by Steve Born
Sports drinks have been around a long, long time and for a lot of athletes and active people they’re more convenient than energy gels. Unfortunately, even after all these years, most sports drinks haven’t really evolved. Most of them still aren’t much more than artificially colored & flavored sugar water, doing nearly nothing for you performance-wise and even less for you health-wise.
That’s precisely why we designed HEED, and ever since its introduction, it’s not just been well received, it’s been hailed as a breakthrough in the world of sports drinks! Seriously, if you prefer using a sports drink over an energy gel, HEED is your healthy alternative, rising above the liquid junk food constantly peddled to athletes like you. With HEED, you get a product designed for relatively shorter exercise (two hours and under), but one that’s formulated just like the endurance fuels in our line (Sustained Energy and Perpetuem)… quality fuel designed to give you consistent, long-lasting energy.
The “not included” things that make HEED different than the rest
Before we discuss what’s in HEED that makes it different from the glut of sports drinks flooding the market, let’s look at what it doesn’t contain, which is of equal importance and worth mentioning:
- No simple sugars – You won’t find any of the “ose” type sugars—glucose, sucrose, fructose—in HEED. As with all of the Hammer Nutrition fuels, we use complex carbohydrates with no added refined sugars. One of the primary reasons is because the use of simple sugars in an energy fuel not only severely limits the amount of calories that can be efficiently digested and utilized for energy, it may cause wild fluctuations in energy levels, the “flash and crash” type of energy you want to avoid at all costs.
- No artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners – There are no general health benefits to be derived from consumption of this junk (but plenty of potential negative effects), so it’s guaranteed that there aren’t any athletic performance enhancing benefits to be garnered either. Put another way, as a health conscious individual, you try your best to avoid consuming foods with these artificial ingredients in them because you know that they have no benefits for you health-wise. Why deviate from that healthy choice when it comes to what you put in your body during exercise?Bottom line: Avoid artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, in your daily diet and your exercise fuels.
Complex carbohydrates – The ONLY kind you want to fuel your body
It would have been easy to make a “just like all the others” sports drink but we couldn’t and wouldn’t do it, simply because it wouldn’t benefit you. No, instead of resorting to making a copycat product—one that, as mentioned earlier, would be little more than artificially colored and flavored sugar water—we designed a sports drink that would match the quality of our other fuels. This means no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners and, most importantly, NO ADDED SIMPLE SUGARS. Here’s why this is so important…
Both simple sugars and complex carbohydrates are absorbed at equal rates IF the solution concentration is within body fluid osmolality parameters (280-300 mOsm). Simple sugars meet this criteria and are effectively emptied from gastric channels only when they are mixed in 6-8% concentrations; any more concentrated than that and digestion will be delayed or halted. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as the maltodextrins we use in HEED and our other fuels, match body fluid osmolality even when mixed in concentrations as high as 18%. This presents a distinct advantage because your body is able to digest, and thus convert to energy, a greater volume of calories from complex carbohydrates than it can from simple sugars.
Now, some “experts” disregard osmolality but we do not believe its importance can be overstated. The reason being (quoting/paraphrasing Dr. Bill Misner), “when osmolality goes above 300 or below 280 mOsm, the gut must pull minerals and fluids out of the serum circulates to mediate a narrow 280-300 mOsm range for immediate calorie absorption.” That’s why, when athletes make a “double strength” batch of a simple sugar-based drink in the hopes of obtaining the calories their body requires, they most often have problems such as gastric stress, bloating, flatulence, vomiting, and muscle cramps. The reason this happens is simply because the mix is substantially higher than the 6-8% concentration limitation and the body is forced to divert electrolytes and fluids to the gut in order to lower the osmolality of this too-highly concentrated sugar mix.
An interesting thing to note is that while a simple sugar like glucose has a high glycemic index (GI) rating of 100, the maltodextrins we use in our fuels has an even higher GI rating of approximately 130. This means that complex carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels similarly, even more effectively than simple sugars, but without the rapid and precipitous drop that is a common (and non-beneficial) effect of simple sugar fuels.
Bottom line: The complex carbohydrates in HEED provide the rapid energy you want. Additionally, they allow you to obtain the maximum amount of calories you need, providing more consistent and longer lasting energy without putting you at risk for stomach distress, a common problem associated with simple sugars.
Complex carbohydrates only or a combination of carbohydrate sources: Which is better for the endurance athlete?
