Carbohydrate Revolution

As a highly experienced endurance athlete and sports physiologist, I have been intrigued by the recent discussion surrounding the “Carbohydrate Revolution” sweeping the pro peloton.

Just kidding.  I don’t know much about anything, certainly not endurance, physiology or the pro peloton.  That said, as one of the owners of a carbohydrate company, and an infrequent rider of long distances, I have some opinions about how to eat a lot of sugar in a short period of time.

It’s been a few years that we have had people asking questions about increasing the amount of carbs in our packets.  “What do you mean?  The syrup is the syrup.”  “No, no.  It’s what (name your nutrition brand) is doing.  They are putting seventy jillion carbs in one water bottle!  It’s amazing!”  

Here is my perspective – the solubility of maple syrup makes it uniquely digestible allowing you to consume the requisite 120 grams of carbs an hour with no nutrition “training”.  

Let me explain.  In 2021, I decided that I would ride my first (and second) centuries in over a decade at Unbound.  I intended to do a fair amount of training to get myself ready, but as it turned out, my longest training ride (and there weren’t many of them) ended up being around 35 miles.  I put very little thought into my nutrition (a helpful stranger at the Unbound expo told me to “sip sip, nibble nibble), starting the day with pockets full of syrup packets, water bottles evenly split between Lemon Tea and Ginger Mapleaids, and waffles opened and made into peanut butter sandwiches.  

When I rode into the first aid station at 80 miles I was nutritionally bored (having faithfully had two packets and a waffle sandwich an hour) and excited to eat!  I gobbled down some mango slices and had some salt tabs for good measure (I had never before – or since actually – taken a salt tab), and hopped back on my bike ready for another hot and sunny leg.  Within five miles I was miserable and looking for a ride out of this ridiculous situation in which I had put myself.  With no ride in sight, I kept slowly turning the pedals over, taking frequent breaks to collect myself.  

The whole time, though, I knew that if I stopped eating I was going to be done in an hour or two – there was no way I would be able to catch up from bonking with a hundred miles to go.  So I kept eating packets every twenty minutes and sipping on my bottles.  Sure enough, my stomach settled down after a while and I was back and motoring.  When I rolled in to see everyone at mile 150, I sadly took a look at the cornucopia of food they had brought me (bacon! chips! pizza!) and realized nothing sounded remotely good.  But I had to take some calories down if I was going to get through the next fifty miles.  Without access to an IV but with maple syrup aplenty, I sat in a folding chair watching the team tune up my bike and mindlessly ate packets.  Next thing I knew, I had eaten ten packets of syrup – a thousand calories and almost 250 grams of carbs – and I was off.

Fast forward a year and I was back on the start line, marginally better prepared and quite certain that there were no mangoes or salt tabs in my future, but still with some peanut butter sandwiches in my pockets (I figured I couldn’t get through the day without some fat and protein).  I maintained my rotation from the year before, half a peanut butter waffle sandwich, some drink mix and a packet – repeat.  A few hours in, my stomach started to give me some warning signs and, scarred from my two unpleasant hours the year before, I decided to skip everything but the syrup.  From there to the finish I had almost a half gallon of pure maple syrup (in various UnTappeds and Mapleaids – mostly salted since I knew salt tabs weren’t going to be on the day’s menu).  No bonk, no hunger, no stomach issues (sore butt, tired legs, muddy bike – I did have, but no nutrition problems).

I will spare you a blow by blow accounting of my Unbound XL (mis)adventures, but suffice to say, I ate a lot of syrup and pedaled north of 200 miles (just not 150 miles north) over nearly 24 hours.  

Back to 120 grams of carbs an hour.  I am a believer in the power of maple syrup.  There is probably a time/ distance where syrup only will limit you nutritionally, but I haven’t found it.  I would be surprised if many folks have been silly enough to take on those distances on as little training or preparation as I did (maybe a discussion for another forum) so they have likely trained themselves to eat seaweed encapsulated glucose, but I recon that they would have been able to do it on maple syrup alone.

Lets just say I believe that we in the maple syrup athletic nutrition space are so far behind the times that we are now in the forefront of highly digestible high carb nutrition doses.  I would wager that any one of you could eat 120 grams of maple syrup an hour (mixed with water as a drink mix or straight as a packet) with nary a stomach problem.

True, we don’t have the nutrient density that other packets have achieved, but you don’t have to choke ours down before you notice how it tastes so you can take more of it.  

Next long ride or run you take, try this.  Mix your bottle with regular strength Mapleaide, then add one or two packets of straight maple syrup.  And take any Untapped packet every 30 minutes.  Voila, 120 grams of mindless grams of carbs an hour.  

-Roger Brown