We've taken out all the stuff your body doesn't need, and left in the delicious real food stuff needed to make these, our most convenient and versatile portable yet.
Fruit Drops From Skratch Labs
The Little Picture:
The consumption of carbohydrate during exercise has been shown to be a critical part of maintaining and enhancing performance during intense and prolonged exercise (1, 2, 3, 4).
At the same time, the overconsumption of carbohydrate during exercise has been associated with gastro-intestinal distress (GI-distress), which can be exacerbated by dehydration, heat stress, and highly concentrated carbohydrate sources that empty from the stomach at a faster rate than they can be absorbed by the small intestine (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
While overconsumption of carbohydrate and under-consumption of fluids is at the heart of GI-distress, a number of factors may help alleviate GI-distress including the use of more than one type of carbohydrate (i.e., glucose & fructose), the addition of fiber like pectin (to help slow the emptying of carbohydrate from the stomach), and the removal of excess food additives (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
We’ve always believed in fresh portables made from scratch to quell GI-distress. But we also recognize, that in the same way we were able to greatly improve the sports drink, there were many opportunities to improve carbohydrate supplements. With that goal in mind, we developed our Fruit Drops - a pectin based energy chew with a specific ratio of glucose and fructose that is flavored only with real fruit and that does not contain the coloring agents, flavoring agents, and waxes common to many similar products.
Made in a convenient bite size drop that contains 4 grams of carbohydrate or 16 Calories per drop, our Fruit Drops are a simple way to regulate carbohydrate consumption during exercise for when we don’t have the time or resources to make fresh food portables from scratch.
Use our Fruit Drops as an easy and convenient source of carbohydrate to help maintain blood sugar and performance during prolonged exercise. As a starting point, for activities lasting longer than 2 hours, consume 1 package of Fruit Drops, containing 160 Calories (40 grams carbohydrate), each hour, beginning the first hour. Realize that the upper limit for carbohydrate absorption and use is about 100 grams per hour (2.5 packages of Fruit Drops). So keep in mind other sources of carbohydrate that you might be consuming like our Exercise Hydration Mix, which contains 80 Calories or 20 grams of carbohydrate per 500 ml serving, to avoid upsetting your gut.
The Big Picture:
Our “Fruit Drops” were made for people who need an easy and convenient source of carbohydrate to fuel their exercise performance. The rationale for their use is based on the simple fact that the consumption of carbohydrate is a critical part of maintaining and enhancing performance during intense and prolonged exercise (1, 2, 3, 4).
While designed for sport and an active lifestyle, it’s not lost upon us that this product is essentially a source of simple sugars and that an excess of sugar is often blamed for obesity and disease (5, 6). While excess of any sort is likely dangerous, it’s important to realize that obesity is a complex and multifactorial issue as are the metabolic diseases associated with it (7). A clear example of this is the fact that artificial sweeteners, which have no calories, are also associated with obesity (8, 9). That all said, we developed our Fruit Drops with physical activity and the problem of maintaining blood sugar during exercise in mind and do not advocate their use outside of the context of athletic performance. Which is to say, use common sense and don’t eat them if you’re just sitting around and don’t need the fuel.
Ironically, for some, the problem of sustaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise can result in gastrointestinal distress (GI-distress) in endurance events if too much carbohydrate is consumed at once or at rates that exceed the ability of the small intestine (i.e., gut) to absorb all of the carbohydrate presented to it (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). GI-distress is especially common with hyperosmolar (i.e., a molecular concentration or osmolarity greater than blood) or high calorie liquid and semi-liquid carbohydrate solutions that empty rapidly from the stomach into the gut and can be exacerbated by the use of only a single type of carbohydrate, by food additives not recognized by the gut that increase tonicity (i.e., the number of molecules unable to cross the intestinal wall), and by dehydration or heat stress which can damage the intestinal membrane (12, 16, 17, 18, 19).