Findings from research conducted by the Dutch sport scientist Asker Jeukendrup has caused quite a stir. In fact, a few companies now produce sports fuels that contain the carbohydrate formulations used in the studies. In general, Jeukendrup found that a blend of carbohydrates increased oxidation rates, indicating higher energy production. In one study, cyclists who ingested a 2:1 mixture of maltodextrin to fructose oxidized carbohydrate up to 1.5 grams/minute. Another study used a mixture of glucose, fructose, and sucrose and had rates that peaked at 1.7 g/min. Both those results are pretty eye opening, considering that complex carbohydrates typically oxidize at a rate of about 1.0 g/min.
However, there’s more to the results than what first meets the eye. Most of Jeukendrup’s subjects cycled at low intensity, only 50-55% maximum power output, which I think we’d all agree is very much a recovery pace, if that.
To be blunt, at a leisurely 50% VO2 Max pace, athletes can digest cheeseburgers and pizza with no gastric issues. However, if the heart rate and core temperature are raised to only 70% VO2 Max, the body must divert core accumulated heat from central to peripheral. This reduces the blood volume available to absorb ingested carbohydrates or whatever the athlete has consumed. After two decades of experience, we have found that in the overwhelming majority of the athletes we’ve worked with—athletes engaged in typical 75-85% efforts and/or in multi-hour endurance events—the combination of simple sugars and long chain carbohydrates, and in amounts higher than approximately 1.0 – 1.1 grams per minute (roughly 4.0 – 4.6 calories per minute), have not yielded positive results. They did, however, increase performance-inhibiting, stomach-related maladies.
Lowell Greib, MSc ND, explains that gastric emptying is a key limiting step in carbohydrate metabolism: “If your stomach can’t empty the product (no matter what it is) you are going to get nothing from it except a huge gut ache and possibly lots of vomiting! Unless there is new research that I am unaware of, gastric emptying is directly proportional to the osmolality of the solution in the stomach. Long chain carbohydrate (maltodextrin) contributes less to increasing the osmolality than do disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, maltose, etc.).”
Augmenting Greib’s statements, Dr. Bill Misner writes, “Absorption rate and how fast the liver can ‘kick it out’ are limiting factors. No matter what you eat, how much or how little, the body provides glucose to the bloodstream at a rate of about 1 gram/minute. Putting more calories in than can generate energy taxes gastric venues, electrolyte stores, and fluid levels.”
Bottom Line: Unless you plan to limit your rate of intensity, both during training and in races, to 50-55% of max, this research is of no value to you. Stick with complex carbohydrate fuels and we guarantee you’ll enjoy better results.
What makes HEED unique
One of the first things people notice when trying HEED for the first time is that it is significantly less sweet than the typical sports drink. We did this intentionally because the overwhelming majority of the athletes we talked to told us that they were sick and tired of trying to choke down an overly sweet and syrupy tasting drink. The secret to how we’re able to make a drink that’s short on overt sweetness but not deprived of calories is in the sweeteners we use – Xylitol and Stevia. Neither of these nutrients generates much at all in the way of calories and they’re not intended to; that’s what the complex carbohydrate maltodextrins we use in HEED are for. On the other hand, maltodextrins contribute almost nothing in regards to sweetness, especially compared to simple sugars such as sucrose or fructose. So while we did want to lightly sweeten the product, we didn’t want to rely on simple sugars (for reasons mentioned earlier) or, even worse, artificial sweeteners to accomplish that. Instead, we chose these two undeniably healthier alternatives.
The healthy sweeteners
- Xylitol – If there’s such a thing as a perfect sweetener, xylitol is at or near the top of the list. Xylitol is a natural substance that can be found in a variety of fibrous fruits and vegetables. It is also known as birch sugar, primarily because it is usually extracted/produced from birch trees (though it can also be extracted/produced from corn cobs). The human body naturally produces over 15 grams of xylitol every day by way of normal metabolic processes. Xylitol is used as a sweetener in HEED; however it is not a major caloric donor. It produces by weight over 7% of the product, but donates only 4.76% of its calories. Additionally, xylitol contains fewer calories than other carbohydrates – 2.4 calories per gram or 40% less than other carbohydrates.Xylitol’s most unique aspect, however, is in regards to its beneficial effects on oral health. Xylitol is non-fermentable and therefore cannot be converted to acids by oral bacteria, thus it helps to restore a proper alkaline/acid balance in the mouth. This alkaline environment is inhospitable to all the destructive bacteria and, in fact, studies using xylitol have shown dramatic reductions in tooth decay. That’s why you’ll find this unique sweetener in gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash, and it’s one of the reasons why we include it in HEED.
