Have you ever had to stop mid-race to depart with something you ate, at either end? Sounds gross, but in the world of triathletes, it’s a very real problem. Heat, distance, sensitive stomachs, taking in too much or taking in too little can result in mild stomach cramps to full on port-a-potty stops and even DNF’s. It’s a tightrope walk to find the right combination of hydration and nutrition that works for any one given athlete. Forget about what your friends use. They may not sweat like a pig or have a cast-iron gut that can process anything. You’re not Rambo who can eat things that would make a billy goat puke.
For those keeping tabs, personally I’ve had my issues with heat and nutrition at long course events in 2011. It started at the Midwest Mayhem long course triathlon and continued at Ironman Boulder 70.3. Both of these long course events occurred during the heat of the summer. It’s also interesting as we triathletes age, our external appearance not only changes, but our internal functionality changes as well. Items such as sports gels and energy chews no longer worked on log course and instead caused GI upset, gas and heartburn. What was once a staple of training and racing had become the bane of my existence on the race course.
Back to the drawing board and 2012 was an experiment in finding a new solution to hydration and nutrition. Sports gels are out, fluids are in. It’s not a 100 percent fluid intake plan, as there are some energy chews that work for my particular issues.
But, hydration is always a contentious subject in triathlete circles. There are 101 companies and brands out there trying to get their product on the market. Some will test your sweat output for salinity and formulate an exact hydration mix that in theory should get your body right on race day. Others throw together concoctions they deem appropriate for the vast majority of athletes and insist their products are far superior than X, Y or Z brand.
There are even a few that advertise that they will take the place of any nutritional solids athletes think they need to get through a long workout or race. That’s where we find Tailwind Nutrition. That’s their target market. Hate all the extra stuff you have to lug around like salt pills, gels or chews? Tailwind wants to be your one stop shop. They claim, “Tailwind’s potent energy and electrolytes are all you need to go all day.
No juggling gels, pills, or chews—just pour, shake, and go.” What’s really interesting is their statement that, “Tailwind also has a full complement of electrolytes that mimic the composition and proportions of sweat, so you don't have to take separate electrolyte pills to make up for what's not in your drink.” Electrolyte and/or salt pills can be a slippery slope. It takes a lot of research to find out the right time and quantity of pills to take for any given athlete. Too little and it’s pointless to mess with it. Too much with not enough water and you can find yourself in the emergency room with a severe electrolyte imbalance.
That’s the test. Could Tailwind provide a sustainable source of energy without the additional nutrition supplements? Will Tailwind avoid the gut rot that some athletes experience with sports gels and chews? Will the taste be tolerable? Is the powder convenient to mix and use?
Tailwind has their marketing act together. Their packaging is professional and their product lines are cohesive. You’re not looking at one package and then the other wondering if it was made by the same group. The packages are sealed, packed well and shipped promptly. Have you ever been eyeing some nutrition or even regular groceries and wondered if the packing job was sealed and safe for consumption? Unless you’re buying twinkies that could survive nuclear holocausts, don’t trust suspect packaging and Tailwind subscribes to safe packaging. In fact, it’s almost “difficult” to get into their packets at times.
What’s also nice is the resealable packets. Any size they have, the pouch can be resealed via a zip lock strip for safe storage if all of the product is not used at once.
Ease of Preparation / Cleanup
Here’s the tricky part. Tailwind recommends and provides enough product in one pouch for 48 oz of hydration. The larger pouches come with a scoop, but with the smaller packets, users must have a way to measure out the right combination of water and Tailwind powder, or have a 48 oz container on hand to mix all at once and pour into water bottles. Issues could arise from estimating how much powder has been poured into a 12 oz water bottle for single use mixings. When we tested our Tailwind, we guestimated serving sizes and mixed as we saw fit. For the most part, the serving sizes were adequate and didn’t require huge amounts of prep time and measuring utensils. The moral of the story is that using the eyeball test for the right mix works just fine. You might short yourself 20 or 30 calories here and there, but for the everyday non-elite triathlete, it won’t bonk the bank.
Who likes the powder that clumps together and takes an industrial paint shaker to mix? If you don’t like shaking your water bottle for 20 minutes, Tailwind is a solution for you. Their mix is highly water soluble and with one to two shakes, the powder is dissolved 100 percent into the water and you’re off, secure in knowing that half of your nutrition isn’t stuck to the bottle of the bottle. That also helps with cleanup. Who’s got time to repeatedly hose out a water bottle to get that last bit of goop and grime off of the bottom? Don’t count on your dishwasher to get it, either. The sure way to avoid sucking up leftover drink mix in your next ride is using a product like Tailwind that dissolves 100 percent.
