Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, speaks with Dr. Allen Lim, founder of Skratch Labs about fueling up for big gravel rides. Allen’s experience preparing athletes for big events such as The Tour De France has left him with a wealth of experience in how to prepare for massive days in the dirt.
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Dr Allan Lim. Welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me. Glad to be here I. Think it’d be interesting for my listeners to hear what you’re doing at this exact moment. skills and drills I’m actually in the middle of a training camp following a group of writers who are doing some speedwork based on work on a little loop here in. Colorado we’re doing a little bit of experimentation today with some hydration strategies, and after they finish this, we’re gonNA give them you know argue super product that we’ve been playing with. We’re GONNA try a little experiment do a time trial effort up big climb here, and then the workout today so. We’re back in training camp mode, which is You know Kinda strange and a weird but glad to be added again, a a lot of caution being taken. It’s super exciting to hear that it’s super exciting to hear that kind of we’re getting back in action because I know it’s to look forward to the idea that racing and events are going to happen later in the year. So that’s good to hear to take a step back for a second. Allen, could you tell us a little bit about scratch labs and how the company was formed and what the mission was? Yeah. So scratch lab started in two thousand twelve. It was myself a good friend Ian Macgregor who was a former pro cyclists and my old college buddy Aaron Foster and really scratch came from Kind of the work that I did on the pro cycling tour you know I worked as a sport scientists for many years in pro cycling and Developed a lot of I.
Guess you know recipes ideas around nutrition doing the athletes I worked with. and. Around two thousand and ten or so I ended up on the radio shack teamed with Lance that whole thing kind of exploded and I just wanted to strike out on my own and not deal with all the bs around pro cycling anymore athletes were asking me for sports drink I used to make from and I never really thought it could do a business, but you know started making it to help them out and slowly through word of mouth, this company has grown into what it is today. We’ve always had a mission to help people become better that was and has always been my mission as sports I just and a coach and. When you get stressed labs, not only because we believe that drink is better from scratch. So we have these cookbooks wish your Thomas How’s the you know cookbook affordable don’t cable but I was starting my life over again. So you know the name really comes from the idea that no matter where you find yourself in life, it’s never too late to start from scratch.
Gotcha, and so that original hydration mix what was the composition of that and was it? Was it different than what you’re seeing on the market at that time?
Yeah you now. On the market at the time. I think that principally everybody who I knew who was an athlete was diluting their sports drinks and they’re deluding deleting sports drink because the sports drinks were too sugary they were sweet their flavoring was too strong and they would often give athletes flavor fatigue and for many athletes especially long days and grand towards like the like twitter funds everyone would get gi distress and then lastly. Conventional Sports just never had enough sodium to actually replace what was being lost in sweat. So typical sports drinks might have four hundred milligrams of sodium per liter but a normal athlete you know would be losing between eight hundred, two, thousand milligrams of sodium per liter. So it wasn’t like it was revolutionary we jus- diluted sports, drinks and added more salts. that was all that was needed. But I, think that most sports drink companies were trying to sell to Nas market consumers make these tastes super. Super. Syrupy. That was just. Not Tenable for most of the ethics I worked for. Do you think there was also sort of a line of delineation between the products on the market that we’re focused more on on shorter events or just that that sort of instant gratification of a sweet drink versus kind of the longer toward of France level stage racing that you had spent a lot of time thinking about. Yeah most streams that were on the market were. Made for people stuck on Four, oh, five, and California. I. Do drink one, I’ll be like Oh. That was I’m an athlete I’m stuck in traffic no big deal I mean, why do you want why did they sell sports rings a jazz station so I mean, come on give me a break right? Thing is kind of ridiculous.
Yeah. It’s interesting for me. You know the ads, a gravel cyclists as gravel events have taken on this new shape and form of being almost ultra distance in nature. I think it’s really kind of forced cyclist. Nutrition a little bit more seriously because obviously there’s a huge difference from your your three hour Saturday group road ride to a decay two hundred. Have you seen sort of the rise of gravel kind of create additional demand maybe additional thoughtfulness from customers.
Well we certainly see a lot of gravel customers I. I think that generally speaking because they. Eat when they want to or there’s a little more flexibility because the day is so long that the you know the the idea of real food that we really brought to the pro peloton really resonates with that crowd as well. Nobody wants to be. Eating. A ton of sugary. Syrupy Gel like substances, they certainly have their place and there’s certainly needed at times but if you can supplement. Think. the whole entire competition becomes much more enjoyable. Right and you have less gi distress you can encourage more eating. You can get more more more salt and savory flavors back into a person’s body. So I do see this moving towards real food in that world the interesting thing that. We also see you know now that we’ve released a superficial product, a lot of buying from that crowd without liquid fueling as well. Right.
