As a cyclist, the search for newer and better gear is constant — there's always something else out there. Premes, Picks, Promos will highlight both the next big thing and the sleeper deal.
If my Twitter feed is any indication, Skratch Labs has something good going. Based in Boulder, Colo., Skratch Labs is the baby of Allen Lim, the sports nutrition and science guru who has worked with the old Team CSC, Garmin (in all of its incarnations), RadioShack and now Omega Pharma-Quick Step. His behind-the-scenes work has turned into a full-fledged business that's spreading across the country — seemingly one tweet at a time.
The story goes (mostly) like this: Lim's initial work was focused on changing the way pro teams in Europe eat. Instead of traditional "energy" foods (boiled chicken, plain pasta, baguettes), he started making food with fresh ingredients, rice and natural flavors. That later turned into making a sports drink that didn't leave riders with an upset stomach after drinking it all day.
More recently, Lim worked with chef Biju Thomas to write The Feed Zone Cookbook (more on that below), which was designed to help athletes prepare healthy meals themselves.
The headlining product in the Skratch Labs arsenal is the Exercise Hydration Mix — formerly known as Secret Drink Mix. (Secret, because sponsored athletes would dump out whatever they were handed and use Lim's secret formula instead.) It comes in single-serve packets or a one-pound bag, in four flavors — lemon-lime, orange, raspberry and pineapple.
The draw with Exercise Hydration Mix is not that it's new and built on cyclists, it's that the ingredients are all-natural, and it includes less sugar and more electrolytes than something like, say, Gatorade. Being a Gatorade drinker on hot days, I was interested to try out something based more on new science and natural ingredients than mass-marketing. Plus, I was getting ready to leave town and was out of drink mix.
So I picked up a package of Skratch Labs lemon-lime mix. The first thing you'll notice is the price — $19.50 for a one-pound bag. That gets you 20 servings, so the easy math says $1/serving. By comparison, my $8.50ish canister of Gatorade powder gets me 192 bottles' worth. Yikes.
(Side note: Skratch says 2 tbsp of powder in 16oz. of water. Who has bottles that are 16oz? Anybody? Your current choices are 20, 21 and 24oz., from Specialized, Trek and Camelbak, etc. Why 16oz as the measure?)
But this is science, so let's go with it. I generally don't use a sports drink unless it's pretty hot (above 85) or if I'm going to be gone longer than three hours. Last summer, that meant I had Gatorade for most of July, which was brutal. I do remember feeling pretty awful after a race weekend that saw a heat index above 100 for two days, due partly to the effort but possibly also because I had a few gallons of Gatorade along the way.
For this weekend's test, I was faced with four hours of humid, windy northern Iowa riding. I had a planned stop about halfway to fill up bottles, so I brought a plastic bag with two servings' worth of mix in it instead of switching to water.
The first impression is a good one — the taste seems real, unlike the heavier, syrupy taste of Gatorade. Three hours in, when I was fighting a god-awful headwind on the flattest road imaginable, taking a drink was still pretty pleasant. Usually under effort like that, I have to force myself to drink Gatorade because the taste is so heavy. No such problems with Skratch.
Despite the effort, I finished feeling fairly fresh. I tossed it back into the big ring and then sprinted up the hills of the final few miles (the only part of the route that had hills). When I was done, I realized I hadn't felt any of the semi-random cramps that have marked my long efforts of the past few months. Could it have been the mix? Maybe, maybe not. But it definitely didn't hurt.
I followed up that initial test with another 4.5 hours on Monday. Once again, I brought along extra mix to keep Skratch in the bottles the whole ride. And again I felt good throughout the ride. Because of the hilly nature of Omaha-area riding, sometimes the last few miles are a death march. I rolled into the driveway fresh and ready to handle the rest of the day. (In reality, I played video games all afternoon, but I could have handled anything else, had the situation presented itself.)
Am I a convert? Yep. (I'll probably start tweeting about it soon, too.)
Since I don't use a ton of sports drink — I ride more than 3 hours twice a week at the most — the cost won't be a huge deal. No, it's not cheap, but with the limited time I get on the bike, I prefer to enjoy it — even if it costs me a few bucks more. Skratch drink mix tastes significantly better than anything else, I rode better (or so it seems) and I felt better at the end.
That's pretty much all I need.
If your local store doesn't carry Skratch products, you can find them in the Skratch online store.
About that cookbook ...
I mentioned above The Feed Zone Cookbook, which was the first of Lim's products to gain buzz. Over the winter, I was shown dozens of tasty meals via Twitter and blogs and Instagram (of course). Nobody invited me over, which is pretty standard, but I was curious. Not curious enough to buy it, but it was on my list.
The Feed Zone was released on the iTunes Store yesterday, and that's what finally got me on board. I already have a stack of cookbooks at home, so adding another isn't appealing. Instead, I now have the whole book on our iPad, which solves the storage issue and makes setting it up on the counter a lot easier. If you don't have an iPad, it works pretty well on an iPhone, too.
It's available here for $14.99. And ignore that one-star review — I haven't had any problems so far, either on the iPad or iPhone. Also, ignore anybody who can't spell peloton properly. If you're not the digital media type, you can also buy it at Velogear (this serves as my shameless plug of the week, since I'm a part-time employee of sorts there).
In addition to being GamJams Tech Editor, Bryan Redemske has managed the Trek Bicycle Store of Omaha, is a professional writer, works in marketing for bike shops and is a Cat 3 racer. He drinks a lot of coffee.
Sheesh, some of that stuff is expensive. Good thing you get your frames and wheels at Pro Deal pricing. Wait — you don't? You might want to look at November Bicycles. They've got a new racer-specific model designed to strip unnecessary pricing out of the cost of your new bike. It's like a Pro Deal for everyone.
November Bicycles. Race Smart.