• Shop
  •  Loading... Please wait...


    How ordinary sports nutrition got stuck in the 80s

    Posted by Warren Pole, co-founder 33Shake on

    The 80s had it all. Tie-die, neon, synth pop, hair metal and eurodisco and, for the first time, exercise became a thing for everyone. Joggers pounded pavement while road biking, mountain biking, marathons and triathlons hit the mainstream. Here, sports nutrition was born. Sport has come a long way since, yet ordinary sports nutrition is still stuck in its leggings listening to Culture Club on its Walkman...

    ordinary sports nutrition  maltodextrin fructose 80s jogging

    Hey, it's the 80s, let's go jogging!

    Brace yourselves because it's time for some sports nutrition history.

    The first ever energy gel was released in 1987. Called the Leppin Squeezy, it was co-developed by legendary sports scientist Tim Noakes and contained two carbohydrates for energy - maltodextrin and dextrose.

    The theory, as detailed by Noakes in his seminal book 'Lore of Running' was that carbohydrates were our main fuel source during endurance effort, and therefore loading up on them before running, and getting plenty in during running was the way to go.

    By the early '90s, sports nutrition was big business and 'innovation' followed. What sort of innovation? It was truly incredible...

    The dextrose in energy gels and drink powders was swapped for... fructose!

    Oh. Was that it? 

    Yes. Sorry about that. 

    The basic recipe for energy gels and powders then became 'maltodextrin + fructose', and hasn't changed since

    Claims, marketing, celebrity endorsement and many 1000s of pages of 'science' have poured forth from the ordinary sports nutrition industry in this time.

    But the products? 

    They're still in the 80s while innovation routinely passes for little more than a gentle facelift. 

    As examples, two of this year's biggest new sports nutrition products are Maurten's Drink Mix 320 and Science in Sport's Beta Fuel. 

    Both are carb drink mixes, both are 90%-plus maltodextrin and fructose.  

    How these are meaningfully different to old products like High5's Energy Drink (also 90%-plus maltodextrin and fructose), is hard to tell. 

    The ads and marketing look very different, but the ingredients labels? Rather less so. 

    You wouldn't hop online on a 1987 laptop

    Let alone tackle your next race on a 1987 road bike or in 1987's running kit...

    Why would anyone want 1980s nutrition for today's challenges?

    Ordinary sports nutrition maltodextrin fructose old triathlon

    The passing of time hasn't been kind to early triathlon

    Could it be that when Noakes and co first hit paydirt with the Leppin Squeezy, they also alighted upon the one and only nutritional paradigm in the world to deliver the best possible results for athletes everywhere?

    Maybe the good old maltodextrin/fructose combo is just so darned awesome there's simply no way to improve it? 

    Sadly, no.  

    Maltodextrin and Fructose - not special athlete fuel 

    Even Noakes himself has long since renounced carb-focused nutrition, explaining in 2012 how anyone with a copy of his book 'Lore of Running' should "tear out the section on nutrition".

    Just as Noakes's own professional studies lead him to change his mind on carbs, so an increasing body of evidence is suggesting that both maltodextrin and fructose can be damaging for anyone, let alone athletes in search of health and performance. 

    Maltodextrin is linked to poor gut health and chronic disease, while fructose (fruit sugar), once processed and removed from the fruit/veg/plant it originally came from is now better known as 'alcohol without the buzz' thanks to hitting the body with the same negative impacts as booze including liver damage and high blood pressure. 

    These two ingredients are junk food staples. Cheap, legal filler for thousands of products worldwide - nothing wrong with that if that's what you want.

    Where both begin to - literally - leave a bitter taste in the mouth is when they're being sold as health and performance fuel to athletes looking for the best for their bodies. 

    As US maltodextrin producer Bell Chem explains: 

    "Maltodextrin "is generally used in the production of sodas and candy... [and] can also be found in many other processed foods..."

    They add:

    Maltodextrin "contains almost no vitamins and minerals to assist with turning carbohydrates into energy... consuming maltodextrin may actually reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals in the body... Over time this can lead to a net decrease in a person's vitamin and mineral levels".

    Actively removing your body's vitamins and minerals is hardly helpful when you're taking things to the limit. 

    It's a bit like Lewis Hamilton taking to the track while towing a caravan.

    Meanwhile Dr Robert Lustig has done huge work on the issues with fructose - if you're interested to know more his lecture 'Sugar, the bitter truth' has racked up an astonishing 7.8 million YouTube views and is well worth a watch.  

