This post was written by Allen Lim, PhD and co-founder of Skratch Labs.
The Big Picture:
Our “Fruit Drops” were made for people who need an easy and convenient source of carbohydrate to fuel their exercise performance. The rationale for their use is based on the simple fact that the consumption of carbohydrate is a critical part of maintaining and enhancing performance during intense and prolonged exercise (1, 2, 3, 4).
While designed for sport and an active lifestyle, it’s not lost upon us that this product is essentially a source of simple sugars and that an excess of sugar is often blamed for obesity and disease (5, 6). While excess of any sort is likely dangerous, it’s important to realize that obesity is a complex and multifactorial issue as are the metabolic diseases associated with it (7). A clear example of this is the fact that artificial sweeteners, which have no calories, are also associated with obesity (8, 9). That all said, we developed our Fruit Drops with physical activity and the problem of maintaining blood sugar during exercise in mind and do not advocate their use outside of the context of athletic performance. Which is to say, use common sense and don’t eat them if you’re just sitting around and don’t need the fuel.
Ironically, for some, the problem of sustaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise can result in gastrointestinal distress (GI-distress) in endurance events, if too much carbohydrate is consumed at once or at rates that exceed the ability of the small intestine (i.e., gut) to absorb all of the carbohydrate presented to it (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). GI-distress is especially common with hyperosmolar (i.e., a molecular concentration or osmolarity greater than blood) or high calorie liquid and semi-liquid carbohydrate solutions that empty rapidly from the stomach into the gut and can be exacerbated by the use of only a single type of carbohydrate, by food additives not recognized by the gut that increase tonicity (i.e., the number of molecules unable to cross the intestinal wall), and by dehydration or heat stress which can damage the intestinal membrane (12, 16, 17, 18, 19).
While eating too much too fast without enough water under extreme stress is at the heart of GI-distress, there are a few things that may help. For example, adding pectin, a form of fruit fiber, to carbohydrate can slow the rate that carbohydrate empties from the stomach, which may theoretically smooth and temper the load on the gut, without significantly affecting carbohydrate absorption or the post-prandial glucose response (20, 21). In addition the use of multiple-transportable carbohydrates in the form of glucose and fructose can improve the absorption of carbohydrate across the gut while reducing the potential for GI-distress (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27). Finally, food additives like coloring agents and emulsifiers may harm beneficial intestinal bacteria or microbiota and may negatively affect the intestinal barrier already under stress from the transport of normal foodstuffs like sugar and salt (28, 29, 30). Thus, eliminating excess ingredients, not critical to a carbohydrate supplement, may further reduce the stress on the small intestine, not only by reducing the overall osmolarity and tonicity, but by limiting any harmful affect on the intestinal wall.
Though, freshly made portables is one solution for maintaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise, it was in balancing the need for a convenient and simple fuel for athletic performance with the potential for GI-distress that is common to carbohydrate supplements that our Fruit Drops were developed. Effectively, our Fruit Drops are a pectin based energy chew or gumdrop containing a specific ratio of glucose and fructose, flavored only with real fruit, and without excess ingredients like flavoring agents, coloring agents, perfumes, or waxes common to many energy chews – modifications that attempt to eliminate many of the problems associated with many prepackaged carbohydrate sources.
A single package of Fruit Drops contains 10 drops, at 16 Calories (4 grams carbohydrate) a piece for a total of 160 Calories or 40 grams of carbohydrate per package. With maximal rates of exogenous carbohydrate absorption and oxidation in the range of 70-90 grams per hour (1, 2), a single pack of Fruit Drops along with 1 to 2 servings (500 ml per serving) of our Exercise Hydration Mix each hour, which contains 20 grams of carbohydrate per serving, is adequate to meet the upper limit of carbohydrate need in the fittest individuals during the most strenuous exercise.
Still, the intake of carbohydrate during exercise to improve or maintain performance is individual and specific to one’s energy expenditure – something that is highly variable depending upon individual fitness, exercise intensity, the intensity pattern, and exercise duration. Moreover, the maintenance of performance during exercise is not just about adequate carbohydrate ingestion it’s also about adequate hydration and electrolyte replacement (31). While our Fruit Drops can easily provide enough carbohydrate for even the fittest individuals, no modifications, including those made to our Fruit Drops, can prevent GI-distress if carbohydrate is over-consumed, especially without adequate water and sodium. Like all things in the realm of performance and nutrition, it’s up to the individual to determine what works best for them, to use common sense, and to have a well thought out plan for replacing fuel, water, and electrolytes during exercise; which might even mean abstaining from drinking and eating for very short and intense exercise bouts where internal stores are probably more than adequate to meet energy needs and sweat loss.
