Nutrition products. We all use them, but how much do we really know about them? How well do we understand what we’re putting into our bodies? Should I take 3 gels, 2 sports drinks and a bar? Just water?
Important questions given the myriad of sports nutrition products available on the market.
Recently, Tri Madness sat down with Robert Kunz, VP of Science and Technology for First Endurance, to ask some of these questions, and more.
This week’s version of “Ten Questions With…” is all about nutrition…
TM: What originally compelled you to become involved in the sports nutrition industry? What’s your background?
RK: I’ve been an athlete since I was six years old. Through high school and college I swam competitively and always loved both the camaraderie of teams and the competition. Competing in sports was my way of life and I did not know any different. It was not until I graduated from University of Delaware and entered the ‘real world’ which included a suit and tie, 8-5 job in downtown Baltimore that I realized that something was not quite right. 15 months later, I walked out of my job and made a clear path towards that career in sports even though I did not yet know what exactly that would be. I pursued my Masters degree in Exercise Physiology/Sports Nutrition from Old Dominion University while working as an assistant coach for the swim team. It was during Graduate School that I competed in my first Ironman and realized I wanted to make a living in sports. Following Graduate School I opted for a quick vacation in Salt Lake City and fell in love with the outdoor recreation that was available at my finger tips. I was fortunate enough to land a position at Weider Nutrition formulating body-building supplements. My passion for sports nutrition showed and I was quickly promoted to director of formulations. It was here, while at Weider Nutrition that I realized there was a gap in the industry. I competed locally in bike races and triathlons and was constantly hounded by friends and competitors for the body-building supplements made by Weider. I found it odd that these athletes were willing to pay more for body-building supplements than simply buy the endurance supplements on the shelves. It was the technology and advancements in nutrients that Weider was building into their products that was the attraction and those advancements were simply not available in endurance supplements. So, born was First Endurance with innovative nutrient technologies that were more advanced than other products.
TM: The number of electrolyte drinks, gels, recovery aids, nutrition bars on the market can be overwhelming for many athletes. What should the average athlete know in order to effectively sort through the chaff to find the best product for them?
RK: Of greatest importance is to simplify the plan and not get too complex. Its water, electrolytes and carbohydrates that are necessary. All other nutrients are NOT necessary but may or may-not offer an additional benefit. IF the products you try have these three components in them, and you like them, and they work for you, then there is no need to go further. Use these products in your training and don’t make changes on race day. Let your fitness get you to the finish and allow you to accomplish your goals.
TM: First Endurance markets a broad suite of tools – from MultiV (a multivitamin) to EFS drink, Liquid Shot, and Bar, Optygen HP, Pre-Race and Ultragen. To what extent are the products optimized to be used in conjunction with each other?
RK: This is a great question and a key benefit to First Endurance that many don’t realize. Each of the products can work on their own, but truly we developed a system that has numerous synergies built in. The goal was to build a complete and comprehensive system that was simple and easy to use and that delivered EVERYTHING an athlete needs to train and race. We encourage those athletes who demand a high level of training and are seeking that elusive goal to use the entire system of products as directed.
Example of Synergy: Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that is required at high levels for those athletes who train very hard and are exposed to a lot of oxidative stress. For vitamin C to be effective (because its water soluble) its best to ingest throughout the day. The more you train the more you need. Athletes who train say, 15-20 hours a week should consider upwards of 1.5 to 2.0 grams per day to keep the immune system healthy.
MultiV has 400mg, Ultragen 400mg and EFS 120mg.
So on a light training day or OFF day, you consume your MultiV and get 400mg. On a heavy training day you may have six servings of EFS, one serving of Ultragen and your MultiV which would deliver 1,520mg of vitamin c. This is an appropriate dose for a heavy training day. A dose that will reduce upper respiratory infections due to the heavy stress of training. This is just one of the synergies built into the First Endurance products.
TM: Most electrolyte beverages provide carbohydrates and some amount of electrolytes (usually sodium) – but the type and amount of those carbs and electrolytes can vary greatly. EFS drink provides a higher concentration of electrolytes than most products on the market. How do these higher levels of Magnesium, Potassium & Calcium benefit athletes?
RK: The issue with nutrient research is that many companies rely on a single study or a single concept to sell their product where in reality its best to look at ALL the research and then postulate what it all means and how best to formulate a product. The majority of the research certainly focuses on sodium, but this is not all-inclusive. There is plenty of evidence clearly identifying the importance of using all five electrolytes. Basic human physiology clearly shows that for a cell to breathe (meaning for a cell to let nutrients in AND out) it requires a balance of all five electrolytes as some are negative ions and others are positive. Its with imbalance in electrolytes that muscular contractions, cellular breathing and inefficiencies happen. So, in reading ALL of the research on electrolytes we have come to a clear conclusion that A) athletes need more electrolytes than what most products provide and B) a balance of all five electrolytes is key. Magnesium and Calcium especially play a critical role in signal conduction and muscular contraction. Throw these off balance by consuming too much sodium or by not replacing what is lost and your muscles tell you about it.
