Sports nutrition expert's advice: Sample the sweat and don't skip the stomach

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Allen Lim, PhD, developed many of his sports nutrition formulation concepts while working with the Garmin Sharp pro cycling team on the Tour de France.
Allen Lim, PhD, developed many of his sports nutrition formulation concepts while working with the Garmin Sharp pro cycling team on the Tour de France.

Related tags: Sports nutrition, Nutrition, Digestion

Exercise physiologist Allen Lim, PhD, the founder of sports nutrition brand Skratch Labs, learned what works to fuel athletes in the crucible of one of the most challenging endurance events the world has to offer—the Tour de France.  What he took away from that experience was the notion that rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s best to work with the body’s natural processes.

Lim gained prominence for his work with the Garmin pro cycling team, advising them on nutrition and feeding them his own rice-based concoctions.  Real food, digested just as you would if you at home, provides the best results and is the most palatable, he discovered.  He developed a way of wrapping in foil his seasoned sticky rice balls, which included surprising ingredients like bacon, so that they could be popped into a jersey pocket and eaten while riding in a 28-mph peloton.

“Real food just works better than the really dry energy bars that are on the market,” ​Lim told NutraIngredients-USA. 

The experience led Lim to conclude that much of the engineering of sports nutrition products, turning them into bars, balls or chews or, at the extreme end, pastes referred to as “goos,” was misplaced.  Rather than try to force as much energy into the blood stream as rapidly as possible, it’s possible to achieve better—and more natural—results by working with the body’s existing system, he said.

“One of the things the sports nutrition industry has made a mistake on is they think you have to take the stomach out of the process. The stomach is actually a pretty smart system. It acts as a reservoir of food that trickles into the small intestine.  If you dump too many calories all at once into the small intestine, you actually start to pull water out of the blood steam,”​ Lim said

Engineering has its place

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Which brings us to hydration, where carefully formulated, prepared products do have a key role.  Lim didn’t like what he saw with the hydration drinks that were on the market when he stared to work with Garmin.

“I never set out to start a sports nutrition brand,”​ he said.  But the existing drinks had too much of the wrong type of sugar and not enough sodium to really do their job, in his opinion.

“So many of the packaged products simply didn’t work.  I started to much stuff from scratch for the guys. It was all those experiences that started to slowly creep into what became Skratch Labs,”​ he said.

For his hydration beverage, meant to be used during exercise, Lim said he used the composition of the small intestine and of sweat as starting points.

“We use less sugar than other sports drinks.  We used four grams of sugar for 100 grams, where as most sports drinks have six to eight grams.  And we use a very specific ratio of glucose to fructose in our drink that matches the ratio of glucose and fructose transporters in the small intestine,”​ he said.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 9.19.28 AM

“We probably have about 60% more sodium in our product than other what sports drink manufacturers use. Sodium combined with glucose can transport water out of the small intestine, using what’s called the sodium-glucose channel. Water normally moves more slowly through the process of osmosis,”​ Lim said.

“The sodium concentration is designed to meet the average concentration of sodium in sweat.  The other brands are not actually measuring how much salt people lose in their sweat,”​ he said.

The resulting drink is not meant as a casual beverage.  While competitor Gatorade certainly shows sweating athletes in its marketing, it is also certainly aware (and probably quite happy) that it has become a casual beverage as well, having replaced soft drinks in many scenarios.

Lim’s company offers a daily hydration mix for those occasions, and also formulates a rescue hydration mix for people coping with diarrhea that leads to rapid and potentially dangerous dehydration, and an ‘extreme’ hydration mix with much higher sodium for long distance events in hot weather.  Skratch Labs, which is based in Boulder, CO, also offers a fruit drop product and a cookie mix.

“Our philosophy is to use minimum number of ingredients to make the product work. For the fruit drops we just use tapioca syrup, sugar, pectin and some freeze dried fruit,”​ he said.

For all of his storied experience, Lim said his work on the pro cycling tour was really a long symposium in common sense.

“When I worked on the pro cycling tour really I was a glorified home economics instructor. I was just trying to teach the athletes how to take better care of themselves. These athletes are already freaks of nature, but if they don’t take good care of themselves all the sports nutrition products in the world won’t make them perform to their best,​” he said.

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1 comment

This is a very good drink.

Posted by Timothy Monk,

I am an avid cyclist, triathlete etc. and also work in the industry. I discovered Scratch and have never gone back. It is probably the simplest form you can take and mixes really well. Everyone is different, but if you train in heavy heat (I am in TX), Scratch is a bit different and worth a try. Great article.

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