With hydration, taste is more than half of the battle. No one wants to suck down vile tasting hot water on mile 50 of a half ironman. There are a lot of mixes that taste fine when chilled, but very few are palatable on a 90+ degree day. Even your taste friendly, sugar loaded gatorades and powerades can result in immediate stomach ejection on a hot day. While we tested Tailwind in the early spring, temperatures didn’t hit the 90’s, but it did get to the 70’s on longer rides. The mixture at least was exposed to the sun for 2+ hours or stored on a hydration belt being warmed by body heat. It’s safe to say that during our test runs, Tailwind wasn’t chilled to a desirable hydration temperature.
On initial consumption fresh after mixing, Tailwind was very palatable and lacked the sour or tart kick that some of the bigger brands punch. It was very similar to your flavored waters on the market these days. When you think of nutrition and hydration in long course triathlons, and you throw in too much sports gels or a sour sports drink in a fragile ecosystem, and BAM, rot gut, port-a-potty stops and bloated stomach are your co-pilots. Drinking Tailwind on scheduled hydration stops was as disrupting as drinking plain water.
The taste wasn’t vile after 2 hours running with Tailwind on the hydration belt. It went down smooth and didn’t produce major disruption in the workout, just like it’s suppose to.
But, that lack of taste may not hot home for all triathletes. Who doesn’t like to have a little favor when in the saddle for 2 to 3 hours? It’s another balancing act to get it just right without going overboard and causing discomfort or rejection. We found that mixing a little G2 gatorade works wonders upping the taste without significantly upping the calories and sugar. It worked great for taste after time and didn’t sour the stomach.
Tailwind’s passing marks on taste are probably bolstered by the nutrition facts. Sodium, potassium and carbs are in line with most other competitors, but sugar content is somewhat disproportionate. With 25 grams per serving, Tailwind exceeds some competitors by almost 5 times with sugar content. That agreeable taste is more than likely proportionate with the sugar. What’s newsworthy is the fact that even with more sugar than most, Tailwind didn’t cause the GI distress or rot gut that those with delicate stomachs experience with an excess of sugar.
Even pushing high zone 2 on a long run for 2 hours, Tailwind went down without a problem. Even after the run, we weren’t left feeling nauseous or faint from lack of nutrition.
Don’t write off Tailwind for its sugar content. It may be more in line with sports drinks such as gatorade and powerade, but it provides more nutritional substance than those drinks.
Tailwind is advertised as a long workout or race mix. We used it for 1 to 2+ hour runs, sprint runs, hill runs, 1 to 2+ hour bikes rides, trainer rides and swims and each and every time, there was no bonk or GI distress. From an athlete that cannot tolerate the sports gels and chews and needs their nutrition from their hydration, Tailwind delivered.
Tailwind provided confidence in knowing that I could complete a workout as planned with just the drink. It may or may not provide triathletes with energy above and beyond that of other mixes, but it performed to the standard I have come to expect from my tried and true hydration after 2+ years of ditching gels and chews. There were no breakout workouts or land speed records set, but I felt strong and energized enough to get the job done.
The 50 serving is priced at $34.99 and the single use 4 servings is priced at $10.50. See a list below for comparison of prices.
GU BREW - $14.99 for 35 servings, $0.43 per serving
TAILWIND - $34.99 for 50, $0.70
TAILWIND - $10.50 for 4, $2.63
PUSH ENDURANCE - $44.99 for 23, $1.96
HAMMER HEED - $28.00 for 32, $0.88
HDX - $55.00 for 48, $1.15
In this day and age of the internet and with so many choices, it’s a no brainer that the savvy triathlete will shop online for the best product and the best prices. Buying Tailwind in bulk puts you right in the middle of the value per serving. It then comes down to trying out the products to see if they work for you.
Tailwind’s claim to fame is their ability to supply what a triathlete needs for long periods of strenuous exercise, replacing the need for solid nutrition. After putting Tailwind in the grinder for 2 weeks of workouts, it’s safe to report that they held up their end of the bargain. With no chews or gels, we made it through indoor and outdoor runs and rides without the need for solids. There were no dizzy spells, GI distress or needs to go to the emergency room for IV fluids and electrolytes. Tailwind is worth a try.
They also are so confident in their product that they have the Tailwind Challenge that if you buy 4 bulk servings at 10 percent off, and you don’t agree that Tailwind provided you with the nutrition you needed, they will pay your race entry (with certain stipulations, of course). At least they put their money where your mouth is.
*Writer’s note, Tailwind provided 1 bulk serving and 2 (4) serving pouches for this review and in no way influenced the review.
Ryan Falkenrath is a married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. He writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, Endurance Sports Examiner and runs the Man Vs Triathlon project while participating in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans (soon to be Ironman distance in 2013). Contact Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.