaned towards the “shotgun” approach, hoping that something I use is helping. I jumped onboard to be a beta tester a few years ago when Hotshot first came out (then called “It’s the Nerve”). The theory behind their formulation is that muscle cramps and soreness start when nerves become hyper-excited and send out repetitive, uncontrolled signals to fatigued muscles. It is a blend of ginger, cinnamon, and capsaicin that works by stimulating sensory neurons in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach to prevent neurons from misfiring, which sends a calming signal to the spinal cord, interrupts the hyper-active cycle, and reduces/eliminates muscle cramps and soreness. I struggle with this product mostly because it is so spicy that it gives me hiccups. I can tolerate it before a ride or event, but not during. Furthermore, I cannot say whether or not it actually does anything for me. I do know that I have used it and still cramped. Does that mean I would have cramped earlier or more if I hadn’t used it? Hard to say. In a placebo-controlled study, it was shown to reduce cramping by over 50%. The sample size of the study was 31 athletes, which is not a huge number, but enough for the findings to be statistically significant. Therefore, even though I am not a fan of the taste, I still do reach for it on occasion.
The other product that I use on occasion for a similar purpose is Extra Strength Pickle Juice Shot. This product is based on studies that have shown standard pickle brine to effectively prevent and treat cramps. The formulation is very high in electrolytes but the theory about its actual benefit at stopping cramps is also related to effects it might have on the nerves. I will say that I find this product to be significantly more palatable than Hotshot, especially during a ride.
Holding true to my shotgun method of fighting cramps, I generally will reach for a Hotshot 15-30 minutes prior to a race or ride, and then bring along a 2.5oz bottle of Extra Strength Pickle Juice Shot to use along the way if I start to cramp. Does any of this actually work? It is still a work in progress for me but I keep trying it and figuring out the best protocol for myself. I know this write-up does not exactly come off as a ringing endorsement for either of these products but if you have problems with cramping, either or both of them are definitely worth a try. Oh yeah, and it also would be a good idea to train more and stay hydrated along the way.
Enduro Bites. Similar to drink mixes, the market is truly flooded with performance bars and I have only tried a fraction of them. New science comes out regularly – or at least new ideas and statements about the perfect balance of carbs vs. proteins, etc. So many bars have their merits, I am sure, but I have settled on Enduro Bites as the bar that is most effective for me. They taste pretty good – not fantastic but definitely palatable. They come in two pre-cut 100-calorie servings per package. They are also all-natural and are free of gluten, dairy, soy protein, peanuts, tree nuts, and GMO ingredients, are nutritionally concentrated and small enough that a few of them can fit easily into a jersey pocket, and they are strategically packaged so that they are easy to access and also easy to portion appropriately. Not only that, but they are pretty easy to handle, shove an entire portion in your mouth at once so your hands can get back onto your bars as quickly as possible, and they are relatively easy to chew and swallow even while huffing and puffing from an ongoing effort. Based on common recommendations to take in 120-180 calories per hour during exercise, all I have to remember is to eat half of a bar (one pre-cut segment) every 30-45 minutes during a long ride or race. They come in six flavors and I actually like them all – which one I grab at any given time just depends on my mood. Most are caffeine free but if I need an extra boost, I reach for the Dark Chocolate Espresso flavor, which does contain a relatively modest amount (20-25mg) of naturally-occurring caffeine.
GU Energy Gels. I don’t often use gels when riding, generally preferring solid nutrition. However, I often bring one with me during long training rides or races – mostly as insurance against bonking. If I feel myself fading fast, this is what I like to reach for and as often as not, it is effective at pulling me out. And when it doesn’t, it is usually because I was simply too far gone. I tend to reach for Gu Gel more often than others, though I have no good reason why. I do like the flavors, the packaging is easy to open, and they have two types of carbohydrates – one for fast onset and one for longer duration. I tend to reach for the vanilla flavor but that is probably because I’m pretty boring. There are a lot of other flavors to choose from too, if you are more exciting than I am (and you probably are…).
Muc Off CC Chamois Cream. See my previous post about Pre-Ride Favorites for a more complete write-up on this essential product. I don’t tend to bring a tub of chamois cream along on rides with me (though there have been a few times that I wish I had), but I have certainly re-applied during long trainer sessions and during a quick pit-stop during long endurance races. When needed, it can be a life- (or at least an event-) saver.
Trent Newcomer is a veterinarian and the franchise owner of Velofix Colorado, a mobile bike shop operation that serves the Front Range, from Fort Collins to the entire Denver metro area. Book a bike service appointment and have them roll up to your home or business at velofix.com