Increasing competitive pressure in elite sports means increasing effort is spent chasing extra gains in every way possible. Weight savings and aerodynamics have dominated somewhat but savvy athletes also resort to ‘fuelling’ their performance. The sleekly styled Maurten performance nutrition brand are promoting the scientific approach to nutrition and energy loading, while I feel a stage victory in a grand tour could be a little beyond my reach, I am putting some of their products to the test on Bicycles Network Australia.
One of road cyclings’ favourite riders, Tom Dumoulin discovered during the crucial Stage 16 in the 2017 Giro d’Italia that too much of the wrong fuel can be as disastrous as not enough! For the same race, Team Sky later released dietary data for Chris Froome which was detailed to the gram and was intended to explain the supernatural cycling abilities. Maurten believe that with their patent pending ‘sports fuel’, they have found a way to fuel to the body’s limit without side effects. For Dumoulin it could have saved the stage and for Team Sky / Team INEOS… nutrition is probably not the issue.
Nutrition and sport
For review on BNA, the Swedish nutrition-tech brand Maurten provided some drink mixes and gels. Maurten have adopted the Henry Ford approach with the choice of flavours – you can have any flavour you like as long as it’s the ‘no added flavour’ Gel 100 or the ‘new black’ version with has 10mg of caffeine but is otherwise identical. The two Drink Mixes, the 160 and 320 are likewise ‘flavourless’
Drink Mix 160 – $3.95 individual (40 grams) or $71 for 18 servings ($3.95 ea)
Drink Mix 320 – $5.95 individual (80 grams) or $83 for 14servings ($5.93 ea)
Gel 100 – $4.95 individual (40g) or $60 for 12 servings ($5 ea)
The numbers beside each product refer to the number of calories contained in each serve. Simple really… The Drink mixes are sold in single serve sachets that are designed to be mixed with 500ml of water, whilst the jelly-like gels are the familiar ‘rip & consume’ style item.
The bonus of the sachets (Drink Mix 160/320) is the advantage is that the energy benefit is provided over a longer timeframe (such as during a climb), whilst the Gel100 is an ‘instant’ consumption item. This means that the Drink Mix is not to be confused with an electrolyte tab / sachet… rather it is about energy. The calorific value on the label of each of the products makes it easy to select the best product for your ride/effort profile.
What’s the secret sauce?
Up to now, there isn’t much indication that this brand are any different to competitors such as SIS, TORQ, Clif GU or High 5. But what is missing from the Maurten’s Gels or Drink Mixes, in the positive sense, is a long list of ingredients. Less can be refreshingly more in an age of food-science where it can be hard to know what you are actually consuming.
The following overview shows the ingredient list of popular energy gels and while the Maurten is flavourless, as a reference point the orange / citrus flavour for the other brands was used for the ingredient comparison.
Energy Gel Ingredients Comparison
Maurten Gel 100
Water, Glucose, Fructose, Calcium Carbonate, Gluconic acid, Sodium Alginate.
GU Mandarin Orange
Maltodextrin, Water, Fructose, Leucine, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavor, Calcium Carbonate, Valine, Sea Salt, Green Tea (Leaf) Extract (Contains Caffeine), Gellan Gum, Isoleucine, Sunflower Oil, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Oleoresin Paprika (Natural Colour).
Clif Shot Energy Gel Citrus
Organic maltodextrin, organic evaporated cane juice, water, coffee extract, natural flavor, green tea extract, sea salt, potassium citrate.
SiS GO Isotonic Gel Orange
Water, Maltodextrin (from Maize), Natural Flavouring, Gelling Agents (Gellan Gum, Xanthan Gum), Acidity Regulators (Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate), Preservatives (Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate), Sweetener (Acesulfame K), Sodium Chloride, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid), Colour (Beta-Carotene).
TORQ Gel Orange
Maltodextrin (Glucose Polymers 43%), Water, Fructose (21%), Citric Acid, Electrolytes (Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Lactate, Magnesium Carbonate), Natural Flavor (0.2%), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate).
HIGH5 Energy Gel Orange
Glucose Syrup, Water, Maltodextrin, Fruit Juice Concentrate (Orange 2%, Lemon, Blood Orange), Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrates), Sodium Chloride, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoote), Natural Flavouring.
