Accelerade Sports Drink
Accelerade is not a new drink, but after having raced with it for a number of years, and then moving on to many other drinks, it seemed like a good time to get back to a once-coveted favorite.
Every drink on the market claims to boost performance. Every drink takes a different mix of components in an effort to both be the best and have a unique formulation. Accelerade and Endurox, the during-exercise and après-exercise drinks from Pacific Health Labs, claims theirs is the best and the reason is protein, specifically a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate calories to protein. In a 20-ounce bottle, people typically mix a scoop and a half of Accelerade, or 180 calories, of which 31.5g are carbohydrate and 7.5g are protein.
The claims are that Accelerade: "extends endurance 29%," "reduces muscle damage 83%, "rehydrates 40% better than water" (15% better than another sports drink), and "improves endurance up to 40% in a subsequent workout." Four bullet points goes nicely with the 4:1 ratio, as if these four things are four reasons to use it over any other drink. There is an asterisk next to these claims stating "compared to regular sports drink." Thankfully, Accelerade has a separate web page where they name the studies that they cite and include conclusions. For most of the studies, they enumerate how many subjects participated in each study; a good thing as some studies use very few participants. Looking at the published conclusions and then checking for the actual articles to see what Accelerade's role was in the study is hard as most of these studies are only publicly available as abstracts and the studies are hidden behind pay walls.
One article we checked on was "Effects of a carbohydrate-protein beverage on cycling endurance and muscle damage." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Jul;36(7):1233-8, 2004. Accelerade's site reads, "This study demonstrated that 'a carbohydrate beverage with additional protein calories produced significant improvements in time to fatigue and reductions in muscle damage in endurance athletes." Track down the study on the web, and you'll find the abstract and a slightly different conclusion, "Conclusion: A carbohydrate beverage with additional protein calories produced significant improvements in time to fatigue and reductions in muscle damage in endurance athletes. Further research is necessary to determine whether these effects were the result of higher total caloric content of the CHO+P beverage or due to specific protein-mediated mechanisms."
Since every drink maker seems to have a study or several stating theirs is the best, and the studies seem to rest on fairly sound methodology, it is hard to go by the studies alone. Besides, each study seems to be configured slightly differently, thus making it impossible to compare one drink to another because the studies are sufficiently different to render comparisons pointless—even though most of the studies we've seen compare the featured drink with water and or Gatorade. We wonder if variations in diet can account for many of the preferences individuals develop. We're willing to believe that for some people in some conditions, Accelerade is the best drink to use. But since taste is a huge component in drinking, that the quantity of liquid drunk and the desire to continue drinking are probably equally important if not more important factors in real-world performance.
So it is with this frustration and skepticism that we turn our attention to Accelerade. When we first heard of Accelerade, we were really intrigued by the idea that adding some protein to a carbohydrate drink mix could boost and extend cycling performance. We were comfortable with the idea that protein was an important building block for muscles and figured Accelerade and Endurox were sort of aimed at people who were into the Zone diet regimen. The stuff sure tasted different; stronger, without the sour notes we found in Cytomax and thicker and more complex than the flavor in Gatorade.
As usual, the mixing instructions are opaque. The included scoop qualifies as one serving. But that's for mixing with 12 ounces of water. Extending out to the serving size to an 18, 20 our 24 ounce bottle, you're looking at 1.5-2 servings per bottle mixed. That turns the 30-serving tub we have into 20 small bottles or 15 large bottles.
A small bottle, when mixed with the recommended dosage, yields 180 calories. That mix includes 1.5g of fat (15 calories), 15mg of cholesterol, 285mg of sodium, 97.5mg of potassium, 31.5g of carbohydrate, of which 30g is sugar in the form of sucrose and fructose and trehalose, and 7.5g of protein from whey protein concentrate from milk and soy. You also get 150% of your daily Vitamin C and E needs as well as 45% of your magnesium, and 6% of your calcium.
To our palate, Accelerade tastes best chilled, particularly with the tart lemonade flavor we tested out. A cold bottle of this on a hot day goes down great, a cool bottle on a cool or cold day is equally satisfying. We have no proof that it goes bad if left outside or in the heat, but the taste becomes progressively less palatable the warmer the beverage is. We've tried other flavors in the past, and the fruit punch flavor was more pleasant to swallow when warm. In terms of exercise intensity, we found the Accelerade more pleasant to drink at lower intensities than at high intensities.
In terms of seasons, we found this to be a good drink for colder weather. The flip side is we didn't enjoy it on really hot days, mostly because keeping an Accelerade bottle cold long enough to drink it is nearly impossible. That this has turned into a seasonal drink for us is not a problem; variety makes onboard drinking more interesting and maybe our taste preferences or palate will change again.
One quality of Accelerade that definitely is worth noting is the residue left in the bottle after you finish drinking. It's a result of the protein in the mix. If the bottle is still moist inside, hot water will flush it out; if the bottle has dried, you'll need to do a little scrubbing. We've found a sponge brush is best and were reluctant to use a bristle brush of the sort that people use on glass bottles. We called Specialized to ask them the best method for cleaning their bottles in this situation. They endorsed both bristle and sponge brushes.
PacificHealth Labs, makers of Accelerade, recommends either storing mixed bottles in a cold place or tossing the beverage after 24 hours of sitting. They recommend storing the tub at room temperature, and to "avoid excess heat above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
We're a big proponent of using taste as our guiding metric when it comes to cycling hydration and nutrition. If we like the taste, we'll eat and drink more. As we've proven to ourselves that we rarely eat and drink enough on the bike, particularly when riding hard and racing, anything that encourages more consumption is welcomed.
In terms of performance, we didn't notice an improvement with Accelerade over other drinks we put in our bottle, other than the taste discouraging our drinking, and thus hydrating less, on hot days. Cooler days, we drank more and more happily, but there, too, no noticeable improvement over other sports drinks. Not that our palate should be your last word. All drinks should be experimented with while training and there could always be something out there that is better than what you already like.