First Endurance Ultragen Storms the Glycogen Window
** NOTE: Read how First Endurance has upped the Science in their new EFS Hydration drink mix in our interview with their Chief Science Officer Dr. Luke Bucci here.**
REVIEW: The hard training we do on the bike is only the stress that we impose, and is only half of the training equation. To get the most out of that hard training, we need to recover and let our body adapt and come back even stronger. First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink can be a critical component of your recovery plan.
The Importance of Recovery
When I was younger, my ideal weekend consisted of pounding out hours and hours on the bike each morning and then trying to do the same the next day. I rather enjoyed that feeling of utter exhaustion in between and at the start of following rides, and looked at it as a sign of good training. It was only a few years and degrees later that I put the training-recovery spiral together and realized the importance of proper recovery, both physical and dietary, as an important component of overall training.
Think of a rubber band analogy. If you want to have the hardest snap of the band (training), you also need to pull the band back (recovery) as much as you can. One does not exist in a vacuum without the other.
Ultragen continues to get the ‘taste’ thing right – just the right amount.
You have probably heard of the following two terms bandied about before, but let’s define two of the most important concepts in dietary recovery:
1. Glycogen Window: Glycogen is the prime storage form for carbohydrates in your body, and is the preferred fuel for high intensity exercise. Unfortunately, it exists in only small amounts in your muscles and liver. When you run low, you rely almost solely on oral glucose (e.g., from a sports drink) to sustain high intensity exercise or else you bonk. Therefore, the key consideration is maximizing the rate at which your body resynthesizes glycogen after an exhaustive workout. Research has demonstrated that your body’s rate of resynthesis is at its highest during the first ~30 min or so, hence the term “glycogen window” for this limited opportunity to maximize your glycogen recovery.
2. Glycemic Index: All carbohydrates are not created equal, and some enter the bloodstream faster than others, with the result of a higher spike in your blood glucose levels. This provokes a higher release of insulin, which is a key hormone responsible for “storing fuel” and the synthesis of glycogen. Glucose is the standard (100), and all other carbohydrates and foods are given a glycemic index based on their rate of entry into the bloodstream compared to pure glucose (e.g., Gatorade runs at a glycemic index of 89). Check out www. glycemicindex.com for the complete explanation and database.
So to summarize, the basic consideration with dietary recovery is to get as much carbohydrate into your blood as rapidly as possible after exercise. At the same time, you also need to be getting protein into your system to assist in the recovery and strengthening of your muscles. Milk with several tablespoons of sugar gets you some of the basic ingredients, but it gets trickier than that because, in addition to speed of delivery to the muscles, you also need the right mix of carbohydrates and proteins along with minerals and vitamins. Plus, it’s not the most appealing to drink right after a long hot ride, and it can also be rather dicey trying to keep that cool in your car all day!
Enter First Endurance Ultragen
Ultragen is First Endurance’s recovery drink product. First developed and introduced in 2004, it originally came out only in a Tropical Punch flavour. I had previously reported that I very much liked the product from an ease-of-use perspective. Ultragen was very easy to bring to events, packaged into either large containers or single-serving packs. I also found it very easy to mix, and the drink flavour was pleasant yet not so noticeable that it became unpalatable or boring with repeated use.
One thing that First Endurance has always worked hard towards was great-tasting products. Now five flavours of Ultragen are available, including: Orange Creamsicle, Chocolate, Vanilla and Cappuccino.
My Ultragen Experience
Toolbox readers will remember that I had the fortune to spend 2004/05 on sabbatical leave from my university life. During that time, I spent two months in both New Zealand and in Slovenia working with colleagues but also putting in mega-miles on the bike. I came about as close as I ever will to becoming a full-time bikie, averaging 12-16h a week of hard riding. Besides the long rides and hilly terrain, I began using the PowerCranks exclusively during this period, creating an additional training stress. Overall, I did not experience a single case of bonking or even a day of really flat legs. This also coincided with two cyclosportif events in Slovenia where I was at or near the first across the line.
The drink dissolved very easily in water, thereby preventing the dreaded chalky texture and taste of some other recovery drink powders. I would personally not recommend mixing it with anything else but water as other sites has suggested, as the whole point is that the powder was designed to work as originally designed. How many of you have screwed up a recipe in the kitchen by substituting or ignoring an ingredient or two? Exactly my point.
The Science Behind Ultragen
One thing I’ve always appreciated about the First Endurance crew has been their willingness to discuss the science behind their products, rather than hiding behind big marketing words. I had the chance to talk further with VP Research Robert Kunz about the science behind Ultragen…
Pez: Very basic question – why Ultragen and not just food and water?
Robert Kunz: The mixture of certain foods timed appropriately will certainly help any endurance athlete recover better. We don’t refute this. And following one or two workouts, this is OK to do. However, when you demand that your body exercise hard day in and day out, food is simply not absorbed as fast as a well formulated recovery drink. Within a few weeks this becomes obvious. In addition trying to design a Food with clinically effective recovery nutrients like Branched Chain Amino Acids, Glutamine, Antioxidants, Electrolytes, Glucose and Isolated Proteins is nearly impossible. Food also does not offer straight Glucose or Isolate Whey Protein necessary for very fast absorption. This is no different than asking, ‘Why not just buy a bike with 6 Speeds for your race season?’ You can certainly race this way, and if strong enough maybe even podium, but with new technology you give yourself the best chance to race at your potential.
Pez: Riders are starting to get the message about the glycogen window and getting carbohydrates back into their system quickly. Is that the most important component of a recovery drink?
