I feel very excited about this review! Today, we are testing one of the most exciting innovations in the sports drink industry. It might be a game changer. And the original idea is so simple.
1/ Maurten, the company:
Maurten is a Swedish-based startup and a new player in the sports drink industry. The company is best known for its collaboration with top elite athletes in the attempt to break the 2-hour marathon barrier, as I recently reported (here).
The Swedish founders have taken a new approach in trying to solve one of the major performance-limiting factors in long distance runners : gastrointestinal discomfort. The idea is to “encapsulate” carbohydrates in gels, thus circumventing the issues that usually arise with a highly-concentrated drinks (see below).
On top of this, the gels themselves are made of long carbohydrate polymers, further increasing the total amount of carbohydrates delivered by the drink… Clever… All in all, Maurten claim they have manufactured the most carbohydrate-rich sports drink in the world.
2/ The product and its category:
Since my last article, Maurten revealed the composition of its new drinks. The drinks are made of two parts: on one hand, you have simple carbohydrates, glucose and fructose, as well as some salt… Pretty basic sports drink stuff. On the other hand, pectine and sodium alginate are there to form a hydrogel, ie a three-dimensional molecular network that can contain a lot of water. The theoretical result of this is a gelly-like structure made of long chain carbohydrates (ie pectine and alginate) that has salt, glucose and fructose trapped in it. But, because it would be highly impractical to swallow a 500 mL gel while running at 20 km/h, the drink is supposed to be fluid in normal conditions, and only form a gel in the stomach, ie at low pH.
The whole idea behind these new drinks is to reduce the gastrointestinal stress that comes with highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions. Hydrogels should speed up gastric emptying and, thus, enhance intestinal carbohydrate absorption, as old studies have suggested (here, and here). If this is really the case, hydrogel drinks might just be the biggest game changer in the sports drink industry since … the invention of the sports drinks…
To be fully transparent, I have to make a little “DC-Rainmaker” disclaimer : I got 5 samples of the Drink Mix 160 and 320 (and a plastic bottle) from Maurten after I talked to them on Twitter. This allowed me to test these new drinks before everyone else and to have enough time to run with the drinks. After that, if I like the drinks, I will just buy my own.
Maurten’s hydrogel drinks come in two versions: the “Drink Mix 160” and its big brother the “Drink Mix 320 PRO”.
The”Drink Mix 160″ comes in individual pouches of 40g …
… and the “Drink Mix 320 PRO” is twice bigger (80g!!!).
From the 2 following pictures, the differences between the 2 versions of the drink seem minimal… but they are not! The 160 drink will make a 500 mL drink containing 39 g of carbohydrates, i.e. an 8% carbohydrate solution : this is in the higher range for a sports drink, but not unheard of. The 320 drink, however, results in 79 g of carbohydrates in 500 mL, which makes it a 16% carbohydrate solution. This time, we’re talking about the type of concentrations that have almost always led to gastrointestinal discomfort during intense exercise.
Here is the back of the “160” pouch …
… and the back of the “320” pouch. Note the 99 g of CHO / 100g!
Let’s start the unboxing! Starting with the “Drink Mix 160”.
There is not so much surprise when opening the pouch. It is a typical sports drink powder. And you get the 40 g that you expected.
Looking closer, we detect some small clumps.
A closer look at the small clumps. I’m not sure if this is actually made on purpose (to improve solubility), or if this is the result of a caking process (the product does not contain any anti-caking agents). It will be an important thing to know, because if the clumps keep forming, it might impair the product solubility.
In terms of appearance, the “320 PRO” Mix is almost not distinguishable from the “160”. So, I spare you the pictures and head straight to the tasting!
So, I took my official Maurten bottle…
… filled it up to the first edge …
… shaked for a few seconds and tatatata…
As expected, it was not a hydrogel yet. At first, the drink was indeed relatively fluid.
As you can see, it was not fully transparent though. It didn’t seem like there were any solid particles in suspension. Rather, we could see a lot of very small bubbles that slowly cleared over time.
The Drink Mix 160 and 320 Pro do not contain any flavoring nor coloring agents. Thus, I didn’t really expect anything else than a tasteless but (very) sweet drink. And yes, it is sweet… very sweet… And there is no flavor to distract your taste buds!
As mentioned earlier, the drinks are still fluid but there is the (maybe false) impression that there are particles swimming in them, especially in the most concentrated “320 PRO” Mix. They do clear over time, though, and it is very likely not an issue, since the drinks are made to be prepared before the workout has even begun.
This was expected, but the drinks, and especially the “320 PRO” Mix are intensely sweet. They seem to have the distinctive agressive sweetness of fructose. Drinking several sips require motivation and, very likely, the strong belief that the drinks will enhance your performance. There is no flavor, which to my mind is a good thing, as adding flavor on top of such a sweet base would probably result in a disaster. In this case, simple is better.