So it’s it’s it’s both sides of the extreme and I think that travel updates are pragmatists more than anything else yeah. Absolutely. I think there’s two things I’d love to drill in on because one one thing I love is your you always make a point to mention kind of real foods and that being an option and I know you have cookbooks that can help cyclists make foods for on the go use. Can you talk about some of those things that you encourage people or cookbooks? Yeah, you know I I always tell people that sports nutrition starting your kitchen. It doesn’t start with the package that you open up. Right it starts with how you’re feeling during your entire week leading up to an event how much carbohydrate you’re getting? Loaded etc. Are you sharing meals with good friends and allies? Are you keeping yourself both physically and emotionally? Well? Social come on food plays a role in all that as well. So you know the fact that we do so you know prepackaged products and you know sports drink and all of these products that are convenient for athletes to be able to better fuel in Hydrog It It’s true also that you need to be making as much. Real food is possible if you’re going to be a high-performance obsolete so i. I wanted to make sure that people understood both sides of the story. Yeah, absolutely. That’s interesting. Moving onto this the new super fuel product that you guys recently released. It’s a drink mix, but it’s got a high caloric count. I think that can be a foreign concept for a lot of people.
Could you kind of talk about that product and how you’re how people were using it pre-production and how you envision now that it’s in the market athletes using it?
Yeah. So I always felt that if carbohydrate solution was too high, you know anything about six percent. That it had could create problems of creating gi distress. And what was you know effectively we happening is that if you’ve got something that is too high concentration. The Malek. Killer concentration is high and water likes to follow a a gradient from Of Low concentration of high molecular concentration. So you know for reference point blood is about two hundred and eighty, two, two, hundred, ninety, million osmose per liter. That’s a way of measuring the molecular concentration of blood. So to eighty to ninety. You have a sports drink. That is higher than that. You’RE GONNA. Have a difficult time getting water into. The body if you put one hundred grams of just basic sugar into sports, you’ll have a number like five hundred. Fifty five right. You’ll have a number us is just way too high for water to or You the more complex carbohydrates. On the market for things like all extra, which would digest too fast and when they digested, you’d have a bunch of simple sugars. It’d be like loading up playing with a bunch of passage passenger giving birth as soon as you know, they got on the plane. So, we knew that there was an issue while. Athletes can’t always eat their food in the middle of the race. It’s easier to drag it because they’re breathing so hard because are tactical things going on because you know they might not be able to reach in the back of their pocket and actually you know handle it so. But we also knew that we needed to make something that didn’t explode there that wouldn’t give them. I stress. The solution came when we found a really really complex carbohydrate that looked more similar say Muslim Pica June, which is the way carbohydrate is stored in in in muscle where you have this very, very branched very complex. Carbohydrate, it’s very big. So it’s got like sixty, two, seven sugar units whereas a typical motel only have five to fifteen and it’s wrapped itself kind of like a like a like a we. net net it ends up slowing aside Justin and makes it Super Super Cycle. So it it feels and tastes more like water but you can end up putting a lot of calories into it and it solves the problem of being able to. Treat your fuel because this carbohydrate is more like a regular. You know say carbohydrates starch than it is a simple sugar or even also extra.
Interesting. So you know in in a long gravel event how would you use this? Like if you’re if you’re taking bottles, you know every hour is something that someone could theoretically use every hour or is it the type of thing that every other hour every four hours you might want to get one of these in your resupply kit? It depends on how many calories you’re burning right.