Robert Kunz: Yes, this is first and foremost. The entire endurance recovery process is based around replenishing what’s been lost during exercise. It should be every athlete’s goal NOT to deplete glycogen stores. Its starts first with staying as well fueled as possible during exercise, then topping it off immediately afterwards. Following long exhaustive exercise your cells are highly sensitive to ‘accepting’ nutrients. This is especially true the first 30 minutes following exercise, which has been defined as the ‘glycogen’ window. Choosing nutrients which are absorbed very fast allows you to take full advantage of this glycogen window. Glucose is the fastest carbohydrate absorbed, which is why Ultragen is designed with 60g of Glucose per serving.
Pez: How does Ultragen rank on the glycemic index? Was that a design consideration?
Robert Kunz: Ultragen was designed to be absorbed as fast as possible, meaning it has a glycemic index nearing 100. That’s because 100% of the carbohydrates come from glucose – the highest glycemic sugar available. Adding fats, fiber, whole food proteins (Protein Concentrates) other slower absorbed nutrients only delays this process and slows absorption. Because of this, we designed Ultragen with small molecular weight proteins (Whey Protein Isolate and Hydrolyzed Whey Protein), free form amino acids and vitamins and minerals. You theoretically cannot design a product to be absorbed any faster.
Pez: Research is also demonstrating the importance of proteins both during recovery and also during exercise. Can you explain the technology behind the protein design in Ultragen?
Robert Kunz: It was critical that we chose proteins with the best clinical research and performed the best during and immediately post exercise. Ultragen uses micro-filtered Ion exchange Isolated Whey Protein. This is a highly advanced form of protein which retains is superior amino acid profile and isolates only the proteins while minimizing carbohydrates or fats. The second protein used is a Hydrolyzed Whey Protein, which his enzymatically pre-digested, so its absorption is complete and immediate. There are various analytical tools developed to measure a protein’s effectiveness. These tools measure digestibility, amino acid profile, muscular growth and absorption giving a better picture of how Whey Protein stacks up to Soy, Rice protein, egg, caseine or nuts. A meta-analysis using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), Amino Acid Score, Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), and Biological Value (BV) clearly shows Whey to be superior to other proteins. Ultragen delivers 20g of protein per serving exclusively from Whey Protein Isolate and Hydrolyzed Whey Protein assuring our athletes get the most technically advanced fastest proteins absorbed.
Pez: Research has demonstrated that heavy endurance exercise tends to depress the immune function and lead to an increased risk of infection. How has Ultragen gone about addressing this issue?
Robert Kunz: This is the primary reason why you use a recovery drink and is the basis of the entire formula. Depleting your glycogen due to heavy endurance exercise also directly depletes Iron, Glutamine, Branched Chain Amino Acids, Electrolytes. This increases your cortisol levels which directly suppress your testosterone. Athletes become catabolic (break down muscle) and store more fat. Your heart rate is elevated throughout the day and you don’t sleep well. The end result is overtraining syndrome a higher risk of infection. Your ability to remain healthy, rested and well fueled is the only way you can demand your body to improve its ability to handle higher levels of stress and longer endurance bouts. It is very clear that our athletes and customers who have committed themselves to technically advance nutrition, have benefited first and foremost with a healthier lifestyle.
Preventing the depletion of Glycogen, Glutamine, Branched Chain Amino Acids, Electrolytes and, of course, water is the first step in improving your immune response. Ultragen is engineered with carbohydrates and proteins which are absorbed faster than anything else and because of this they can be absorbed fully during the 30-minute glycogen window.
So Does it Work?
There are two completely different but equally important considerations when deciding whether a recovery drink works:
1. Does the science make sense? In the case of First Endurance Ultragen, the balance of evidence seems to support the product. To maximize the glycemic index, glucose is the only carbohydrate used to ensure rapid delivery to the bloodstream. In addition, they have taken ingredients that have been scientifically demonstrated to be important in recovery (e.g., branched chain amino acids, L-glutamine) and have put them into a formulation that does the best possible job of maximizing their absorption and benefits. As they write, they don’t believe in putting “pixie dust” levels of an ingredient in simply for marketing.
2. Will you drink it? Just like bike fit, the best drink is useless if you can’t stand the taste. Taste is a personal thing, but I found it very easy to drink in that the flavouring was not so strong that it gets tiresome with repeated use. Having a powder is excellent in that I could easily bring it with me and mix it anywhere. This is especially critical if you’re in the middle of nowhere after your ride or race and a long time from getting home.
First Endurance and Quality Control
I have written about the risk of contamination with supplements before, but there are companies who are doing it right in terms of ensuring a top-end supplement while at the same time making product safety central to their philosophy. First Endurance is one of them, and they go to impressive lengths to ensure quality control.
All ingredients used in First Endurance formulations come from audited suppliers who do not carry, broker or supply any banned substances. In addition, their manufacturing facility does not allow banned substances in any products manufactured. As further quality control, each case lot is analysed by an independent testing agency, and a certificate of analysis is included with each container.
Even dearer to my heart, First Endurance has published detailed scientific information and listed all of their scientific references for each of their products on their website.
Lastly, First Endurance offers a 100% Performance Guarantee on all of their products, offering a full refund if customers are not satisfied. Another highly admirable feature!
For more info, see the First Endurance Website.
First Endurance provided free samples of Ultragen for this review. The author has no other conflicts of interest with First Endurance.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialization in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He can be reached for comments at [email protected].