Friday, April 5, 2013

HEED my warning!

I've tried to get along with Hammer Nutrition's training fuels. I really have.

Biggest gel packaging in the business.

I came into a few bags of their sport drink, HEED and a whole hockey sock full of single-serving gels for free last summer. I decided that it was worth giving them another whack for training purposes, despite having used them in the past with mixed results.

Good on toast - not on the run.

First, the gels. I bought a couple of jugs of the apple cinnamon and raspberry flavours a few years ago because they were cheap and plentiful. The apple cinnamon actually tastes great if you're using it for a pre-workout boost - once you're moving it's a different story. I find it very acidic and far too sweet while running, to the point I couldn't manage to get a second one into me during an 18k run to the pool a few weeks ago; I literally could not stand the thought of trying to choke it down. The raspberry flavour is absolutely vile when not exerting yourself, almost tolerable when running, but very thick and with a very strange consistency that feels almost sandy in the mouth. I've never actually managed to finish the jug of raspberry gel, and have refused to touch the free single-serves I got recently. I think I'd rather bonk.

Good for anything? Maybe weak glue..
I was actually somewhat excited to try the Montana Huckleberry flavour when it came out, and found it ok for the first few times. It wasn't sandy, had a milder sweetness to it, and a sort of generic berry flavour. It was also a bit thinner than the others, but still turns into a semi-solid in sub-freezing temperatures. I can manage to eat two of these over the course of a 19km run, but by the end of the first you notice a chemical aftertaste that only gets stronger with additional exposure. This blogger likened it to trying to choke down children's cough syrup, and that's close enough a description for me.

Sticky salvation?

The only gel that I've really felt like I might actually pay for in the future is the Espresso flavour, which contains 50mg of caffeine per serving. They're not too sweet, have a decent coffee flavour, and one of these will get me through a tough 18-20k run. It is, however, the absolute thickest of the whole lot; particularly in sub-freezing temperatures, the gel emerges from the packet in a blob that feels more like a gummy candy than a viscous liquid. I should probably mention that I tend to eat gels from single-serve packs in little nibbles at a time - it often takes me 15mins to finish a whole packet, during which time I run with it in my hand and roll it up like a tube of toothpaste to get every last bit out. The best way I've found to deal with the espresso gel is to bring a chickpea-sized blob to the top of the packet, bite it off, then let it melt in the side of my mouth and wash it down with a ton of water. The main issue I have with this gel is that it tends to result in unpleasant GI tract-based side effects if I have more than one - something that has never happened with Gu Roctane. I understand that Roctane gels in my preferred flavours (Chocolate Raspberry or, in a pinch, Blueberry Pomegranate) have less caffeine per serving - 35mg instead of Hammer espresso's 50mg - but I've never experienced any GI discomfort from multiple packs of Roctane.

Oh, and if you're looking for the electrolyte content in their gels you can keep on looking; they'd rather you take about eleven thousand of their Endurolyte caplets instead...because everyone knows it's easy to swallow something the size of a bumblebee while running.

Speaking of size, what I mentioned above about the biggest packaging in the whole wide world is absolute truth - there's a reason I used Hammer gels to rate the capacity of various items I've reviewed on this blog.

What I do recommend: EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. Thinner consistency even in the cold, not too sweet, plenty of electrolytes and no GI issues.

GI distress in a bag!

While it's not a product I've used lately, I can't talk about Hammer products and GI distress without mentioning the Perpetuem caffe latte. I trained with this a bit - mostly on the bike - a few years ago. I raced with it once and only once; my ill-fated 2010 attempt at the Muskoka Long Course tri. That entire race was an absolute riot of GI distress, clenched cheeks, horrible odours and an eventual dodge into the woods only to finally find a portajohn about a kilometer later. Thanks to the jerktasticness of Bravenet, the race report is now lost in the electronic ether...which is probably for the best. Suffice to say things started badly and got worse, helped along by the Perpetuem. Would never touch this stuff again.

What I do recommend: Frankly, I don't think there's really a need for a "long course-specific" beverage of this type. I've happily used EFS Liquid Shot for 6+ hour events with no dip in energy unless I get dumb and forget to take in calories.

At least the packaging is environmentally friendly..

Now for the product that really spurred me to write this little rant. HEED is supposed to be a "high energy electrolyte drink", similar to other products that end in -ade. Its job is to provide hydration, carbohydrates and electrolytes while not tasting awful and being easy on the stomach - it fails on nearly every count. I've tried several flavours and have yet to find one that's actually good; the lemon lime is the least awful, but they all have a kind of creamsicle-like milkiness to them that is severely off-putting. Yes, that's coming from someone whose preferred race fuel flavours are chocolate, vanilla and coffee! I received 4 bags of the mandarin orange flavour seen above for free, tried a few times to make it work for me, and promptly gave away the 3 unopened ones. I'm still trying to finish off that first one, just because I'm too cheap to throw it out. I suppose it does provide hydration and some CHO, but the electrolyte profile is frankly piss - they once again intend that you use it with Endurolyte caplets, making them much more money. If you don't like trying to swallow something bullet-sized while under exertion, you can open the Endurolytes and pour them into the bottle with the HEED, where the powder will completely fail to dissolve. Oddly enough, this is also a feature of the HEED itself!

Is it supposed to be chunky?

That photo above? That's 1.5 scoops of mandarin orange HEED in 24oz of water from the cold water faucet at my home, shaken for a solid 30 seconds. Far from exceeding the recommended ratio of powder to liquid, and it's not like I'm using some ultra-chilled water from a glacial mountain stream.

They never replied.

I could live with the clumpiness and the bag's tendency to vomit a massive cloud of powder every time I try to close it. I could live with the lackluster-at-best flavour. However, when the damn stuff doesn't agree with my system, it gets relegated to trainer duty. I can handle exactly 1 bottle with 1.5 scoops in it, equivalent to 150cal - any more than that and I turn into a burpy mess. I have a few servings left in this bag and then I can return to the sport drinks I actually like; I will bloody well dance on this stuff's grave!

What I do recommend: Either EFS drink from First Endurance or, for the cheapskate, eLoad. Both have better flavours, infinitely better electrolyte profiles, no GI issues and they actually dissolve in water! Bonus: eLoad is a Canadian product!

Just say no.

I have also tried Recoverite on a couple of occasions. It tastes terrible (both strawberry and chocolate) and I don't feel I got any recovery benefit from it over a bowl of cereal or a banana with some nut butter. 

What I do recommend: Ultragen from First Endurance. Really expensive, doesn't taste a whole lot better, but actually works.

Bottom line: I applaud Hammer Nutrition for their endeavours to promote education about endurance nutrition and their readiness to sponsor races, but I just can't endorse their products - at best I'll try to tolerate them when they provide on-course nutrition at races and I have no other alternative. 

Sorry Hammer. It's not me - it's you.

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