So Calorie is still a calorie is still a gallery people get all sort of messed up when they hear that it’s a high carbohydrate solution that has a lot of flexibility they think that there is some prescription that all of a sudden they can change the rules in terms of their caloric consumption, but the reality of it is this. Is that if you’re trying to get three hundred calories an hour, you still need three hundred calories an hour. This is be convenient way to do that If you need to get you know four hundred calories in our you know this is a convenient way to do that but you can’t separate what you’re alarming are from your hydration. So maybe what you actually need is you know Four hundred calories an hour but you also need leader and a half of fluid while you know if you’re drinking. Regular sports drink, which is eighty calories and you need chew those bottles and our one, hundred sixty calories and you’ve got your hydration and so maybe you don’t need a drink half a bottle of the super field to get those extra calories and. So, there is some math to be done, but that math is always predicated upon what it is that you know you need in terms of both water and calories. It’s I’ll give you an example. You know when the providers ef uses throughout the year, what we see is a very different behavior when it’s hot versus when it’s cool. So during the classics when they’re fluid needs are much lower, maybe they only need a bottle. But there. are still very high maybe they need more hundred calories an hour they might just use super fuel. The whole entire time because it’s got the same amount of sodium per bought allows a regular sports drink, but it’s just more locally dense. But as they got into the say that the hotter races in the summertime. Because they eat so much more. Maybe two or three bottles and our they’re making up a lot of those calories volume and they only drink one super fuel bottle. You know every two or three hours or you know so they might end up only drinking too high talbot bottles over the course of. But. They might end up drinking fifteen regular bottles, right? Right. So doing that math there is there is a calorie number that the body cannot process per hour that you you. Where do those calories go or the just wasted calories in your body? Not, that your body can’t use them your body, will you know your blood sugar will rise you’ll you know you’ll end up throwing that in the muscle or fat? You know if somebody galleries like during a dinner, you release the hormone insulin which moves those calories into fat cells and muscle cells. For Storage I think that what you’re really referring to is that there’s a maximal absorption rate for calories so Person can’t absorb. Hundred grams of carbohydrate across their small intestine. Our right. and it depends on on your body size. Certainly, a bigger person with the bigger gut is going to be able to move more carbohydrate and but as a rule of who is really fit and who has got a really good gi tract will only move hundred grams of carbohydrate and What happens that accesses it starts to you know create a bit of a traffic jam. Trying to get more people into Disneyland, the gates can actually pull across and so you got some traffic, and if you build up too much traffic, you end up getting gi distress, and if that geologists trust is really prolonged, water can flow from the inside of your body to. Women and enough enough water then moves into the intestinal and then it comes out your butthole and that’s called diarrhea. Not, good for any race day. No. But as a pro mail, you probably know that you get yourself at least one half every year to accidentally shit yourself right. Exactly, there’s a reason why? Golden that. There’s a reason why I’ve got a roll of toilet paper in my bike bag. Exactly. Everyone’s seen. Everyone knows you have is.
That is really interesting and I remember going back to my days as an Ironman triathlete when I really I thought about liquid calories because I was struggling to continue to eat the same things hour after hour because I’m not the fastest traffic in the world. So as interesting and actually my first go around with liquor liquid calories did not end up going well because it was early days and I think it sort of just I couldn’t get my body couldn’t process it in the way that it sounds like your product is designed to be processed.
Well, it’s not so much processing. It might have been that your body processes to fast you. I guess too fast and you went from having you know the big complex carbohydrate molecules weren’t taking up much room in the gut. Blowing up like a Trojan horse all these little pieces, and here’s what’s interesting about this idea of Osmosis or as pressure water likes to move from a concentration of low to high right and concentration is dependent the number of molecules number of things not to the mass or the caloric density of those things. So you’re talking about you know one big legos structure may would like one hundred legos. If all those connected that one big legal structure even though it’s a hundred times bigger than a single lego puts the same amount of pressure on the gut. And so what you want is you want a big carbohydrate molecule that breaks apart slowly. Digest, evenly so that you never overwhelmed the gut as those little molecules break off. Quickly by the body, and so you don’t build up this excess. Traffic Gentler pressure. You know at the at the gates of your of Your Gi tract or your small intestine. So. Yeah and you know a lot of the original kind of high calorie liquid carbohydrate stuff were made with. these long chain carbohydrates that weren’t actually that long. They were more like as I said earlier five to fifteen lugos units as opposed to the Super, Bowl. Hydrate called clustered action or highly rent cyclic textured, which is between two seventy goes through nuts in a more complex structure that takes a little harder to break down. Yeah I. Think you know one big takeaway for one big takeaway from the listeners I think. Test and learn to figure out what your body can. What you enjoy, what you can eat you know some people can eat blocks all day long or bars all day long but other people will either get bored with it or they’re all their stomach will revolt and simply won’t. Enjoy it or allow it to go down. Yeah and you know use commonsense in some ways there are no rules like if you love eating little potatoes that are soaked in Parmesan cheese and olive oil Napa on assault.
