With a steadfast hardheadedness, claiming 2019 the year of endurance in spite of my type II muscle fiber dominance (read: not a runner’s build), meant I had my work cut out for me. Combine this with my recent certification as an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and my eleven-plus year status as a warrior of Crohn’s disease means I am VERY picky when it comes to supplements. After all, a less than ideal fuel choice could spell the difference between glory and the dreaded DNF. As if the training itself wasn’t grueling enough, my fueling strategy added another level of complexity when developing my own training program, guinea pig style. After dabbling in a number of strategies from gels to sports drinks to whole foods, I finally decided to give Tailwind Nutrition’s Endurance Fuel a try.
The Tailwind Story
Co-founder, Jeff, lays out graphically (yes, there’s even a video) his first Leadville 100 complete with a regurgitation celebration to accompany the finisher medal. It was that moment when his pre-race nutrition made its second appearance of the day that Jeff and Jenny committed to developing an option to prevent these “gut bombs.”
What is it?
Tailwind Nutrition is a dietary supplement designed by endurance athletes for endurance athletes. The powder is a glucose/sucrose blend with added electrolytes designed to be easily dissolvable in water. It is offered in a variety of flavors, both lightly caffeinated and caffeine-free. The product is available in a number of size options, from the large 50-serving bag to the portable two-serving stick packs.
Macronutrient Breakdown, Electrolyte Balance & Notable Distinctions (per scoop)
- 25g carbohydrate (glucose/sucrose blend)
- 0g protein
- 0g fat
- Electrolyte Blend
- 303mg sodium
- 26mg calcium
- 88mg potassium
- 14mg magnesium
- 35mg caffeine*
- NO artificial dyes or preservatives
*Caffeine is not present in all forms of Tailwind Endurance Fuel, only specifically marked Caffeinated Endurance Fuel offering.
More than Sugar: Breaking Down the Science
So what do all those numbers mean? Let me break it down.
- Carbohydrate: In this case it means sugar. Before anyone freaks out, please know that carbohydrates keep you going. Your body prefers this energy source over fat or protein to fuel activity. It’s stored in the form of glycogen in your skeletal muscle tissue and liver, retrieved and broken down to glucose to keep you going. When you “hit the wall” you’ve depleted your glycogen[i].
- Glucose/sucrose: Glucose, as mentioned above, is your body’s preferred energy source Sucrose is table sugar; it’s comprised of glucose and fructose so it’s just a bit more complex. The takeaway here is that glucose, being a simple sugar, is absorbed more quickly than sucrose which must be broken down before absorption in the small intestine. Thus, the glucose serves your immediate energy needs whereas the sucrose takes just a bit longer to kick in[ii].
- Electrolytes: These are chemicals that become charged when dissolved in water (sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium in Tailwind); sodium is a primary consideration as it aids in fluid retention, thus prevention of dehydration. Electrolytes are lost in sweat, hence why your sweat tastes a little salty. Calcium, potassium and magnesium play important roles in muscle contractions and heart function[iii].
- Caffeine: While the chemical doesn’t actually contribute energy in the form of calories, it is a promoter of continued performance via suppression of feelings of fatigue in the nervous system[iv].
Run. Eat. Repeat. Right?
Oh, but an endurance athletes are a special kind of crazy, and so we require careful consideration when it comes to fueling strategy. It sounds easy enough to run, eat, repeat, but remember that the human body is far from simple. Without getting too terribly technical, let’s consider aerobic endurance at its core definition—prolonged, repetitive movement of large muscle groups requiring oxygen delivery to active skeletal muscle. Now extract two keywords from that definition: prolonged and active. Prolonged activity means more energy consumed by active tissue which means depletion in those stores (i.e. glycogen) of energy.
That’s where the idea that refueling is essential during longer bouts of endurance training, generally those lasting one hour or more. It’s important to consider that your body redirects blood flow to favor active working musculature (i.e. your legs and heart) and away from those lesser used organs (in this case your intestinal tract)[v] when considering your fueling strategy. Chances are a meal that requires considerable mechanical and chemical digestion will spell disaster since your body simply is not primed to do so without a normal resting blood flow to the digestive organs. This is why quick absorption and ease of digestion is CRUCIAL, and this is where Tailwind’s fast-dissolving power comes in clutch.
Why do I like it?
- Taste—it’s light yet pleasant. Tailwind offers a wide variety of flavors and even an unflavored option to suit your palate.
- Hydration—let’s not forget that Tailwind is a power that is added to liquid. You can, therefore, customize your fuel AND hydration strategy based on your needs.
- Versatility—dosage and delivery are highly customizable to your needs. If your plan is to take a concentrated dose for fuel and hydrate at water stations along the course, that is your prerogative. If you need to pop a few doses into your hydration pack to sip on throughout a long session, Tailwind’s got you.
- Endurance-focused—this should go without saying as it is explicitly in the product name, but Tailwind Endurance Fuel truly is designed with endurance in mind. The product delivers an easily digesting fuel source with electrolytes in a form that promotes hydration. It ticks all the boxes for me.
- Personal—every time you order directly from Tailwind, the crew will write your name on the bag. The small, personal gesture is a nice touch.
So is it all you need all day? Really?
For me, yes it is. Tailwind alone fueled my multi-lap effort at March’s Bonefrog Endurance event in Talladega. To put it into perspective, I thought it would be fun to nosh on and hand out sour gummy worms on my last lap. After spending nearly 6 hours on the course over 20+ laps in the blinding sun, it turns out the gummies were a poor choice that day. Don’t get me wrong, I made it through that last lap, but the resulting gut cramps caused significant slowing and downright struggle toward the end. Needless to say, I’ll stick with my Tailwind…