It’s with this sense of pragmatism that we created our Fruit Drops using the same thinking and process that we used to develop our Exercise Hydration Mix. In the same way that we were never happy with sports drinks until we made our own, we were never satisfied with energy chews until we literally reimagined them from scratch. Although we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to change this category of sports nutrition, we did know that we weren’t going to bring a product to market if we didn’t. It’s for this reason that we truly believe our Fruit Drops change energy chews in the same way our Exercise Hydration Mix changed sports drinks – for the better. Like our drink mixes, our Fruit drops are based on sound science without neglecting taste or real world performance. So for those times when you don’t have enough time to prepare your favorite cookie, rice cake or other real food portable, our Fruit Drops provide a simple and convenient alternative to help fuel your hardest and longest adventures.
When we first created our Exercise Hydration Mix, our goal was to solve the persistent complaint from athletes that sugary sports drinks upset their bellies and left a bad taste in their mouth – complaints that ultimately hampered hydration and hurt performance. To quell complaints and improve performance we began mining the scientific literature, tinkering in our kitchen, and experimenting in the field. This led us to develop a sports drink from scratch with a number of key features: 1) less sugar, 2) a specific ratio of sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, 3) a lighter taste profile created using real fruit, 4) a profile of electrolytes that better matched what was actually lost in sweat, and the 5) elimination of excess ingredients like coloring agents, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavoring agents. The result – a very light and clean sports drink with an extremely low molecular concentration or osmolarity (160 mOsmol/L) that transformed how athletes and the industry view hydration.
Our goal in making our “Fruit Drops” was to apply the key lessons we learned when formulating our Exercise Hydration mix to the category of “energy chews and blocks.” To be clear, we were never fans of energy chews for the same reason we were never happy with sports drinks before we made our own. We also didn’t know if it was possible to transform the common energy chew into something we wanted to use ourselves or give to our friends and family. But, in the same way we reimagined sports drinks and hydration, we thought it worth a try to reinvent the energy chew because just accepting that something is innately bad didn’t sit well with us. Moreover, we realized the benefit of simplicity and convenience that was possible for those needing more carbohydrate than provided by our Exercise Hydration Mix, especially since cooking real food portables from scratch isn’t always possible.
To reinvent the energy chew, we took the basic recipe for a gumdrop and made the following modifications:
- We made our fruit drop less sweet by adding slightly more water. This makes our fruit drop softer, less sticky, easier to chew, and more palatable. Gram for gram, this also makes our fruit drop about 15% less sweet or energy dense than competing energy chews. Although this reduces the total calories per bite, it makes eating more fruit drops easier on the palate and gut, which improves one’s ability to stay fueled over the long haul.
- We made cane sugar the primary ingredient followed by tapioca syrup to get a specific ratio of two sugars – glucose and fructose – that we believe better matches the ratio of fructose and glucose transporters in the small intestine. This allows improved absorption of carbohydrate by taking advantage of the two key sugar transporters in the gut. Our ratio of sugars is significantly different than what is found in competing energy chews – a ratio we put considerable time and effort in developing.
- Compared to other products we increased the sodium content of our fruit drops to help replace a small portion of the sodium that is lost via sweat. The increased sodium content also has the benefit of satiating the craving for salt that people often get during exercise. Finally, adding sodium along with glucose helps to facilitate the transport of water into the body, helping to prevent gut rot.
- Rather than using natural or synthetic flavoring agents we used real fruit for flavor. This gives our fruit drops a subtle and light flavor. It tastes like real fruit because it’s made with real fruit.
- We eliminated a number of ingredients that we consider to be excess ingredients that aren’t easily recognized or managed by the body. These ingredients include carnauba wax, coloring agents, additional vitamins, and strong perfumes and flavoring agents.
- To prevent our fruit drops from sticking together we added a sour sugar coating using a combination of apple acid (fumaric acid) and crystalized sugar. Not only does this make each drop easier to handle, it gives our drops a unique and salivating taste. Most importantly, it allowed us to eliminate wax and oils from our fruit drops.
To our delight, the process of tinkering, testing, and trying eventually led to modifications that profoundly changed the taste, feel, and function of our fruit drops compared to competing energy chews. Admittedly, we didn’t begin with high expectations that the transformation we achieved was even possible. At the same time, we did have extremely high expectations that we weren’t going to put out a product that we weren’t completely blown away by. The epiphany is that we were all blown away by the end product. We developed something we wanted for ourselves – something we were so happy with that the difficulty and stress of brining something new to market as quickly as possible became moot. Ultimately, we get that there’s a demand for energy chews, but as athletes, coaches, and people our first priority was something better for ourselves and our active friends and family.
