Saturday, April 28, 2007

A tale of two tablets

They were the best of salts, they were the worst of salts....OK, that's a bit silly.

Anyway, I have long been a fan of NUUN electrolyte tablets and have used them at all my ultras thus far with great success. I like that they have no calories since I prefer to get my calories from solid (or semi-solid) foodstuff. I am blessed with an excellent digestive faculty. I also like that they are easy to carry in races and dissolve without the need for shaking and without any clumping. I enjoy the mild flavor (I only use lemon-lime) and the fact that they allow me to get my electrolytes as I go which is supposed to help with fluid absorption. I mix them a little bit dilute and then supplement with Succeed! Caps as needed especially when the temps are higher. I will also occasionally drink a little bit of the on course drink when the desire hits me or sometimes just drink some plain water when I am eating.

My only concern about NUUN comes from a comment that Karl King (inventor of Succeed!) made once on the ultralist:
As you know, there is a lot of chloride in sweat and blood plasma. Nuun supplies none, so using this product robs your body of the chloride it has to find within itself to match up with the sodium that goes out as the sodium chloride in sweat. That's probably no big deal in a short run. In a 100 miler it might eventually put one in electrolyte imbalance that would at least affect digestion since the production of HCl for the stomach could be compromised.
Since I do use S!Caps, I figure I am still getting some direct chloride in the mix even if not in the proportions recommended by Karl. However, I am always on the lookout for new products both simply out of wanting to try new things and to see if there are better options out there. Also, I am wondering if my strategies will need to be adjusted as I move up into ultras beyond 50 miles. I was at REI picking up some gels for Miwok on Friday afternoon when I noticed the new Camelbak Elixir tablets. They looked pretty similar to NUUN so I bought a tube to give them a try. It was a nice warm day and I was planning a run up Mission Peak so it was a perfect opportunity to give them a test run. Here is my analysis of the comparison.

First, the objective stuff. One tablet of NUUN is supposed to be mixed with 16oz of water (I generally use 20) while one tablet of Elixir is supposed to mix with 24oz of water.

Basically, they are chemically pretty similar with a slightly different mix of sodium/potassium. Both have some magnesium and calcium along with Vitamin C. NUUN includes some Riboflavin while Elixir includes the aforementioned Chloride and a small amount of Manganese. Personally, I am no expert and do not know how to evaluate the chemical differences.

However, someone out there may be interested so here's the exact chemical breakdown (per tablet):

Vitamin C37.5mg86mg

Now the subjective stuff. The Elixir is sweeter probably due to the fact that it contains sucralose (Splenda). It also tastes a bit "thicker" which I attribute to the fact that the tablets are formulated fully for the 24oz bottle size that I was using. I imagine they would be a bit too strong in the smaller 20oz bottles I often use. The NUUN is a bit "fizzier" which some people don't like, but I have grown accustomed to it and actually like they way it sort of wakes up my tongue. However, they are sometimes too fizzy on the run and I have been inadvertently squirted on a number of occasions while the tablets were dissolving. The basic flavor is pretty similar in each aside from the strength/sweetness differences mentioned above. I really didn't notice any major difference in the effects, but my run was only about 1.5 hours so it isn't a very conclusive test.

Overall, I think that I will stick with the NUUN in the near term. I am used to them and see no immediate benefit in switching right now. I also worry that I would have trouble with the stronger flavor of the Elixir tabs over time. The fact that I tend to use the NUUN even more diluted than recommended means that I am generally getting even less sodium per bottle than I would if I switched especially with Elixir's already higher sodium per tablet level. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I would have to rethink the pattern of supplementing with the tried and true S!Caps if I switched. I like the formula I have now where I use 1 every 1.5 hours on average upping it to 1/hr in hot weather and 1/2hr in cool weather. I will try the Elixir again (I have a whole tube) on a longer run and see how they hold up. For the upcoming Miwok race, I will stick with what I know.

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