The ingredients of the Maurten Gel are Water, Glucose, Fructose, Calcium carbonate, Gluconic acid and Sodium Alginate. The first three need no explanation… water and sugars but the other three sound a bit sciencey… maybe a bit scary… let’s have a look.
Calcium carbonate is an antacid, which is primarily used to neutralise stomach acidity and I’d suggest that this would be a key factor in reducing Gastro Intestinal (GI) upsets (much like the Quick Eze tablets or Gaviscon to prevent ‘heartburn’). It’s also used as a food firming agent which provides ‘stability’ to the product during production, which then allows it to retain its ‘shape’ better.
The Gluconic Acid, a naturally occurring substance in honey, fruit and wine, is derived from glucose and the primarily purpose is to control the pH level in the food – maintaining the acidity or alkalinity of the substance. Again, its use is probably much like the Calcium Carbonate to maintain a relatively mild balance and reduce the potential for GI issues.
And finally there is Maurten’s master ingredient, Sodium Alginate. This is used to encapsulate the carbohydrates to allow the ingestion of more carbohydrates whilst allowing a slower release to prevent indigestion or other Gastro-intestinal (GI) issues. And this is precisely to prevent situations as experienced by Tom Dumoulin on the lower slopes of Passo dello Stelvio in the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
Sodium Alginate is a gelling agent derived from Brown Algae and Maurten believe that this ingredient is the key to achieving a more sustained energy release. Most seasoned riders will have had the experience of taking an energy gel while riding and getting a short boost but then losing energy fast and feeling worse on the other side. When the glucose and fructose is encapsulated in the sodium alginate and slows the release and absorption in the stomach, this also reduces the side effects of a sudden large carbohydrate dose. At the same time, the level of fuel is still provided for the intense exercise.
The Drink Mixes from Maurten also contain Fructose as well as the master ingredient, Sodium alginate but use Maltodextrin, Pectin and Sodium chloride for a total of five ingredients.
Shock and Outrage – The Competitors Disagree
SIS (Science in Sport) don’t agree… and conducted and published their own comparison test.
“The addition of sodium alginate to a dual source CHO sports drink offers no performance benefit“Competitor SIS (Science In Sport) test of Maurten Drink Mix 320
Furthermore, SIS claim, “The inclusion of sodium alginate may compromise digestion and absorption”. For nutrition nerds it is worthwhile looking at the Muarten test by SIS but keep in mind that the competition conducted the test to their own standards and have an interest in promoting their own products. It is telling that the SIS conclusion suggested that with the SIS Beta, the Maurten Drink Mix and a placebo, there were no significant athletic time differences.
Everyday riders faced with contrasting ‘facts’ have the luxury of choosing what to believe whereas elite athletes (who have the freedom to choose the best brand of nutrition) are face with a much harder task. The plausible solution if you want to test is to establish a level playing field (all of your other metrics) and then test to see which works best for you.
The following table outlines that ‘specs’ to help athletes plan ahead and because it is fairly simple, people with allergies or who have sensitive digestion and tastebuds that rebel against some of the artificial tasting gels are more likely to find compatibility with Maurten.
|Drink Mix 160
|Drink Mix 320
|Gel 100 Caf 100 (w 10mg Caffiene)
|Clif Energy Gel Shot
What’s the flavour, Kenneth?
If you didn’t get this musical reference to 90’s band R.E.M. don’t fret, but we have to talk about ‘No Flavour’ because it becomes an important detail after a gruelling 100 kilometre ride when you still have 60 kilometres left and feel like you will throw up if you force feed yourself.
After trialling the Drink Mix 320 & 160 and a couple of the Gel 100’s, I can attest that there is almost no flavour. It usually isn’t aspirational for food to be flavourless though this is the intention of Maurten. But there is still a mild hint of taste which I would describe as flat lemonade with a hint of saltiness.
With regard to the ‘texture’ of the Gel 100, it is fuss free and easy to consume. The consistency is of a slightly gelatinous jelly mix but it doesn’t clog the mouth and is easy to swallow without needing mouthfuls of water to wash down or dilute lingering artificial flavours. Some energy gels such as SIS have a watery consistency and the Maurten Gell 100 differs.
