Until recently I’d always taken the view that sports supplements were really for Other People. Bodybuilders who needed to build muscle fast; teenage boys working on their biceps; oh, and proper sportsmen and women whose achievements justified spending money on extra products. I’d also assumed that they tasted as good as a 1970s meal replacement drink – a bit like sawdust mixed with saccharine. Over the last year, though, I’ve undergone a bit of a conversion. When Son on the Run started using energy drinks and protein recovery drinks, I dipped into his stash from time to time and couldn’t help but be impressed both by the effect and by the taste. So when Optimum Nutrition offered to send me some of their products to try out, I was all ears.
Optimum Nutrition (ON) are big on matching the diet to the sport and have a section specifically devoted to rowing on their website. They’re also happy to give individual advice, so when I told them I was training for regatta season, but with a 15k head race just a few weeks beforehand to complicate matters, they came up with a set of products to meet my needs. This is what they said:
“I would suggest that you try something that will give you a burst of energy and help you train longer / harder, and also something that will speed up muscle recovery / lessen aches and pains for you post row.
Essential Amino Energy is the first product of its kind in the UK market and supports recovery before, during and after exercise. It would be a great product for you as it combines:
- Natural energisers in the form of green tea and green coffee extracts
- Essential amino acids for muscle repair and rebuilding
- Arginine and citrulline for nitric oxide (N.O.) synthesis
- Beta-alanine to support longer, harder training
I’d also suggest you take a Gold Standard Whey protein shake a few hours before and immediately after rowing to help speed up muscle recovery and help the rebuilding process.
You should also be upping your protein levels with extra protein if you’re training in the gym regularly. Maybe a small shake in the a.m. and post workout. If you don’t like the shakes you could always try the rice crispy-esque bars [Whey Crisp Bars] which do the same thing.”
I made a beeline right away for the Whey Crisp Bars. They had sent me the double rich chocolate one, which is right up my street as a bit of a chocolate-lover (the alternative is marshmallow flavour, which sounds a bit too sweet for my liking). It’s a bit like a chocolate rice krispy biscuit – chewy, dark, chocolatey and disappearing so fast that I’ve had to hide the box from my kids who keep pinching them. I can’t say for sure whether they’ve improved my recovery (though the one I took during a light-headed wobble after the Head of the Dart certainly helped to revive me). Frankly, since they taste this good I’m prepared to be convinced. I have one sitting on my desk right now and it’s all I can do to resist it (I’ve already had a protein snack this morning). A box of 12 bars currently costs £22.99, which is mid-range compared with protein bars from other companies.
Next up was the Gold Standard Whey. This comes in a host of flavours (ice cream lovers will be tempted by the Rocky Road and Cookies’n’Cream options; I was sent the plainer French Vanilla Creme and Delicious Strawberry – again they seemed to understand that I don’t tend to go for the temple-achingly sweet). The powder mixes in very easily with water (unlike some other brands I’ve tried) – a gentle shake was enough. As far as taste was concerned, they got a definite thumbs up; neither grainy nor sickly, they definitely won in the taste stakes. I drank one of these shakes immediately after the longest run I’ve done to date and suffered no muscle pain at all, so I’m prepared to believe that it helped, too.
The powder costs £32.99 for 908g – not the cheapest by any means, though at the time of writing it’s on special offer, reduced to £19.79. The price does, I think, reflect the quality of the product, though, and I’d be inclined to say it was worth the extra money.
Of all the products that I tried, though, the stand out one was the Essential Amino Energy. I was sent the orange flavour powder which you mix with water; it tastes like orange squash but with a bit of a kick. I liked the fact that it’s low calorie – sometimes I prefer to make up the calories I use up with actual food! A two scoop serving carries only 10 calories.
It’s not for those sensitive to caffeine, but I really, really liked it. It is great for pre-workout and I’ve been taking some in the boat with me as well for normal outings; it definitely gives me a boost of energy. ON suggested that if I want to give it some extra oomph, I should mix it with an energy powder and that’s what I did for last weekend’s 15k race. I felt really strong for the entire race (56mins, 58 secs, for anyone who cares!).
Man on the Run and Son on the Run have also discovered this product and are converts, too. Man on the Run achieved a PB at a recent race fuelled by this, and his running mates are now trying to find out what his secret was (oops – the cat’s out of the bag now). My only problem is my dwindling supplies now that they keep dipping into the pot.
Again, it’s not cheap – a 30-serving pot costs £29.99 (currently reduced to £17.99) but I personally think it’s worth every penny. It turns an energy drink into something more and helps with recovery too. That, to me, is a winning formula.
I would tell you more, but everything you could wish to know is on the ON website and frankly I can no longer resist the lure of the whey crisp bar. I’m off for a snack break.
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