FUELLING PIONEERS
220 Triathlon|December 2021
Science in Sport is edging ever closer to their 30th birthday. As James Witts finds out, their longevity is thanks to evidence-based foundations…
JAMES WITTS

I’m not sure if it was the lungs that went first or the heart. Or was it the legs? Either way, as the high-tech static bike cranked up wattage for this low-brow triathlete, oxygen remained at a premium. I blamed the uncomfortable plastic mask clamped against my sweaty visage; in reality, this fitness test had pushed me to my limits.

“This is the sort of test we undertake with participants during our trials and research into new products,” professor of exercise metabolism and director of performance solutions at Science in Sport (SiS), James Morton, had told me before the test. “It’s tough.” It is. Still, I’ll plunge the depths of physicality and humility, all in the name of discovering more about one of British sport’s most successful brands…

STARTED FROM THE KITCHEN

I’m in Liverpool at the acclaimed John Moores University to sample a taste of the credibility behind SiS’s research-and-development protocol. In the world of sports nutrition, it’s needed, with many manufacturers reportedly expending their near entire budget on marketing, reserving the miniscule leftovers for testing.

SiS must be doing something right. In an industry where brands flow and retreat like the tide, they’re nearly 30 years old. It’s gone down in nutritional folklore how sport-science graduate and Lancastrian Tim Lawson would spend the early 90s divvying up an economy-sized tub of maltodextrin upon his family’s kitchen table to sell to his cycling mates. The mixture went down well. Lawson was encouraged.

This top cyclist with an academic’s curiosity soon spotted a gap in the market: gels that didn’t require a water chaser. Till that point, the viscosity of gels resembled toothpaste. Then, Lawson invented the isotonic gel and wham – SiS had broken into arguably the most competitive sector of sport. Soon, they went global. Usain Bolt apparently ordered their gels to fuel his bid for Olympic glory; Sir Chris Hoy was a convert; even Sir Ranulph Fiennes was getting in on the act, telephoning the office ahead of a trip to Everest. Lawson sold the brand for £8m to investment group Provexis in 2011 (he’d go on to found Secret Training). Since then, the group’s added PhD Nutrition to its roster and turned over £50m in the Covid-hit 2020.

BETA UPDATE

Back to Liverpool, where SiS is ‘treating’ me to a whole day spent looking beneath my physiological bonnet. The reasons aren’t altruistic – arguably, they’re sadistic – but beyond highlighting the steps undertaken before signing off a product to market, it’s to celebrate the launch of Beta Fuel 2021.

“Beta Fuel’s this year’s flagship product, which is an update over the old Beta Fuel,” explains Morton. “We’ve changed the formulation from a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin to fructose, to 1:0.8. When you wade through the literature, scientific studies show that 1:0.8 ratio is more efficient; in other words, you’re digesting, absorbing and using more of the carbohydrate. We also tested formulations in this lab and found the same. For the powder, we’re looking at 80g of carbohydrate per 500ml serving. We’ve expanded to new formats with the chews and gels, both of which deliver 40g in that 1:08 ratio. The range is with and without nootropics.”

Nootropics are supplements that purport to improve or maintain cognitive performance, like attention, focus and motivation. In the Beta range, that’s via the addition of citicoline, caffeine, taurine and theanine. But it’s the energyintake recommendation from Morton that’ll be an eye-opener for many. “The idea of expanding the range is so you can mix-and-match to potentially consume 120g of carbs an hour.”

That’s 120g or 480kcals. That’s huge and arguably double what many agegroupers will process; in fact, Patrick Wilson, author of The Athlete’s Gut: The Inside Science of Digestion, Nutrition and Stomach Distress, once told us that some amateur athletes run into problems at even lower – around 40-50g/hr of glucose. If 120g’s doable, that’s a potential endurance gamechanger. But… really?

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