Product Review: DRINK maple

I don’t write many food and beverage reviews on my site, but if I run across something new or unique that might appeal to my audience, I don’t hesitate.  I recently got a case of maple water from the folks over at DRINK maple and thought I would give it a try and share my thoughts.  Maple water is not necessarily a new thing, but with the recent success of coconut water, the opportunity seems ripe for similar water alternatives.

I am primarily a water guy.  I will occasionally pick up a sports drink to mix it up, but water is my bread and butter (especially during and after physical activity).  While water serves the purpose for me on most days, sometimes I like to mix it up with something with a bit more flavor along with some added nutrients to aide the replenishment process.  I am not a huge fan of coconut water, mostly because of the taste, so I decided to take this opportunity to give maple water a try.  Let’s get into my thoughts!

Taste

I was most curious about this.  DRINK maple is very clear that their product is straight from the tree.  With that being said, I didn’t know if it would have an overly sappy taste or texture.  These were my preconceived notions, but honestly, having never tried maple water before I didn’t know what to expect.  All in all, I was pleasantly surprised.  What I liked most about it was that it had a very clean taste, similar to that of spring water.  In addition, it had a slight sugary taste with a hint of maple, but wasn’t overbearing at all.  It was just enough to provide me with the different taste that I was looking for without being over the top.

 

Pros

  • Organic and all natural.  This will resonate with a good number of people.  Many athletes are being extra sensitive these days about what we put into our bodies.  With trust and transparency also being an issue with many nutrition companies, people are looking toward more natural sources.  If you look at the side of the bottle, the DRINK maple product has one ingredient, Organic Maple Water…you can’t get more natural than that.
  • More than water.  Maple water is rich in many nutrients and electrolytes, primarily Potassium and Manganese.  We all know the benefits of potassium as an electrolyte to promote proper muscle performance (the reason so many of us eat bananas by the case).  Manganese is one that most people may not be as familiar with, but it contributes to healthy bone and connective tissue development.  It is hard to argue that both of these are super beneficial to runners and athletes.
  • DRINK maple as a company is in it more much more than money.  If you look at the side of their bottle, each bottle sold supplies 200 gallons of clean water to people in developing nations.  This is a product that you can make you feel good not just physically, but socially too.
  • Half the sugar of its main competing product, coconut water (more if you consider that many coconut water brands have started adding flavoring too), and tastes better too in my humble opinion.

Cons

  • It can be pricy at a cost of about $3 for a 12 oz. bottle, so that means this isn’t going to be for everyone.  With that being said, I think it all comes down to a matter of personal priorities.  The production process of extracting directly from a tree is both seasonal and costly, but if your priorities are to get your nutrients and hydration through natural sources and from a company that is socially responsible, then the cost is much more justifiable.
  • For those that are buying this as a way of being natural may be bothered that it comes in a plastic bottle (although recyclable).  Luckily, they have an 8 oz. size that comes in a paper carton, which is my preference.  Hopefully, they will package in a larger carton size in the future.

Who Should Try It?

Like I mentioned earlier, maple water may not be for everyone.  I would say that there are a number of people that may want to give it a try.  If you drink coconut water because you aren’t aware of alternatives, but can’t stand the taste, then you should try this.  If you are more like me and drink mostly water, but want an alternative option that is full of nutrients and electrolytes without added sugar and chemicals, you should also give it a try.  You also don’t have to drink it all day every day, so if you are a bit cash strapped, I think you can still gain benefits from having one or two a week.  In any case, I have become mildly addicted to it and think it is worth a try!

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Nutrition Review: Tailwind Endurance Fuel

One of the biggest struggles I have had as an ultra runner is caloric intake.  As I get further into a race, I just have a hard time forcing myself to eat.  While I don’t mind gels, I do have an upper limit to those (and similar products) before they too start causing stomach issues.  After hearing positive feedback from several other runners, I decided to try and give Tailwind a try.

Product Description

Tailwind’s tagline is “All you need, all day.  Really.”  They market their product as a complete replacement for gels, chews, and other foods.  In other words, Tailwind can act as your sole source of nutrition for all of your endurance endeavors.  Some of the key features of the products include:

  • Organic, making it easier and more natural for your body.
  • Easy to absorb by containing nutrients that are easy for your body to process.
  • No GI distress.  Tailwind references studies that show protein consumption DURING exercise has no performance benefit, but does have a direct correlation to GI issues due to the fact that protein is more difficult for the body to process.  As a result, they eliminate protein from their product, which is a deviation from most other calorie supplements out there.

In Action

Tailwind is nice because it is basically no frills.  You simply add it to your water and you are good to go.  It is not bulky to carry in your pack for self-supported runs or to pick up at aid station drop bags. Each scoop offers 100 calories, with the recommended serving being 2 scoops for every 20oz bottle. During the couple races that I have used it at, the thing that worked best for me was to alternate drinks between Tailwind and plain water. I found that I was getting somewhere in the neighborhood of half of my calories from Tailwind, which worked well. This way, I could minimize gels and not eat as much solid food, both of which can wear on my stomach after time.

