How I hydrate: Top products to quench your thirst
Whether he's tackling sweltering 100-milers in the midwest or early-season cyclocross Logan VonBokel, has found his favorite drink mixes
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The brands offering electrolyte drink mixes might have you thinking that hydration is a precise science. They use long words that you probably don’t understand — at least I have to look most of them up. But in reality, hydration is much more simple. In the real world, what we pour into our bodies revolves around a few things: what are we craving, and what tastes good, or in the case of many electrolyte mixes, what can we stomach. Luckily, there is a growing number of tasty and portable options available. Here is my go-to selection and how I use them.
Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration — $24.00 for 8 servings
$3.00 per serving
Skratch Labs launched its Hyper Hydration mix about a year ago. I first tried it during the PeopleForBikes Ride on Chicago, where I was logging about 100 miles a day, four days in a row, in the heat and humidity of midwestern summer. I would drink only one bottle of hyper throughout the day, while drinking about a dozen bottles of normal Skratch Labs Exercise mix.
The Hyper mix is not for average exercise, and it’s certainly not for sitting on the couch and sipping. Where I found Hyper to be most useful was not while on the bike, but before a hot race or intense training ride. It’s not the easiest drinking mix, though I had no trouble getting it down. Other tasters did not accept it as quickly, and drinking it while on the bike might be hard for some.
Hyper is packed with sodium. Packed. A single serving of Hyper has 1,700mg of sodium and 80mg of potassium. Comparatively, Skratch Labs Exercise mix has 180mg of sodium. In the real world, a serving of Lay’s Salt and Vinegar chips, which is about 28 chips according to Lay’s, has about 220mg of sodium. If you’re the kind of rider to finish a hot ride or race with salt crusted on your face and jersey, Hyper is for you.
Early in the fall, when cyclocross races are hot, and sweating is a given, I’ll drink a bottle of Hyper in the hour ahead of the race. Give it a try in training first. Yes, comparatively, it’s quite expensive, but this is a tool for intense training and racing, not just another electrolyte mix.
Best For: Before extraordinarily hot training rides and summer races
Like: Individual packets are great for carrying to races
Dislike: High price
Osmo Active Hydration for Men — $20 for 40 servings
$0.50 per serving
As far as application goes, the Osmo Active Hydration is one of the simpler products that I use. It has no caffeine, normal levels of electrolytes, and is easy to drink. It’s a product that I use on most rides, regardless of length or temperature. Even on really hot days, Osmo is still easy to digest, unlike more sugary electrolyte mixes.
The ingredients list is a bit daunting, as there appears to be just about everything imaginable in this stuff. I’m also not a fan of the size of the serving scoop. For the average 21oz bottle, Osmo calls for 2.5 scoops. I don’t like trying to think about what a half-scoop looks like compared to a quarter of a scoop — and yes these are things I think about. I would guess that Osmo’s scoop is smaller as a result of the smaller canister, so I am thankful that the canister doesn’t take up an inordinate amount of space. It’s small enough to throw it in a duffel bag on trips. I just wish a single scoop did the trick. Two and a half just seems arbitrary.
When VeloNews first tried Osmo a couple of years ago, the flavor was its biggest shortcoming, and while at that time, the Active mix was the easiest to drink, I’ve found that the latest iteration is even better tasting. Or perhaps I’ve just grown to like it.
Best for: Any day, regardless of temperature
Like: Easy drinking, travel-friendly canister, available in a women’s version
Dislike: Ingredients list is a bit daunting
Nuun Active Hydration — $24 for 48 servings
$0.50 per serving
Nuun Active Hydration is the easiest electrolyte drink to travel with. The 12-tablet canisters — there are four canisters in a pack — take up about the same amount of space as a bottle of ibuprofen. The taste is great, and it is not crazy expensive. There is always a bottle of Kona Kola Active Hydration in my backpack.
Nuun Active Hydration comes in a plethora of flavors, though my favorite is Kona Cola. For anyone who likes a nice flat Coke during a ride for its sugar and caffeine, this is the ticket. Most of the other Active Hydration flavors are caffeine-free, though the Kona Kola and Lemon Tea flavors carry 40mg of caffeine.
This is quite a bit more caffeine than the Skratch Labs Hydration Mix with Matcha and Lemons, which only has about 16mg. I like to use it during short efforts on hot days, like a criterium.
For day-to-day riding, Nuun hydration is tasty and easy to drop in to a bottle. Just be careful when you pop the top on your bottle the first time, that dissolving tablet tends to build some back-pressure in your bottle. It can scare you.
Best for: Traveling and on the go
Like: Plethora of flavors. Kona Kola is excellent
Dislike: When dropped into a 24oz bottle, the mixture tastes watered down
Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix — $19.50 for 20 servings
About $1 per serving
I’ve been using Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix for a long time, but I’d always wished for a flavor that included some caffeine, as not every morning ride starts from the coffee shop. Skratch has answered that call with its Matcha and Lemons flavor.
The Matcha and Lemons flavor is infused with caffeine from green tea, referred to as matcha in this application. Matcha is a finely-ground green tea — left unground it is referred to as a gyokuro green tea. In this case, you consume the matcha tea whole, as it’s ground and directly added to the electrolyte mix. Making it, unlike normal tea, able to be mixed and consumed via a sports drink.
Now there isn’t a ton of caffeine per serving, only about 16mg, and compared to a cup of coffee that has about 100mg of caffeine, it’s almost insignificant. However, if you’re consuming multiple bottles on a hot day, be careful not to overload your body with caffeine.
So, why do I end up choosing Skratch Hydration with Matcha and Lemons over anything else? I really like the taste. Not to mention, there’s research out there about the health benefits of green tea, and in the case of matcha, you’re pouring that green tea powder directly into your body. The ingredients list is shorter than the Osmo Active Hydration’s list and much less intimidating — it makes me more comfortable knowing what I’m pouring into my body.
That said, if I know a ride will be starting at a coffee shop, I’ll probably go with the Osmo Active Hydration, as I won’t need to add more caffeine on top of my macchiato.
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix’s container is a bit of a pain to deal with. The zip-lock idea works fine, but I’m hesitant to travel with it, as I’m afraid I won’t get it shut completely and end up with green drink powder all over my bag. Skratch does offer single servings, like its Hyper Mix, and they also make a glass jar, but it’s heavy and pricey. I have an old Gatorade powder container that I keep my Skratch labs powder in. It’s not as secure at the Osmo container or as classy as the glass Skratch container, but it gets the job done and Skratch’s single scoop per serving recipe is easy to remember.
Best for: Lovers of green tea and those who want a little caffeine in their mix
Like: The flavor and short ingredients list
Dislike: More expensive and powder container is not easy to travel with
If I had to go with a single mix, it would be the Nuun Kona Kola or the Skratch Labs Matcha and Lemons, as I am caffeine addict. Others might completely hate the green tea flavor that I love, and might enjoy the Osmo blackberry — though I do prefer their orange flavor.
These are my favorite mixes, and I’ve tried plenty, but it’s all about what your body craves. Satisfying that craving will be the best fuel for your rides.