Two Slow Release Energy Drinks - Any Good?

Over recent months I've been trying two energy drinks which claim to be different from most out there.

Specifically, these aim to deliver energy more slowly than the typical sugar drinks.  

Why would you want that?  Partly it's to see whether they could compliment regular nutrition during a race, where you're frequently burning more carbohydrate (from sugar) than you're able to take in.

Also it's to help on fasted and low-carb training runs and rides, designed to encourage fat metabolism. This fat-burning isn't to loose weight (although it helps) but to encourage the body to turn to the plentiful layer of fat already carried and use it as a source of fuel.

Let me be clear, I'm absolutely not a scientist.  I can almost hear my chemist friend sniggering at the idea of me writing about this stuff.  I do so purely as a customer.  If the makers of these products feel I've got something wrong, please get in touch and tell me where I'm wrong.  That way we'll all learn.  Thank you.

First to try was Ucan.  This stuff is not a sugar, it's a starch, and I heard about it through the excellent ZenTri Podcast.

From listening to Brett and his Ucan experiments I thought it best to use Ucan before I went to the pool.

I normally do my swims fasted because I can't face food before swimming.  So instead of my coffee I drank 500ml of Ucan, which tasted like a thin, chocolate protein drink (other flavours available).

One packet delivered 31g of carbs, none of them from sugar.

It seemed to work.  I drank it about an hour before the pool and at no time in the swim did I feel tired.  Nor did I get the sugar rush associated with other energy drinks.

It's certainly a great contender for a slow-release energy drink.  You can find out much more about the science at GenerationUcan.com along with all the research into why and how the so-called SuperStarch works.

However, my perception is that it releases energy a little too slowly for my training.  I'd have to drink this quite a while before going out on the bike and wouldn't be too sure when it would work.  Which is probably why I've only used it before pool to gym sessions.  For long endurance events it should provide an additional source of fuel, running in the background behind the regular sugar-based nutrition, but again I haven't tested this.

So now to the Secret Training Stealth Training Mix.

Each week I try to do one run or ride fasted.  I keep the intensity low because the goal is to encourage my body to use my own fat as energy.

The body's glycogen levels (carb store) has been depleted overnight.  When faced with low intensity work, it thinks "hmm, I better hang onto my depleted carbs in case I need them", so it switches to burning fat.

If the intensity rises too high, the body needs to  turn to the on-board carbohydrate after around ninety minutes a bonk will be the result.

Well, that's the theory.

I learnt and wrote a little about fasted training way back in 2012 when I was part of the Science In Sport Winter Academy.

At the time, Tim Lawson was with his original company Science in Sport.  Now he's behind Secret Training.  If you want to read an excellent briefing on the ideas behind low-carb training, take a look at this blog post by Tim.

If I'm tackling a fasted ride, after an hour or so I find I need some additional energy.  That's where Secret Training's Stealth Training Mix seems to help.  It seems to deliver its carbs more quickly than Ucan, giving a little bit of a sugar rush, but then dying back.

As I said, with Ucan I think I'd have to drink before I went out for the ride.  But with the Training Mix I can take it with me and use as and when needed.  It's just like a regular energy drink without the highs and lows.

The Stealth Training Mix is based around a type of sugar called Isomaltulose (trade name Palatinose) which according to the makers, releases its energy much more slowly.

Take a look at the graph alongside which I took from Secret Training's data sheet.  This slow release avoids blood sugar spikes and the associated insulin response.

Incidentally, they say this makes it very useful for athletes who are Type 1 diabetics.

Separately, I read that it's also less welcoming to mouth bacteria than regular sugar, so is less likely to cause tooth decay, something Secret Training don't shout about.  Isomaltulose is a sugar Tim has also used in his Juice Bar about which I've previously written.

I met Tim Lawson, founder of Secret Training, the evening before our induction day with Pearl Izumi and had a long chat.  I think he remembered me from the videos I did as part of the SiS Winter Academy.

Tim explained the idea for the training mix came from a star rider.

"It was (big Spanish name drop here) when he was with Saxo Tinkoff who asked me if I could make a slow release drink for use on their low-carb days", Tim told me.

I like that it comes in a small packet with a sensible clip closure rather than a huge plastic tub.  What's more the Watermelon flavour tastes quite nice and makes a change to the usual varieties.

Secret Training make a unique energy gel to compliment this drink on low-carb days - Keto Gel.  However, I discovered there can be side effects.  Unwelcome side effects.  I'll write about this soon.

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