Flavors

NOTE: Thanks to Tailwind for sending me a sampler pack.  I have been buying the unflavored Tailwind for my use, but wanted to add a flavor component to my review and they were extremely accommodating.

I ordered the list of flavors according to my preference, with my favorite being at the top.

Naked (Unflavored) – This flavor (or lack there of) actually has a bit of a taste, which I imagine is hard to avoid completely, especially with the electrolytes.  Still, the taste is extremely subtle and hardly noticeable.  As an ultrarunner that gets fatigued from the sweet taste of gels and other sugary-tasting things as a race goes on, the unflavored Tailwind is by far my favorite because I don’t have to deal with that.  This helps late in the race when my appetite is already questionable.

Raspberry Buzz (Caffeinated) – This flavor was a bit much for the first couple of sips, but ended up being one of my favorite flavors by the time I finished the bottle.  The raspberry flavor is actually quite good.  Add the fact that this is the only caffeinated option and it is probably my second favorite.

Lemon – This flavor was actually close to being my second favorite, but gave edge to the Raspberry because of the caffeine. The lemon is subtle, but is just enough to keep it interesting…plus I love lemon flavored stuff!

Berry – This is similar to Raspberry, but without the caffeine. It is probably a good alternative if you want a berry flavor, but prefer not to use caffeine.

Mandarin Orange – This was my least favorite flavor, mostly because it was so overpowering.  I like orange flavors in principle, but I would like it the flavor was a bit more dull and less in your face.

Conclusion

Tailwind has become a permanent fixture for me in my races and on long trail runs since the first time I used it. It works well for me and has filled a longstanding gap in my nutrition plan. It’s combination of simple sugars and electrolytes is the perfect mix for energy when I need to go the distance.

Ongoing Gel Review

Last Updated: May 2, 2014
I will update this page whenever I try a new type/brand of gel.

Like with gear, I also like to experiment on the energy source front in my constant quest to find the most optimal nutrition plan.  I am not one that can run a race solely on gels, but I have made them a key part of most of my races and long runs, if not for the simple fact that they are easy to consume on the move.  Thus far, I have tried the following:

  • Honey Stinger
  • Hammer
  • Gu
  • VFuel
  • Powerbar

Below, I have provided a graphical representation of where I rate each product on a number of key categories as well as a quick write-up on my general thoughts for each category.  All ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest.  As usual, these are based on my own personal experiences and opinions.  Everyone is different, especially with nutrition, so use this information to whatever extent you would like.  The five categories I have decided to base my reviews on include:

  • Taste: I have never seen a gel that has caused me to say, “man, give me another”, but some are more tolerable than others.  This will rate from disgusting to surprisingly good.
  • Effectiveness: This is how quickly I feel the effects after consuming a gel.  As I am not a nutritional scientist, this could most likely all be in my head, but I will rate based on my perception.
  • Digestibility: Just because you can tolerate the taste of a gel enough to swallow it, it doesn’t mean it will stay down.  This rating speaks to the effects on the stomach/GI.
  • Tolerance: Almost an extension of digestibility, this speaks to how many gels you can tolerate in a given run.
  • Overall: This rating is based on a combination and can be used to gauge my opinion of each gel based on the bigger picture.

 

Gel Review

General Thoughts:

Taste

I like the Honey Stingers, but mostly because I LOVE honey.  After awhile though, they get overly sweet.  I would say on the taste front, I give VFuel the edge.  They have a good variety of flavors, all of which I have actually enjoyed, especially the Maple Bacon!

Effectiveness

I think most of these seem to have similar enough ingredients that make them relatively close on this rating.  The exception is Honey Stinger with its use of honey as its primary ingredient.  Honey is known to be easily digested by the body and I usually feel the effects of these rather quickly.

Digestibility

NO NO NO on the Powerbar gels!  My use of these coincided with stomach ulcers on not one, but two occasions.  While that could be a coincidence, I have never had these issues otherwise, so it is enough to convince me to never use them again.  Gu is another one that doesn’t settle well with me.  They tend to make me quesy after 2-3.

Tolerance

The only ones I have had significant problems with over the long haul are Powerbar and Gu.  I have come to the conclusion that these only work for me on runs that require one gel.  In fact, I have just stopped using them in general (unless I get one for free).  Honey Stinger are difficult here from a taste perspective because they are so sweet, but that can be easily overcome by eating something else along with the gel.

Overall

At the top of my rating are Honey Stinger and VFuel.  I give higher weighting for digestibility and effectiveness and these two are top notch.  I haven’t had a bit of stomach nausea with either of these and they both seem to be very effective.  That makes these the two to beat in my book.  In fact, I often use a combination of both of these on most of my runs lately.