I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. At some point, I decided I’m ok with calling myself an athlete. I think I’ve earned that title. With it, I’ve also gone through a fair amount of gear. I tend to destroy things, so really it’s amazing that anything has lasted even minor amounts of time with my use. Still, I obviously think someone else could benefit from my very wise advice (yeah right). Here are a few of my favorite (and, well, less than favorite) things!
– Gatorade: tried and true, I like the lemon lime and blue (whatever blue is currently in fashion) flavors. I’ve found a lot of cyclists hate on gatorade… I really don’t mind it. It’s easy to get calories and generally works. Unless you’re drinking gallons upon gallons of it (don’t do that) I haven’t had any problems bloating out. For super long stuff, balance with water so you don’t burn your tongue (it can happen). It also doesn’t hurt that I have mass amounts of lemon-lime powdered gatorade courtesy of Caroline.
– Osmo: WHOA. This stuff is…. SO disappointing, in the way that my minimalist barefoot shoes were disappointing. I WANT it to work, so bad. It’s based on science, it’s gender specific, it makes sense, but… holy crap, it’s horrible.
I recently, er, ‘came to have’ some osmo. It promises to help balance hormonal swings in gender-specific ways (sounds good so far). The whole system includes a during-exercise mix like gatorade, a ‘pre-workout’ mix, and a ‘post-workout’ protein mix. I’ll start with the good, or at least the not-so-bad: the during-exercise mix (I wound up with something grape-y) isn’t bad. Tastes slightly salty, but overall acceptable. The post-workout mix is also pretty good when mixed well with almond milk and some vanilla and spices (my typical ‘protein shake’ recipe). But the pre-workout mix. uuuuuggggh. It actually is the main reason for this post. Holy cow. It’s salty in that it tastes like you squeezed out someone’s (or maybe the whole JV football team’s) socks, then threw on a pineapple slice to make it smell better (I had the pineapple-margarita whatever flavor). It’s hard to stomach, to put it lightly. Plus, you’re supposed to only pre-load before very strenuous exercise (ok, so I do a lot of that)… but to drink a serving the night before, as well as the morning of intense activity. So you have to try to choke it down twice! First time I used it, I had no problems (other than gagging), so maybe it helped. Second time I tried it, I couldn’t bear to do the dose the night before. And that was cedar cross, where I cramped out (to be fair, I really didn’t eat breakfast). So, who knows. But I’m not sure I’m willing to put myself through that. I’ll stick to my coffee and sausage Mcbiscuits, thanks. The worst part is that each component retails for $20-$30. For a 150 lb woman (on the high end of their scale, to be fair) that only works out to about 8-10 servings. So it’s not cheap. Suffice it to say, I won’t be stocking up anytime soon.
– Carborocket: Back on the tasty train! I’ve only really had mixed CR at True Grit, but it was refreshing and delicious and I didn’t cramp. There are so many other factors that go into my own little explosions that I don’t think it’s fair to blame just liquid nutrition… but still, this was consistently easy to stomach and I didn’t dread reaching for my bottle. The thought of drinking more after the race was pleasant. Jury’s out for more testing, but I’m looking forward to it. Also, their electrolyte tablets have ginger in them and are supposed to settle your stomach. Needs further review (which I’m looking forward to).
– Nuun: Man, I love this stuff. I’ve got a few tubes, and love the lemon-lime flavor. The strawberry lemonade is also pretty good. It’s SO easy to carry on a ride (a tube has maybe like 12 ‘servings’, which are individual tablets that fizz up in your bottle… party in my water!). For a full bottle, I use one nuun tab to get a pleasant, light flavor, and the very mild initial carbonation is actually quite nice. So, so easy to add electrolytes (but no carbs/sugar/fuel)… still not a bad thing. I recently did a 3 hour, 20 mile ss mtb ride in Fort Collins (so, at altitude) and ate/drank nothing but 2 bottles, each with a tablet of nuun (with 1 bottle re-fill of water). Not my best decision, but I also felt pretty awesome. It had nothing to do with the thin mountain air and my euphoria at having no responsibilities. No, not at all.
Any food offered to me after about 5 hours of activity will likely be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, so some of my opinions here might be a little skewed.
