In the enormous category of so-called “sports nutrition” there exists such a great range of products, from nutrition bars made only of dates and nuts to pills that will improve your processing speed and “flow state”, that it renders the category a bit perplexing. What do you need, and what’s just clever marketing? As amateur athletes and weekend warriors, our approach is always “work harder, take fewer supplements”, but there are a few baseline needs that the sports community generally accepts as wisdom: hydrating with more than just water is essential, and if you’re burning calories you’d better be consuming calories to replace them, especially if your sport is long-distance running, cycling or triathlon.
This collection of products represents a small fraction of what’s out there — and while we’ve tried them all and think they represent some of the best of the best, we don’t endorse the claims to better health or bigger muscles made by any of the brands. Use your best judgment and consult with a doctor if you have any serious questions (or find yourself able to turn over cars and run five-minute miles).
Essential for all athletes
Osmo and Skratch Labs have really cracked the nut of hydration better than anyone else in the business. Both were developed on a foundation of real science and work with professional cycling teams. The essential wisdom is that hydration and nutrition (that is, calories) should be separate, particularly for serious efforts. Nuun operates on a similar principle, getting you electrolytes without added sugar or calories.
Osmo Preload Hydration ($25)
Osmo Active Hydration ($18)
Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration ($55)
Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration ($35)
Skratch Labs Rescue Hydration ($15)
Nuun Active Hydration ($21)
Nuun Energy ($49)
Calories for long-distance athletes
Some people prefer to eat an apple, a banana or even a sandwich during a race, but for others it’s easier to digest pre-fab energy products that have the added benefit of slipping into a jersey pocket. Gu is a staple you’ll see at almost any race; Honey Stinger makes organic products using, obviously, honey; and if you need a serious jolt with a few miles to go, we really like 2nd Surge.
Who doesn’t like to eat?
Let’s be honest here: we snack on energy bars even when we’re sitting in front of the computer. Each has its merits — Exo derives its protein from crickets, Tankas are made from buffalo, Picky Bars closely approximate “real food” — but they’re all made with roughly the same intended use: eat them when you’re hungry.
Use them at your own discretion
Supplements are the most controversial segment of sports nutrition, but most of these products are relatively innocuous, from protein derived from grass-fed goat’s milk to patches that deliver a hit of caffeine, it’s not like you’re messing around with EPO. We’re just testing Shroom Tech now, though we’ve tried other products meant to support ATP production, which are increasingly being marketed to endurance athletes. The idea behind them is that they provide energy by supporting cellular function instead of using stimulants like caffeine.