That sounds pretty good to me. You know if for some reason, sticker bars worked for you then go for it. Right your your own experiment everyone is different. There are some rules of thumb about how much. Fluid, salt and carbohydrate you need. So be mindful of that and crates implant experiment with them and the field and and see what seems to work best for you. And I think one of the things that’s been interesting during the pandemic is with all these diy gravel challenge is being thrown out there. I’ve got upcoming S bt virtual gravel event in August where it’s going to be a massive day and I need to figure out exactly how I’m going to resupply what I’m going to be able to bring with me where am I going to get my water from throughout the day and I think a lot of gravel athletes are kind of going through the. Same thing it was one thing to to plan for a decay two hundred where they knew there were going to be aid stations but it’s another one planning your own diy gravel event in your own neck of the woods and figuring out how do I get the right things for my body at the right time during a long day out on the bike.
Yeah exactly and. A lot of that just takes time and patience and the prep do off. The bike is as important as what you do on the bike. So you know getting your little food cut up and prepared you know wrapping them properly getting them in the bag is getting the coolers out you know convincing a friend or you know someone who lives with you to come out and support you that day or two you know whatever driving out on the course beforehand and leaving stash bags for yourself it all takes time and work. If you’re gonNA, do it and not totally fall apart and have as enjoyable of experiences possible, right?
Yeah. No I think those are good words of advice because it’s IT’S It’s not every day we go and bang out eighty miles off road with ten thousand feet of climbing or something like that. You gotta be. You gotta be conscious that one of the great things about going to an event they’ve got you’ve taken care of a little bit like a safety net with the aid stations and you know and doctors on course and things like that. But if you are out there on your own, it’s it’s important to think both about your nutrition and your hydration and obviously your equipment and and sort of Ability to repair bikes on the trail as well. Yeah Yeah Yeah exactly bring that to bring your cell phone bring those tools, bring the salt, bring the water bring the carbohydrate Don’t forget the Sunscreen, right? Exactly.
I also wanted to touch on recovery drinks because I know I. Know You have a product in that vein, but also know you sort of talked about how you can make them on your own. Is it important to kind of look at a recovery drank a recovery product after every ride or is that only rides of certain duration?
You know I would say that it’s any time that you’re working really really hard. So you know even with the best riders in the world that I work with, we might only do two or three hard workout. So a week I they might be writing every day but only two or three of those really just totally take it out. And when you do a workout that really takes it out of you or you any work out at all it’s really really important that you eat. After that worked out There are a lot of metabolic advantages to eating after a workout. You’ll preferentially put that fuel that you just ate back into the muscle that was just working whereas if you eat most of your calories when you’re at rest the. Insulin will work on both adipose cells and muscle cells so you. Fuel possible entire body in proportion to your fat and muscle mass. But when a muscle has just worked out, it’s hypersensitive to the hormone insulin and so when you eat after a workout. What you eat goes back into. Restraint. Lean as an athlete, right? So you know. The outages always tried to eat after I worked out now what? You need a recovery or you don’t need a recovery really depends on I think convenience. We only use recovery drinks in those situations where we know we need to get a lot of calories back in an athlete, but we don’t have a bowl of chicken fried rice thing around right? We don’t have a chef you know who has a meal prepared for the athletes you know I went back home for Christmas to stay with my mom and visit and. You know she’s A. Eighty year old Chinese woman and I got back to my ride. She was like I. Made You some recovery food. I was like all right. This is the best ever. you know the neighbor recovery only connotes that something that you’re eating after a workout to start that recovery process. It could be a drink. It could be food it could be chocolate milk it can be whatever is convenient. We make products effectively chocolate milk were a charter milk or coffee note Four to one ratio of carbohydrates. Protein keeps to work the best in terms of restoring pocketed but you know. You have a you can have a pizza if you want to.
Five I’ve certainly been known to do that Allan.
Awesome Yeah I’ll tell you this much. Response I worked seventeen out of the 21-stages, the riders, a chicken Fried Rice would they got back on the team bus and the other four stages they had pizza. That sounds good. Let me ask you another question. Allen on occasion I’ve come home from a long gravel ride and just felt like, Hey, I hadn’t hadn’t eaten enough maybe when I was out there on the trail and maybe twenty minutes from home and easy pedal and I might choose to have another. Another energy bar. She am I better served kind of waiting to shift gears into a recovery mix of recovery food. Or should I eat that bar if I’m hungry? Hungry. And in fact, if you are doing a really long ride and you’re coming home and you’re really hungry and you got your pocket. Starts the recovery process by eating all that food during your cool down the sooner that you can eat and the more you can eat while you’re exercising the more that will actually go back into restoring that muscle glycogen and so even in a bike race if athlete has been dropped and they’re just winding the group or the last packing into the finish, we’ll start loading up them up with food drink at that point time we won’t wait until they come off the bicycles to do so okay, and is there an ideal window to get that recovery meal in once you’ve gotten off the bike Yeah. Probably within an hour is the most ideal scenario. eight grade I went to stop these writers for second and load them up with more fuel now that we’re talking about fuel. So hang tight for a second. We’ll keep keep on going you got. You Guys WanNa. Repeal it up. That was pretty good guys. Feel. Let’s Let’s switch bottles and just go easy. ’cause we got that effort up we hill. Was the old. If, you could put much of that bottle down between here.