5/ Does it make a hydrogel?
The hydrogels are supposed to form only in an acidic environment, i.e. only in the stomach (which should have a pH in the 2 to 4 range). To visualize the hydrogel, I had no other choice that to make a small experiment with lemon juice.
Below is the result of the experiment!
The short answer is : Yes, it did make a hydrogel… And a pretty nice one. It was pretty amazing to watch the fluid turn into a gel. In this case, I could not transform the whole drink into a gel. Just the upper layer which got in contact with the lemon juice did form a gel. But, given the environment in the stomach, I would say that it is very likely that the the whole drink turns into a similar hydrogel in the stomach.
6/ Situation test:
Now that we know that the Maurten drinks do form hydrogel at low pH, there are lots of important questions that I still wanted to answer: would I tolerate them well? Would I feel better than with a normal sports drink? How would I cope with the sweet taste on longer runs? …
So, I took the 160 and the 320 mixes with me on various occasions. The most interesting one was a 30 km run along the Zurich lake with the most concentrated 320 Mix. This run basically summarized all pros and cons of the Maurten drinks.
a. I had no gastrointestinal issues with the hydrogels, no cramps, no bloating, nothing… This is pretty amazing, giving the fact that the 30 k run was pretty intense (for me) and on a hot day.
b. The sweet taste of the “320 PRO” Mix (the most concentrated of the 2 Maurten hydrogels) is somewhat difficult to tolerate over the long term. I found it useful to regularly rinse my mouth with plain water, just to temporarily remove the sweet taste.
c. I felt subjectively good with these drinks, including past the 25k mark of my long run. If I felt better than with “normal” sports drinks? It is of course hard to say and highly subjective. I am definitely willing to keep on using these drinks, but I would like to see a scientific demonstration that the high carbohydrate intake achieved with the Maurten drinks has a beneficial effect on performance compared to classic sports drinks.
Here is a recap of the nutrition sheets of the Maurten 160 and 320 PRO Drinks. In both cases, 1 serving is dissolved in 500 mL of water. Overall, the Drink Mix 160 is a 8% CHO drink and the Drink Mix 320 PRO is a 16% CHO drink.
|Drink Mix 160||Drink Mix 320 PRO|
|1 serving = 40 g||100 g||1 serving = 80 g||100 g|
It is interesting to note that in both cases, the ingredient list is very short: Maltodextrin, Fructose, Pectin, Sodium Alginate, Sodium Chloride. To me, this illustrates some great things about the drink composition and raises a few more questions.
– no additives! The drinks are formulated without preservatives or technical adjuvants, such as solubilizers or anti-caking agents. This is a great thing as some of the usual additives in sports drinks have an upper tolerable limit that might be reached in situation of high training load.
– no artificial flavor! As mentioned earlier, adding a flavor on an already very sweet base is very complex and may overload the taste buds. To me, it is definitely a good point to keep things simple.
– the glucose molecules seem to be largely brought by maltodextrins (hydrolyzed starch). Maltodextrins are less sweet that single glucose (or even smaller polymers), leading to a reduction of the sweet taste. Playing with the hydrolysis degree of the maltodextrins (ie having bigger polymers) may further reduce the sweetness.
CONCLUSION … AND THE POINTS!
The Maurten Drinks get a 5/5 because they open a whole new category in the world of sports drinks. My experience with the drinks was very positive: I could tolerate them well and felt subjectively strong during long runs.
Overall, the quality of the Maurten powdered drinks is very good. The drinks come in handy individual pouches and the preparation is very easy. The solubility is a minor issue, though, especially when it comes to instantly dissolving 90 g of sugar in 500 mL of water (but I don’t see any solution to this, while keeping the ingredient list so nice and simple).
With a very high carbohydrate concentration and no artificial flavor, the Maurten drinks taste … sweet … The use of maltodextrins instead of dextrose probably has already helped decreasing the sweet taste. The absence of flavor may be surprising at first but is very likely a good thing for your taste buds.
Yes, the Maurten Drinks (especially the 320 Pro) allow for the first time a very high carbohydrate intake during intense workouts. My impression is that the hydrogels circumvent the gastrointestinal discomfort that normally results from the intake of highly concentrated drinks. I give only a 4/5 because I would like to see solid scientific data showing that the extremely high carbohydrate intake in the form of hydrogel does indeed a. speed up gastric emptying, b. increase the oxidation of exogenous carbohydrates by the muscles and, c. increase performance compared to classic sports drinks.
Overall, it’s 16/20 for the Maurten Drink Mixes 160 & 320 PRO!!!
In short, it’s a whole new page of the sports drink industry that Maurten is currently writing. My first impression is very positive but I’d like to see more solid scientific data!