    Back to the Future

    Deciding that rehashing the same formulas as everyone else while dressing up processed food additives as something special wasn't for us, at 33Shake we came at sports nutrition from a blank slate instead. 

    We'd suffered all the common issues with ordinary products in our own racing and training - the stomach trouble, the immune issues, the yo-yo energy, the sheer hideous taste of most stuff - and had worked out the low grade nature of the ingredients was at the heart of this. 

    Real, natural whole foods provided the antidote, particularly superfoods ('superfood' simply means any food with an above average concentration of beneficial nutrients). 

    And so we set about creating products that brought the power of these natural ingredients to the convenience of sports nutrition. 

    Our Pre and Post Workout Shakes and Chia Energy Gels were the result. They transformed our own performance, and have been transforming the performance of thousands more athletes ever since. 

    Judging by the speed of 33Shake's growth from those early days at our kitchen table to now being on sale in 23 countries from the UK to the USA, a lot of athletes are fast finding that good old powerful real food sources hold the key to their future performance.

    The most powerful whole foods for athletic performance meet the convenience of sports nutrition in our mighty Pre and Post Workout Shake. Have you tried yours yet?

    Related content

    Maltodextrin side effects

    Better sleep for athletes

    Coffee and performance - maximise caffeine benefits in your training and racing

    Diet and mental health - the food mood connection

    The best sugar for athletes

    Alcohol and athletic performance - all you ever wanted to know

    Overtraining - five signs you're overcooking it

    Pro Cycling's Dirty Secret

    Cycling is great for the environment - pedal about your daily business and you can smugly slash carbon emissions at a pedal stroke. And the Tour de France is cycling in all its majesty, winding its way through some of Europe's most stunning natural landscapes. But, there is a big skeleton in pro cycling's cupboard...Plastic. Absolutely [...]

    Read More »

    Endurance: How smiling improves exercise performance

    If we’re smiling when running it not only shows that we’re enjoying ourselves, it could also help us perform betterIn a recent post on training motivation, 33Shake co-founder Warren melded a quote from Irish endurance legend Gerry Duffy - “You don’t have to train, you get to train” - with the Latin phrase ‘memento mori’, which means [...]

    Read More »

    Heartbeats per mile - a better fitness measure than heart rate?

    Endurance athletes are used to using heart rate per minute to monitor training, but new evidence suggests measuring heartbeats per mile could be even better…When you want to know how expensive your car will be to run, you ask about its miles per gallon, not its miles per minute, right? So why not take a [...]

    Read More »

    Salbutamol, asthma and the Tour de France’s missing marginal gain

    When I was a kid no one knew what salbutamol was. Having been diagnosed as asthmatic aged four and given two inhalers - one of which was salbutamol - I got used to explaining to teachers exactly what I was puffing on in class, and why. Today, everyone knows what it is thanks to more [...]

    Read More »

    Three signs you need to eat during exercise

    Standard fueling dogma for endurance sports says you must eat before you’re hungry otherwise the wheels will fall off and you’ll collapse in a sweaty, crying heap somewhere just shy of the halfway mark.This is excellent advice. If you are a sports nutrition company…Because when athletes follow this advice they consume a LOT more product [...]

    Read More »

    The sugar tax: how a great idea went pear-shaped

    The sugar tax is one of the largest pieces of health legislation to hit the UK food industry and you would think that, as founder of a British, high-health, high-performance all-natural sports nutrition company, I would be over the moon about it...After all, the UK government has finally stepped in to curtail the endless shoving [...]

    Read More »

    Why a strong core could be your weak link

    Endurance athletes are forever told that developing ‘strong core’ muscles will make them more robust, allowing them to train more consistently and produce better results. But today’s cautionary blog explains how that’s a bit of an oversimplification...First, the prologue. This blog is written from painful experience and is being typed at a standing desk with a large emerging [...]

    Read More »

    Training motivation - you get to do this. PS: and you’re going to die

    “You don’t have to train, you get to train”. This is a genius line I heard from Irish endurance legend Gerry Duffy, a man who transformed his own life and fitness and went on to win the first ever Deca Ironman race.That’s ten Ironman triathons, consecutively, over ten days. When it comes to training motivation, goal setting [...]

    Read More »

    Polarised training for endurance sport - should you try it?

    The 80/20 model of polarised training has long been flagged at the the the best method to improve as an endurance athlete. But what is it, how do you adopt it, and what are the most common mistakes?Research into optimal training for endurance has been taking place for over a century and has consistently shown [...]

    Read More »

    Sports Nutrition is dead. This is performance fuel, Learn More >