- Stevia – Another ideal natural sweetener is the extract (steviosides) from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to subtropical and tropical South America and Central America. Stevia’s most obvious and notable characteristic is its sweet taste, considered to be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, which means that minimal amounts are necessary to sweeten a product. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of stevia is that it has no calories and does not affect blood sugar levels. Stevia has been thoroughly tested around the world and found to be non-toxic. It has also been consumed safely in massive quantities (thousands of tons annually) for the past twenty years. Research indicates that stevia is safe for diabetics, and effectively regulates blood sugar in people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. It is also purported that stevia tends to lower elevated blood pressure while not affecting people with normal blood pressure. Lastly, like xylitol, stevia inhibits the growth and reproduction of oral bacteria.Bottom Line: For several reasons, including maintaining and potentially even improving oral health, Xylitol and Stevia are undeniably healthier alternatives than the simple sugars and/or artificial sweeteners contained in most sports drinks.
More beneficial features
If all we did was use complex carbohydrates and two healthy sweeteners, that alone would make HEED a better choice than the artificially flavored/colored/sweetened and simple sugar-filled sports drinks currently flooding the market. But there are three other features about HEED that are definitely worth noting:
- A full spectrum electrolyte profile. Unlike many sports drinks, which contain only some salt and potassium, HEED also provides a complete and easily assimilated electrolyte profile (sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium). For some athletes, one or two scoops of HEED will completely fulfill electrolyte requirements (in addition to caloric requirements). For other athletes, the electrolyte profile in HEED will provide an excellent base to which additional Endurolytes can be added to completely satisfy electrolyte needs.
- Chromium polynicotinate – Chromium may be a trace micronutrient, but its effects on athletic performance cannot be overstated. Considered by many experts to be the “master nutrient” for controlling blood sugar (which means stable blood glucose levels during exercise), chromium also plays a vital role in energy production and the synthesis of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids. We use Chromemate™ brand chromium polynicotinate, the natural, niacin-bound form of dietary chromium, for its superior absorption rate over other forms of chromium such as chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
- L-carnosine – Last, but definitely not least, is l-carnosine. Also known simply as carnosine, it is a naturally occurring dipeptide of the amino acids l-alanine and l-histidine. Excess lactic acid accumulation during prolonged or intense exercise creates numerous undesirable effects including premature fatigue, reduced circulation, and increased muscle soreness & inflammation. Carnosine has been shown to effectively buffer lactate buildup in muscle structures so it is a powerful ally against excess lactic acid. Simply put, adequate carnosine stores are associated with an increase in physical performance, especially during anaerobic performance demand.But that’s only half of the carnosine story. Carnosine is also highly regarded as an antioxidant, with multiple free radical scavenging capabilities. In addition, carnosine exhibits powerful antiglycation benefits. A simple definition of glycation is the undesirable cross-linking of proteins and sugars to form nonfunctioning structures in the body. Glycation is cited as an underlying cause of age-related problems including neurologic (brain), vascular (circulatory), and ocular (eye) disorders. Carnosine has been shown to help prevent glycation so when you drink carnosine-enhanced HEED you receive that great benefit, along with its antioxidant and acid buffering benefits.Bottom line: In addition to everything HEED already provides, it contains these important and beneficial features as well, components that are most likely missing in other sports drinks.
Sports drinks can be a convenient way to fulfill energy requirements during shorter-duration exercise. However, you need to be cognizant that what you put in your body determines the quality of energy you’ll get from it. The oft used saying “garbage in, garbage out” absolutely applies to exercise nutrition so if you’re serious about enhancing your exercise performance (not to mention your overall health), don’t put anything in your body that’s not going to benefit you.
HEED contains none of the refined simple sugars that most sports drinks are loaded with, nor does it contain any artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, which your body can’t use nor wants to deal with. What HEED does contain are nutrients that will positively influence the quality of your workouts and races. Additionally, some of the nutrients in HEED have benefits for overall health. Lastly, HEED’s taste is a pleasant departure from the syrupy sweetness that is the norm for most other sports drinks. All flavors of HEED—Lemon Lime, Mandarin Orange, and our newest additions Subtle Berry and Mild Melon—are subtle and easy on the palate, even when mixed in more calorie-dense concentrations. And if you don’t want any flavor at all, you’ll want to give the Unflavored version of HEED a try; it’s virtually taste-free!
You don’t need to sacrifice convenience for quality! HEED is a unique alternative in the world of sports drinks and it’s ready to serve you. As with all our fuels, we guarantee you’ll love HEED or you get your money back, simple as that.