I lived in Boulder for a short stint and remember hearing about Skratch Labs when they first started making the rounds. The founder, Allen Lim, used to set up a folding table on the side of the road near some of the popular local road climbs and give out samples. Back then it was called the Secret Drink Mix and soon after being introduced to the public it morphed into the fully fledged business named Skratch Labs.
The idea behind it was simple, but has had such a profound effect on the way athletes hydrate themselves. Allen heavily emphasises education and an understanding of what you are putting into your body. This is because prior to starting Skratch, Allen was a sport scientist and coach for a professional cycling team. He had an impressive resume even before he went down the route of starting a business.
So what did Allen do with his drink mix that others weren’t? He used less sugar, more sodium, and real fruit instead of artificial flavoring and created the Sport Hydration Drink Mix. This turned the often too sweet, and useless, electrolyte beverage into something more palatable and more useful. Additionally, Allen emphasizes that your drink is for hydration and real food should be used in conjunction with the mix for nutrition and fueling, for when you really need to get some extra calories in.
Life Before Skratch Labs
When I first started to get serious about cycling I would fill my bottles with Hammer’s Heed Sports Drink. It was fine, but would always leave me with a weird mouth feel. I can’t exactly remember it now, mostly because I’ve banished myself from using it since 2011, but it was distinct. I think some of it came from needing more powder per single serving (32g versus needing 22g for Skratch), making the drink taste thicker. I’d often feel even thirstier than when I started drinking it, too. Stuff like this is very personal, and there are plenty of athletes who find Heed to be fine. It just wasn’t for me.
Trying Something Different
Using the Skratch Exercise Hydration Drink Mix, I didn’t get that weird mouth feel in the latter part of my rides and the tastes were also that much more refreshing. Can you imagine sprinting across around your house, then trying to stuff a slice of cake in your mouth? That’s what some of those other drinks felt like. They had a heavy feel and the flavor sucked. When I lived in Florida I participated in some cross country MTB races and sometimes I would stop drinking during an event because I couldn’t deal with the taste of my drink anymore. If you’ve ever been to Florida you know that’s a bad idea, too. Temperatures are often 85+ degrees and humidity levels are high.
How Does the Skratch Hydration Mix Taste?
Skratch flavors, even though they’re similar to other brands (orange, strawberry, etc) are much more refreshing because they use real fruit. I can’t reiterate this point enough. Real ingredients make a huge difference in the way Skratch tastes compared to other brands out there. Not to mention the placebo effect of feeling quite smug knowing you’re not putting a bunch of artificially flavored crap in your stomach.
The taste also isn’t overbearing and in fact could be considered subtle when compared to other electrolyte drinks on the market. This makes it much easier to drink when working hard and I don’t experience the flavor fatigue I’ve had from other drink mixes. Whether it’s the first 30 minutes of a ride or the 4th hour of an enduro race, I’m still happy to keep sipping away at my Skratch.
Flavor wise, I’ve been a long time fan of the Passion Fruit Drink Mix (and even the Matcha Green Tea & Lemon on occasion), but have been using Fruit Punch lately and am really enjoying it. For a classic, go with Lemon & Lime or Orange. Up next on the menu is their newest flavor, Strawberry Lemonade and I’m looking forward to trying that one soon.
Let’s Get to the Ingredients
The intangible benefits of the Skratch Sport Hydration Drink Mix are pretty great and the same can be said for the tangible bits, too.
Depending on the flavor you’ll find different types of fruit in the ingredients list, but these are the ingredients of the hydration mix that you’ll find in most flavors: cane sugar, dextrose, sodium citrate, citric acid, magnesium lactate, calcium citrate, and potassium citrate.
Comparing Skratch to some of the more popular sports drinks out there, it’s easy to see why many athletes have made the switch. As a kid, and even today, Gatorade is one of the go to’s for hydration. Take one look at that Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list and you might change your mind though.
Gatorade has quite a bit more sugar, and this comes with no real intrinsic value.
What counts is the sodium level. If it looks worryingly high, think about how much you lose when you sweat. Skratch will replace that without the excess calories or sugars. Also remember that the Skratch Sport Drink Mix isn’t for when you’re sitting around on the couch hanging out – it’s designed for when you’re working hard and sweating. Skratch used to have an Everyday Hydration mix that could be consumed whenever, but it is no longer available and for now you can dilute the standard sport mix. They even have a little recipe for homemade daily hydration.
One more thing before we move on from Gatorade. Products like that contain lots of fun ingredients and if we look at Lemon-Lime Gatorade we can see one of those ingredients is Yellow 5. I’m no scientist, but if Austria and Norway ban it, it can’t possibly be that great (Norway is the second happiest country in the world according to the 2019 Happiness Report, so maybe there’s something to that). It’s also an additive that was approved for use in the US in 1969 – I think we’ve advanced enough since then to maybe use real fruit and not worry so much about having a neon colored beverage?
If you want to know the science behind why Skratch has the levels of calories, sodium, and sugars that it does, spend some time reading Skratch’s article on hydration science. It’s by the PhD wielding founder of Skratch Labs himself. He knows his shit.
Why Skratch is the Best
Let’s recap. Skratch products are developed with science, use real fruit, and have sodium, sugar, and carbohydrate levels that match up to what are normally lost when working out and sweating. There are 7 flavors to choose from to suit your sophisticated palate. Alex Howes, the 2019 US National Road Race Champ, uses it.
You should, too.
Essential Hydration Mix Info
Strawberry Lemonade, Lemon & Lime, Oranges, Strawberries, Passion Fruit, Matcha Green Tea & Lemon, Fruit Punch
Resealable Bag (20 servings), Single Serving, Single Serving 20 Pack
Where to Buy
Purchase directly from Skratch here: Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Mix