– Rice balls: I’ve perfected my recipe. Short grain white rice, cooked with a little extra water, then throw it in a skillet with bacon grease, lots of soy sauce, sesame oil, and a little bit of sriracha. Mix with an egg, a small handful of flour, then bake into bars or muffin tins. Wrap in parchment paper and foil. I love these, Justin loves these, they’re tasty and salty and a great break from the typical sugary energy food. There are a bunch of similar recipes in the feed zone cookbook, although I don’t have it (I’m sure I made mine based on some collective-consciousness discussion of the rice bars in the book, who knows. All I know, is I’m pretty stoked to finally have them in a place where they taste delicious and also hold together well). Also, they’re cheap and you have another excuse to make a bunch of bacon. All-around win.
– GU chomps: peach tea gummies. I’ve bought a few boxes of these. They’re delicious. Until recently, I thought they were caffeine free. They are not. Maybe that’s why I think they work so well… still, you get 2 servings in a pack (so, 8 individual gummies), which means you can eat a few then stash the pack. Makes it easier to choke down food when you don’t want to. Pro tip – open the top and squeeze the chews up to the top BEFORE you are in the middle of a ride. Makes life easier.
– Everything else: nothing really stands out as particularly awesome or not. Well, I love Clif bar seasonal flavors (Iced Gingerbread is totally my favorite ever, followed by pumpkin pie spice. so basic). I also really like the nature valley protein bars (mmm, nuts). BUT, why do granola bar companies insist on putting a layer of ‘yogurt’/chocolate on all their bars?!? Who demands a layer of fake sugar coating on top of already-pretty-sweet granola bars? I don’t want that crap, and it’s just going to melt in my pocket or pack anyway, making it a huge mess to try to eat on the run (or even in the middle of a hike). Seriously. Ditch the coating.
Figuring out how much to carry and how to do it is a really personal choice. I know I usually need a ton of water and snacks, so I need a larger pack to hold everything (and also my phone for selfies and calling for backup when I meet a mountain lion, duh). So, these are very definitely my favorites, and might help get you thinking about what you should look for in a new pack or water bottle or whatever. Or just my ranting about stupid little details.
– Nathan – small, but comfy. I bought my current pack about 7 years ago at an REI garage sale for like $10… so my review here is probably irrelevant. Whatever. The Nathan-brand bladder was quickly abandoned. Overall, the pack only holds about 2.5 liters at the very very most, and I now use a hydrapak 2 Liter bladder and refill as necessary. I like: having a clip for car keys (far away from my sweaty body since I have a remote fob… yeah, I fancy). Inner stretch mesh pocket for keeping bike tools together yet accessible. Small enough actual storage that I can’t stuff too much in it. I don’t like: no pockets on the arm straps. Solution: make your own!
– Hydrapack: Good size for ~18 hour or under ARs (or summer longer ones?). Comfy, but definitely larger. Still, no pockets on the shoulder straps 😦 I find it’s a little bulky and heavy, but great to have more space for a rain jacket, extra layer, etc. for longer bike rides or adventures far away from water sources.
– Bladders (you don’t want a leaky one!):
- Reservoir: I like the hydrapak – great reviews, haven’t destroyed one yet. They come with an optional baffle (to keep it more flat and less round… so far, I’m a fan). The hydrapak also opens completely on the top, which means you can flip it inside out to dry. Very useful. I also have a platypus bladder, which is super sturdy and light but has a regular soda-cap size top opening.
- Opening/closing: I like the hydrapak huge top, the Camelbak twist mechanism always seems sticky to me (annoying to open/close).
- Detachable hose: A requirement for easy refill and the greatest improvement to bladder systems in the last few years. Yay quick release!
- Bite valve: Apparently my teeth are too sharp, because I destroyed the latest hydrapak valve pretty quickly. Replaced with an Osprey valve… LOVE the osprey! Lock mechanism is intuitive (just fold it in-line with the hose and it’s sealed), plus it includes a magnet!
- Fastener: Things rattle a lot more while running or really charging downhills on a bike. The Nathan pack includes a really neat hose clip build into the chest strap buckle… but it doesn’t stand up to much abuse (and nothing is more annoying than stopping to re-attach a floppy hose 😉 ). Magnets are really awesome and work much better.
Random other thoughts
– A wool buff is the greatest single piece of equipment you can own. End of story.