TM: EFS Liquid Shot is far more palatable than most of the gels on the market because it’s a liquid and not a sticky, thick “glop”. Was the concept of Liquid Shot as a liquid intended to offset the texture & consistency of products on the market, or does the fact that it’s a liquid allow for faster absorption of nutrients (or both)?
RK: All First Endurance products and EVERY ingredients that goes into the First Endurance products goes through a rigorous and complete literature evaluation. We review all the research on each nutrient before it goes in to assure there is no issues for endurance athletes. Gels become gels by adding thickeners usually found as cellulose, xanthan or arabic gums. Some products may not even list these claiming they or processing aids (this is legal per the FDA regulations). Its obvious when a gel has thickening agents simply because its thick. We researched these thickening agents and found quite a bit of evidence showing they slow down gastric emptying, meaning, they get stuck in the gut. This is the last thing you want from your energy food.
First and foremost we left it out because of the research. Secondly because having a more viscous product worked better. We took it a step further and offered out EFS liquid shot in a re-usable container that also had the flexibility to make the product even more viscous. If you want a full-on liquid simply fill the Flask up to 200 or 300 calories and top it off with more water.
TM: EFS Drink and Liquid Shot utilize Branch Chain Amino Acids and glutamine to provide protein. Why not just use Whey protein?
RK: Protein is a much larger molecule and much harder to absorb. Free form amino acids offer all the same benefit yet they are small molecules and they get absorbed much easier and much faster.
A key concept of fueling is that your goal is to spare (hold on to) your stored glycogen. If you consume anything that is slow to absorb (fiber, gelling agents, proteins, fats) then your body must use your stored glycogen while it waits for that slow nutrient to be absorbed. Your ‘while exercising’ fuel should be exclusively made up of ingredients that are FAST absorbing so they can go right to the working muscle and fuel that muscle. Getting stuck in your gut while its trying to be absorbed is step one in gastric distress, cramping and bonking.
TM: So many athletes have gastric problems during long-course races. How does EFS help to limit that?
RK: Its designed to be absorbed super, super fast so it gets used as fuel. It also has an electrolyte profile that is second to none. We formulated EFS with three high glycemic carbohydrate sources which is key to its performance. Maltodextrin, sucrose and glucose are all high glycemic, meaning they get absorbed fast. Because they are different carbohydrates they also get absorbed in different channels of the digestive system which greatly improves the performance of the mix. All three carbohydrates can get absorbed concurrently in their respective channels. Nothing in EFS will get stuck in your gut.
TM: How does Optygen HP work to improve the body’s ability to reduce lactic acid and increase aerobic threshold? How does long-term use of Optygen HP maximize the benefits associated with the product (versus short term usage)?
RK: These physiological improvements are secondary functions of Optygen’s true benefit. Its primary benefit is it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is chronically elevated, which is common among hard training athletes, performance and recovery suffer. Modulating cortisol allows athletes to recover better, improve VO2, improve lactate threshold and ultimately improve performance. OptygenHP also has a key ingredient that targets lactic acid directly (not through the cortisol mechanism). Beta-Alanine increases carnosine levels in the blood. Interestingly enough several studies have proved that consuming carnosine directly does not increase carnosine. Carnosine’s role is to synthesize lactic acid back into fuel to be re-used to fuel exercise. So, when you increase carnosine (via Beta-Alanine supplementation) you improve lactate threshold. The research shows that this takes about 28 days of supplementation before a significant improvement is found.
Improvements in all these physiological systems long-term allow an athlete to systematically improve their own physiology and become faster athletes with more endurance. Its through months of great training that you become a better athlete. OptygenHP simply allows you to get through all that training without going into an overtraining state, so you consistently improve over many months.
TM: Is there any value in including caffeine in an endurance athlete’s exercise nutrition?
RK: Yes, using caffeine during a workout gives you an ability to go harder on that workout. We all know that improvements happen when you recover from a hard stimulus. If you go harder on a workout, you will require more time to recover from it. Our PreRace product which has caffeine is recommended only once or twice per week for those hard, intense workouts. You can go harder and your body adapts to that hard state, but you also have to manage your recovery from that hard workout. If you manage this appropriately, you can certainly benefit from caffeine or a complete formulated product like PreRace.
TM: You recently announced a new flavor of Liquid Shot. Any additional new flavors on the horizon (maybe Cappuccino)?
RK: Yes, maybe Cappuccino, maybe Lemon, maybe mocha.
TM: (bonus question) My favorite recovery drink is an Ultragen Smoothie – where I essentially mix up a serving or two (depending upon the duration of my workout) of Ultragen and then toss it in the blender with some ice. I see it as a super-fast way to cool down, yet still get the benefits of Ultragen. Please tell me that I’m not reducing the benefits by turning it into a smoothie!
RK: The way you are doing it, no. Some others throw fruit, or ice-cream or milk or other calories in the mix. Understand that Ultragen must be absorbed during that critical thirty minute window to maximize its effectiveness. If you throw in any nutrients that slow its absorption, you limit its effectiveness. Its best to use with only water or water and ice.
Visit First Endurance’s website at http://www.firstendurance.com/