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Sports Hydration: Why Water Isn't Enough

August 02, 2017

The Story

Nearly ten years ago, Dr. Allen Lim, sports physiologist, and Founder of Skratch Labs, flipped the script on conventional sports drinks. Challenged by complaints from pro cyclists about the taste and blend of sports drinks on the current market, Allen took on the task of creating something better. Much better, in fact. Between the drinks tasting too sweet and failing to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat after a hard workout, “guts would be destroyed and taste buds nuked from flavoring agents that were way too strong, that didn't have a clean finish, and that never tasted natural." In an effort to combat “gut rot” and “flavor fatigue,” Allen worked to develop a sports drink that was not only effective -- it was natural (which meant it tasted really frickin' great).

Sodium

Ultimately, Allen created Sport Hydration Drink Mix that blends electrolytes with simple sugars. Of the electrolytes lost in sweat, sodium is the most critical because it supports the delicate electro-chemical cellular balance key to life and thirst regulation. Effectively replacing lost sodium signals the thirst mechanism to drink only the water lost through exercise without over-drinking and compromising the sodium concentration in blood. When your thirst mechanism works properly, you're better able to maintain your sodium balance and stay properly hydrated. Dehydration can decrease body weight; even a small drop, 2-3%, can impair performance.  

Glucose & Fructose

Next, Allen knew the formula would need simple sugars, glucose and fructose, which fuel the body and help with hydration. “Sugar is critical to performance because it is an incredibly combustible fuel source that can be drawn directly into a contracting muscle for energy without the need for the hormone insulin, which normally pulls glucose into both muscle and fat cells,” Allen explains. Glucose and fructose fast track energy into the body, and when they meet with sodium, they speed hydration. Neat.

Having isolated the trio of components critical for optimal performance, Allen then researched the ratios required for the perfect hydration mix. Beginning by blending 700-800 mg of sodium and 40 grams of sugar per liter of water (about 2 to 3 times the sodium found in conventional sports drinks, which covers between 60-120% of the sodium loss found in the athletes he worked with), Allen's blend represented approximately half, to a quarter, less sugar than conventional sports drinks.

The problem? The taste, or lack thereof. Allen admits, these blends “were not the luxurious glean of an invigorating mountain sweat in the Alps, but the stagnant sweat of a weekend bender while hungover inside a hot plane stuck on the Las Vegas tarmac - a metallic bile without enough sweetness to dull the pain. I needed a way to flavor these solutions or suffer a firm slap in the face from the athletes I was trying to help.” 

The Game Changer? Real Fruit.

Allen teamed up with former pro-cyclist and now Skratch Labs CEO, Ian MacGregor, to enhance the taste of the hydration mix. They didn't want to compromise function for taste, which is how they landed on using real fruit. For the next year, Allen and Ian refined their process and experimented in the kitchen with various fruits to create new flavors and drink recipes like Lemon & Lime, Oranges, and Matcha & Lemon. 

Their careful and consistent efforts continue to yield exciting results and new drink recipes.

Relying on real fruit for flavor proved a real game-changer and introduced new possibilities in the development of sports drinks. “Not just the possibility of eliminating flavor fatigue and gut rot, but the possibility of creating a sports-drink with the right amount, ratio, and type of electrolytes and sugars to enhance performance during physical activity - a drink that wasn’t a compromise between function and taste,” Allen said.

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