and. He’ll not. All you’re doing is just everything you need to drink, but you’re totally popped up. But we start. In fuel you just. I. Yeah. Yeah. I’m in the middle of podcast right now you guys wanted to do a cameo on you wanna say something for the world. Ellen Noble? Everybody.
Every evening yeah. You could go either either super fuel or go to white state whatever I just want to guys. Off so that when you hit that climb, you don’t you detonate because you got you don’t because he is out of fuel. Straight. The ride for a week. Yeah. Yeah not because you balk right there’s a difference between not having the energy on that last supper because you’re not you’re versus. Just. Because I do want some experience with this because it situations where you guys are racing and you’re not gonna be able to. Actually. Take you. About that you’re interrupted no worries I don’t think there’s a better way to underscore the importance of calories and hydration than overhearing your conversations with these athletes and just underscoring how fueling up before that last hill climb in that last repeat is going to be critical to their performance. Have because here’s the deal they’re going to be going so hard and not lasts forty five minutes effort that they. They won’t be able to feel and if they’re not feel before that effort, it won’t matter they won’t be able to make enough in that last effort of the day right? So, now that we’re done with that, just offer it and they have about thirty minutes before they start the next one. This is the only time that they can actually stock up again. And have the fuel onboard the last effort I think it’s interesting as as gravel athletes obsess over the events or the roots that they’re going to be tackling to kind of think about it in that context of like, okay I need be fully topped off before this big climb or this technical descent because I’m not going to be getting anything in my body for at least half an hour because it’s just not feasible even reach down and grab a water bottle. Yeah exactly. So when you your nutrition as a gravel rider, it behooves you to look at the course and maybe not even do it based upon like anything more than the logistics of what’s possible and Where you’re going to be the under. Yeah I think that’s the if you don’t think about it in that way, inevitably, you’re going to get caught out and get into a situation where you haven’t physically been able to consume anything for a while.
That’s right. That’s right and I love simulating this stuff is training because it’s when the point gets driven home like you can talk about it in theory but if you’re not constantly reminding the athletes to do it in training the. They’re from them to feel the difference then it doesn’t get home.
All right yeah. No, that’s exactly true and I think there are a lot of really hard lessons for the average gravel athlete because these events can be so outside your norm, the distances or course profile can be so different from what you’re used to. It’s really important to put a lot of thought into nutrition hydration before tackling one of these things and as you said, do a little testing and learning put yourself in the hurt locker in a place where you’re you can be safe and you can get home rather than trying to figure it out at SPD gravel or dirty Kanza.
That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. Exactly. So yeah. That was actually really really appropriate right in terms of. The five wall and and and what what what what what happens. Yeah. Totally and I appreciate you making the time today to join the podcast and you just got back from another training camp in here in the middle of coaching athletes right now. You gotta try to cap was interesting. The other training camp was interesting. It was with Nike Barbara Track Club So all running right but same type issues With. Respect to fueling and. All. That sorta stuff. Yeah I think the so it is interesting in in it must be super fascinating for you as a as a sort of someone who looks at this from a scientific perspective to see how performance in other disciplines other sports kinda relates and differs from what we experience a cyclist. Yeah exactly. Exactly. Cool Man.
Cool. Well, I will put a link to scratch labs and all your products in the show notes and Again, I really appreciate the time and advice for all our listeners.
Yeah. No problem anytime if you guys ever have any questions don’t. Hesitate to reach out I’m easy to find the INFO at scratch labs walked I’ve got a great team. But for questions, they can’t handle they usually come to me so we’re always. Awesome have a great one allen. Good to talk to you man. Okay thanks crank enjoy. Bye.
I hope you learned as much as I did in that conversation I think there was some great takeaways and it was a lot of fun having the conversation. Big. Thanks to pin W for sponsoring this week’s episode and big thanks to you and everybody who’s been visiting by me a coffee dot com slash the gravel, ride your contributions and support are critical to what we do at the gravel ride. As always we welcome your feedback across social media channels or hit me up directly at Craig at the gravel ride dot bike if you have ideas for future episodes or any comments about this episode until next time, here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.