Nike’s Breaking2 project has been all the talk the past couple of weeks. Nike set out to accomplish the audacious goal of lowering the current record marathon time of 2:02:57 to sub 2:00:00. They selected three elite athletes and a diverse group of experts amongst different fields in an attempt to achieve this goal. Because of the tactics used in this race, it wasn’t a world record attempt, but rather a test of the human limit (Nike also probably wanted to sell a few shoes). While the 2-hour barrier was not broken, Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge ran a spectacular time of 2:00:25.
Even the world’s best marathon runners take nutrition seriously. In fact, a fuelling plan for the breaking2 project was one of the top priorities in trying to achieve this goal. Our muscles store carbohydrates as glycogen, which is then used as fuel for exercise. However, the amount of glycogen that our muscles can store is limited. While it depends on various factors such as an athlete’s size or exercise intensity, we can store enough glycogen to fuel about 90 minutes of continuous exercise. When these muscle glycogen stores become depleted, it results in the unpleasant experience of hitting the wall. When this happens, pace drastically reduces. This is most often experienced by marathon runners around the 30-35 km. Muscle glycogen depletion happens to even top-level athletes, so an outside source of carbohydrate, such as gels, chews or sport drinks, is essential for racing success. In the breaking2 project, the athletes got their carbohydrates from sports drinks. Each athlete used a customized commercial sports drink tailored to his unique needs.
Kipchoge apparently used a new sports drink made by a Swedish company called Maurten. This sports drinks encapsulates the carbohydrates in a hydrogel, which is suppose to enhance the absorption of the carbohydrates. Maurten claims that this hydrogel “enables a smooth transportation from the stomach to the intestine where the water, salt and carbohydrates are absorbed.” Kipchoge isn’t the first elite to use this drink. Maurten’s website claims numerous elite athletes such as Wilson Kipsang during his course record in the 2017 Tokyo Marathon and Geoffrey Kirui when he won the 2017 Boston marathon used this drink.
Kipchoge claims to have used the Drink Mix 320 from Maurten. What is so shocking about this sports drink is that it has a carbohydrate concentration of 14%. In comparison, Gatorade has about a 6% carbohydrate concentration while Coca Cola has about a 12% carbohydrate concentration. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, it’s not recommended to consume drinks during exercise which exceed a carbohydrate concentration of 8%. This is because high concentrations of sugars can results in GI distress such as cramps or diarrhea. However, Maurten claims that by encapsulating the carbohydrates, it prevents this from happening. As a result, a higher carbohydrate concentration can then be consumed. This is huge from a performance perspective because the more carbohydrates that you can absorb, the more fuel for your muscles and the better you’ll perform.
This drink by Maurten of course comes with a high price tag. A box of 14 sachets that you add to water is about $70 dollars. In addition, there is hardly, if any, concrete research on this drink. According to their website, Maurten is hoping to have their first peer-reviewed paper published in 2017.
While you might not have access to a group of experts to create a customized sports drink, I think that we can still learn a lot from these athletes. If the best marathon runners in the world take fuelling seriously, then why should we try to get away with not properly fuelling? If you want to achieve a best time and test your personal limits, then making a race day fuelling plan is essential for performance. With all the time and energy you devote to training, don’t let something as easily avoidable as depleted glycogen stop you from achieving your racing goals.
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