What tastes great and works well for one person is a stomach ache for another - here's how to find what works best for you
Which sports drink is the best? There is no right answer. Just individual preferences. What tastes great and works well for one person is a stomach ache in the making for another. So what do you do? Test, test, and test some more until you find the right concoction for you and your performance needs.
And to get you started, we've put together some tips that will help you down that path of discovery.
Follow protocol: If you have the available time, it's best to spread out test sessions by about a week. Also make sure to try to do the exact same things leading up to each test ride. That means eating the same food, getting the same amount of sleep, and following the same pre-hydration routine. You'll also want to do each test at the same time of day.
Finally, make sure you match calorie consumption. So if one drink is a food-in-a-bottle product and the next is hydration only, you'll need to compensate for that difference by eating blocks, gels, or whatever else will fit in your jersey pocket. (Just make sure you have pre-tested the food and know that it won't upset your stomach.)
Do a repeatable effort: When it comes time for your test ride, whether it's a hill climb or flat time trial effort, make sure you ride the same course each time. During the test, record key metrics such as heart rate and power output, as well as more subjective measures such as how your stomach and legs felt. Then analyse that information when making the final call.
Trust your gut: The number-one thing a hydration product should not do is make you feel like crap. But as any experienced cyclist will tell you, there are products out there that just don't pass the test. If you wouldn't be comfortable using a product while hanging out at the house all day, chances are slim that it will work while you're out on a long bike ride.
Exercise can be stressful on your gastrointestinal system. If a drink product turns your stomach into knots when you're not under the stress of exercise, it is unlikely that same product will make you feel good during your next century ride or criterium race.
The day after: In addition to documenting your day-of test session metrics, keep track of how recovery goes. Did you suffer from any post-ride stomach discomfort? Did you sleep well? These are factors that should be tallied up when making a final judgment on how well a product works for you.
Check the scale: Weigh yourself before and after each ride. When a product works well for you, it typically means you drank more and thus didn't lose as much weight through fluid loss. This is an extremely valuable metric because it indicates an improvement in hydration (or decrease in dehydration), which will almost certainly lead to an improvement in performance.