Not ANOTHER Sports Drink!
As a physiologist who did his Ph.D. studying hydration during heat stress, it can really get ridiculous wandering down the aisles at the supermarket. When it’s not fancy water that costs more than the petrol I pump into my car, it’s an aisle loaded down with sugary drinks masquerading as sports drinks. It seems that our original scientific message of ensuring adequate hydration during exercise has become so popular and “diluted” (sorry, couldn’t resist) that everybody has a bottle of sports drink surgically attached to their hip now. As a result, my personal suspicion is that many everyday people are actually adding unnecessarily to their caloric intake and doing themselves more harm than good.
So with this glut on the market, why would First Endurance bother locking horns with big multinationals like Pepsi (owners of Gatorade) and introduce their own sports drink?
Focused on the Market
As Mike Fogarty, VP of Sales and Marketing for First Endurance, explains, they already had highly regarded products like the supplement Optygen and the recovery drink Ultragen in their stable, and the last thing they were thinking was to introduce a sports drink. “For a few years, I really resisted the push to introduce a sports drink because there did seem to be a glut on the market. However, what made us reconsider was the overwhelming requests from our customers and sponsored athletes for a product that would address their needs and not the mass market.” First Endurance’s feedback from serious athletes was that they found existing products too sticky sweet. In addition, they were really interested in the use of amino acids, especially branched chain amino acids. “That’s the terrific thing about working with a focused group of athletes like our sponsored pros and also our other customers. They’re very educated about sports nutrition, and they provide us with excellent ideas,” notes Fogarty.
So where does the E3 name come from, especially after a “GEN-eration” of OptyGEN and UltraGEN? “Well, first came the main three principles of Energy, Endurance, and Electrolytes,” said Fogarty, “but the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (won by Boom Boom Boonen this year) is also one of my favourite Euro races.” Good to know that “serious” sports nutrition companies are led by their hearts too and not just marketing!
Check the Label
Energy: the primary role of a sports drink is to provide energy during exercise, plain and simple. You’re not trying to have delayed release of energy here, so the aim is to have a high-glycemic index source of carbohydrate in such a concentration that it empties from the stomach and is absorbed into the bloodstream as rapidly as possible. E3 follows this principle by using a 7% solution that is within the established 6-8% ideal for absorption. They also use three carbohydrate sources of complex and simple sugars, speeding up absorption into the bloodstream compared to a single source of simple sugar.
Endurance: Beyond carbohydrates and electrolytes, the next frontier to sports drinks appears to be amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Its inclusion, as demonstrated in a recent study comparing two popular sports drinks (one with, one without proteins), appears to benefit endurance. The mechanisms by which this occurs remains unclear, but one possibility is that particular amino acids, especially the family of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), may alter or dampen the effects of tryptophan, a neurotransmitter that has been linked to mental fatigue during exercise. E3 opts for focusing on the amino acids glutamine, leucine, iso-leucine, and valine in fairly substantial doses for ease of absorption rather than bigger protein molecules.
Electrolytes: E3 has focused on two issues with electrolytes: 1) incorporating five (calcium, magnesium, chloride, sodium, potassium) rather than primarily sodium, and 2) increasing the amount of electrolytes compared to most drinks on the market. The thinking at First Endurance is that they’re aiming at the endurance athlete who are performing prolonged and/or exhaustive exercise, and needs the higher levels of all electrolytes to replace that lost through sweat.
But Does it Work?
There are two completely different but equally important considerations when deciding whether a sports drink works:
1. Does the science make sense? In the case of E3, the balance of evidence seems to support the product. The inclusion of branched chain amino acid has scientific potential to improve endurance. The great thing about the First Endurance philosophy is that they base their products first on scientific merit. As they write, they don’t believe in putting “pixie dust” levels of an ingredient simply for marketing.
2. Will you drink it? Just like bike fit, the best drink is useless if it doesn’t suite you. Taste is a personal thing, but I found it very easy to drink in that the flavouring (tangerine or lemon-lime) was not so strong that it gets overpowering or tiresome with repeated use. It certainly was not as sticky sweet as some other sports drinks I have tried, and actually felt like I was drinking something substantial. I found that the suggested amount was easy to drink on both cool and hot days, whereas I typically dilute other drinks to avoid the sweetness.
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. And a new introduction since 2004, following the example of Gatorade’s Sport Science Institute, is the publication of regular newsletters on different topics in sports nutrition. For a small company, this shows tremendous confidence in their products and the willingness to learn.
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!
Overall, I have to really give high marks to First Endurance. The research into their products is really extensive and based first on science rather than marketing. They do not pretend to cater to the mass market, so you’re not going to see them crowding the supermarket aisles or being used in aerobics classes anytime soon. The company aims squarely at the endurance athlete market, designing products according to their needs and selling directly on-line or via dealerships also committed to the endurance athlete. The introduction of E3 is a terrific addition to their stable of products. It is scientifically sound and tastes much better than the majority of sports drinks I have tried.
Check out the First Endurance Website and sign up for their free newsletters on sports nutrition topics.
First Endurance provided a free sample of E3 for this review. At the time of original publication of this article, neither PezCycling News nor Podium Performance Inc. has any financial conflicts of interest with First Endurance.
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.