In the Mix with Maurten
When mixing the Drink Mix 320/160 – follow the instructions. Don’t do what I did the first time and fill the bottle with too much water. Oops should have read the instructions. A supplied drink bottle from Maurten has a marker to indicate the correct water level which will help you avoid the dreaded overflow plus means that the dosage is consistent.
I noticed that when the Drink Mix powder is added, the water became cloudy (like a watery version of wallpaper paste). Thankfully, this didn’t make it taste weird. It was almost the same as plain water except for that slight mouth-feel that reminds you it is not just water.
Time to trial and reap the benefits
To test the Maurten products, I planned two ride scenarios. The first was a shorter ride of 65km including a 6.5km climb up Beechmont Rd on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It’s a ride I’ve done plenty of times before, so have an idea of how I perform. The distance to the start of the climb is approximately 15km with some climbing and I took Gel 100 at the base of the climb. While ascending I consistently sipped at the Drink Mix 160 in the water bottle.
It is far from a a huge climb (6.5km, 318m ascent @ 5%), but for a ‘mature’ rider with decent humidity, it can be a slog. I don’t feel I had great post-winter form but managed a PB up the climb by a mere 11 seconds. My heart rate was a little lower (164 v 170 bpm) and average power was about the same (264 v. 266 Watts). I didn’t notice any of then until after the ride when I check my stats, what I did notice is that I arrived at the summit feeling fresh and with ‘good legs’. Regular sipping while climbing worked well and is far easier than having a gel or bar.
Could I have taken a gel instead and let the magical Sodium Alginate work its slow-release? Patience grasshopper… you have much to learn.
A few days later, the next test was a 106km ride over Mt Tomewin and Terranora Rd before heading back along the coast. This time, I took the Gel 100 shortly before Mt Tomewin (a 9.2km climb that averages 3.3%, but with some steep pitches and a few downhill sections) and sipped the Drink Mix 320 over the climb and along the valley before reaching the coast.
The last time I did this tour, the final climb had me grovelling up it in the lowest gear I had. That is not to say it isn’t hard but I feel I could put in a solid effort through the 6-7% stretches. With the benefit of a slight tailwind for the last 40 kilometres I conquered the ride feeling better this time.
Whether either result was based purely on the Maurten’s Gels and Drink Mix or a dose of mental willpower is hard to say. But if performance is the end result, then everyone is a winner.
What I can say with confidence is that the gel and and drink mix are pleasantly consumable and didn’t create any gastric issues. The drink mix’s is easy to prepare however I found the Gel’s left a bit of sticky residue on the hands as the top of the pack didn’t rip off cleanly, it isn’t easy as some other brands to consume without some of it escaping.
Maurten’s products in Australia are well placed in specialist running retailers which is also a clue as there is an establish connection with this brand and long distance running. Eliud Kipchoge, the world record holder at 2:01:39 for the Marathon (and unofficial sub 2-hour marathon), is one of the many stars using Maurtens. So how does that translate to the cycling environment – for all intents and purposes, it should be no different.
For the elite cyclists, the potential advantage is reduced gastric issues while maintaining the required carbohydrate load. For the average rider like myself with less competitive stress, the benefits may be less dramatic.
But for the average rider, these are sport nutrition products which sit at the upper end of the price spectrum. The gels are serious investment in ‘sports fuel’ over those normally found in supermarkets and specialist stores which can be 40-50% cheaper. The drink mix is not an electrolyte style drink so doesn’t compete with tabs. For the handful of energy sachets for consumption during sport, the Maurten drink mix costs a little more, but is not too far off.
For me, there is a lot of appeal of the Drink Mix sachet because dosing sustenance during a climb or longer effort is much easier and less stickier than eating on the fly and trying to chew, swallow and breathe at the same time. For riders who are a bit sensitive and prone to Gastro-Intestinal issues or who want to try a new (non) flavour, it is worth testing.
The clear nutritional data and minimalism in the ingredients make it easier for competitive cyclists to plan for training and competition but these still need to be tested to ensure they suits your individual requirements.
More Info and Purchasing: maurten.com.au