Carbohydrate during exercise is performance enhancing and a key ergogenic aid:
1) Cermak, N. M., & van Loon, L. J. (2013). The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid. Sports Med
2) Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Med
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3) Stellingwerff, T., & Cox, G. R. (2014). Systematic review: Carbohydrate supplementation on exercise performance or capacity of varying durations. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab
4) Spriet, L. L. (2014). New insights into the interaction of carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise. Sports Med
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Overconsumption of sugar can lead to obesity and metabolic disorders:
5) Lustig, R. H., Schmidt, L. A., & Brindis, C. D. (2012). Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature
6) Cantoral, A., Tellez-Rojo, M. M., Ettinger, A. S., Hu, H., Hernandez-Avila, M., & Peterson, K. (2015). Early introduction and cumulative consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages during the pre-school period and risk of obesity at 8-14 years of age. Pediatr Obes
Obesity is a multifactorial problem and not simply related to consumption or use of sugar:
7) Belkova, J., Rozkot, M., Danek, P., Klein, P., Matonohova, J., & Podhorna, I. (2015). Sugar and Nutritional Extremism. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr
8) Swithers, S. E. (2015). Artificial sweeteners are not the answer to childhood obesity. Appetite
9) Roberts, J. R. (2015). The paradox of artificial sweeteners in managing obesity. Curr Gastroenterol Rep
Excess Carbohydrate Ingestion can be a contributing factor to GI-Distress During Exercise:
10) de Oliveira, E. P., & Burini, R. C. (2014). Carbohydrate-dependent, exercise-induced gastrointestinal distress. Nutrients
11) de Oliveira, E. P., Burini, R. C., & Jeukendrup, A. (2014). Gastrointestinal complaints during exercise: prevalence, etiology, and nutritional recommendations. Sports Med
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12) de Oliveira, E. P., & Burini, R. C. (2011). Food-dependent, exercise-induced gastrointestinal distress. J Int Soc Sports Nutr
13) Pfeiffer, B., Stellingwerff, T., Hodgson, A. B., Randell, R., Pottgen, K., Res, P. et al. (2012). Nutritional intake and gastrointestinal problems during competitive endurance events. Med Sci Sports Exerc
14) Pfeiffer, B., Cotterill, A., Grathwohl, D., Stellingwerff, T., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2009). The effect of carbohydrate gels on gastrointestinal tolerance during a 16-km run. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab
15) Stuempfle, K. J., & Hoffman, M. D. (2015). Gastrointestinal distress is common during a 161-km ultramarathon. J Sports Sci
16) Rehrer, N. J., van Kemenade, M., Meester, W., Brouns, F., & Saris, W. H. (1992). Gastrointestinal complaints in relation to dietary intake in triathletes. Int J Sport Nutr
17) Rehrer, N. J., Wagenmakers, A. J., Beckers, E. J., Halliday, D., Leiper, J. B., Brouns, F. et al. (1992). Gastric emptying, absorption, and carbohydrate oxidation during prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985)
18) Rehrer, N. J., Beckers, E. J., Brouns, F., ten Hoor, F., & Saris, W. H. (1990). Effects of dehydration on gastric emptying and gastrointestinal distress while running. Med Sci Sports Exerc
19) Gisolfi, C. V. (2000). Is the GI System Built For Exercise? News Physiol Sci
Adding Pectin to Carbohydrate Can Slow Gastric Emptying Rate
20) Iftikhar, S. Y., Washington, N., Wilson, C. G., Macdonald, I. A., & Homer-Ward, M. D. (1994). The effect of pectin on the gastric emptying rates and blood glucose levels after a test meal. J Pharm Pharmacol
21) Sanaka, M., Yamamoto, T., Anjiki, H., Nagasawa, K., & Kuyama, Y. (2007). Effects of agar and pectin on gastric emptying and post-prandial glycaemic profiles in healthy human volunteers. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol
Ingestion of both glucose and fructose is better than just glucose or fructose alone:
22) Blondin, D. P., Peronnet, F., & Haman, F. (2012). Coingesting glucose and fructose in the cold potentiates exogenous CHO oxidation. Med Sci Sports Exerc
23) Currell, K., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2008). Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Med Sci Sports Exerc
24) Jeukendrup, A. E. (2010). Carbohydrate and exercise performance: the role of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care
25) Jeukendrup, A. E., & Moseley, L. (2010). Multiple transportable carbohydrates enhance gastric emptying and fluid delivery. Scand J Med Sci Sports
26) Wilson, P. B. (2014). Multiple transportable carbohydrates during exercise: current limitations and directions for future research. J Strength Cond Res
Ingestion of Glucose and Fructose May Help with GI-Distress:
27) Wilson, P. B., & Ingraham, S. J. (2014). Glucose-fructose likely improves gastrointestinal comfort and endurance running performance relative to glucose-only. Scand J Med Sci Sports
Food Additives Can Lead to GI Distress and May Damage Gut Flora and may damage Intestinal Membrane:
28) Lerner, A., & Matthias, T. (2015). Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev
29) Chassaing, B., Koren, O., Goodrich, J. K., Poole, A. C., Srinivasan, S., Ley, R. E. et al. (2015). Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature
30) Feng, J., Cerniglia, C. E., & Chen, H. (2012). Toxicological significance of azo dye metabolism by human intestinal microbiota. Front Biosci (Elite Ed)
Hydration Matters Despite Controversy Surrounding Level of Dehydration and Performance:
31) Maughan, R. J. (2012). Investigating the associations between hydration and exercise performance: methodology and limitations. Nutr Rev
, 70 Suppl 2