While eating too much too fast without enough water under extreme stress is at the heart of GI-distress, there are a few things that may help. For example, adding pectin, a form of fruit fiber, to carbohydrate can slow the rate that carbohydrate empties from the stomach, which may theoretically smooth and temper the load on the gut without significantly affecting carbohydrate absorption or the post-prandial glucose response (20, 21). In addition the use of multiple-transportable carbohydrates in the form of glucose and fructose can improve the absorption of carbohydrate across the gut while reducing the potential for GI-distress (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27). Finally, food additives like coloring agents and emulsifiers may harm beneficial intestinal bacteria or microbiota and may negatively affect the intestinal barrier already under stress from the transport of normal foodstuffs like sugar and salt (28, 29, 30). Thus, eliminating ingredients not critical to a carbohydrate supplement may further reduce the stress on the small intestine, not only by reducing the overall osmolarity and tonicity, but by limiting any harmful effect on the intestinal wall.
Although freshly made portables is our preferred solution for maintaining adequate carbohydrate intake during exercise, it was in balancing the need for a convenient and simple fuel for athletic performance with the potential for GI-distress that is common to carbohydrate supplements that our Fruit Drops were developed. Effectively, our Fruit Drops are a pectin based energy chew or gumdrop containing a specific ratio of glucose and fructose, flavored only with real fruit, and without excess ingredients like flavoring agents, coloring agents, perfumes, or waxes common to many energy chews – modifications that attempt to eliminate many of the problems associated with some prepackaged carbohydrate sources.
A single package of Fruit Drops contains 10 drops, at 16 Calories a piece for a total of 160 Calories or 40 grams of carbohydrate per package. With maximal rates of exogenous carbohydrate absorption and oxidation in the range of 70-100 grams per hour (1, 2), a single pack of Fruit Drops along with 1 to 2 servings (500 ml per serving) of our Exercise Hydration Mix (20 grams per serving) each hour, is adequate to meet the upper limit of carbohydrate need in the fittest individuals during the most strenuous exercise.
Still, the intake of carbohydrate during exercise to improve or maintain performance is individual and specific to one’s energy expenditure – something that is highly variable depending upon individual fitness, exercise intensity, the intensity pattern, and exercise duration. Moreover, the maintenance of performance during exercise is not just about adequate carbohydrate ingestion it’s also about adequate hydration and electrolyte replacement (31). While our Fruit Drops can easily provide enough carbohydrate for even the fittest individuals, no modifications, including those made to our Fruit Drops, can prevent GI-distress if carbohydrate is over-consumed, especially without adequate water and sodium. Like all things in the realm of performance and nutrition, it’s up to the individual to determine what works best for them, to use common sense, and to have a well thought out plan for replacing fuel, water, and electrolytes during exercise; which might even mean abstaining from drinking and eating for very short and intense exercise bouts where internal stores are probably more than adequate to meet energy needs and sweat loss.
It’s with this sense of pragmatism that we created our Fruit Drops using the same thinking and process that we used to develop our Exercise Hydration Mix. In the same way that we were never happy with sports drinks until we made our own, we were never satisfied with energy chews until we literally reimagined them from scratch. Although we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to change this category of sports nutrition, we did know that we weren’t going to bring a product to market if we didn’t. It’s for this reason that we truly believe our Fruit Drops change energy chews in the same way our Exercise Hydration Mix changed sports drinks – for the better. Like our drink mixes, our Fruit drops are based on sound science without neglecting taste or real world performance. So for those times when you don’t have enough time to prepare your favorite cookie, rice cake or other real food portable, our Fruit Drops provide a simple and convenient alternative to help fuel your hardest and longest adventures.
When we first created our Exercise Hydration Mix, our goal was to solve the persistent complaint from athletes that sugary sports drinks upset their bellies and left a bad taste in their mouth – complaints that ultimately hampered hydration and hurt performance. To quell complaints and improve performance we began mining the scientific literature, tinkering in our kitchen, and experimenting in the field. This led us to develop a sports drink from scratch with a number of key features: 1) less sugar, 2) a specific ratio of sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, 3) a lighter taste profile created by using real fruit, 4) a profile of electrolytes that better matched what was actually lost in sweat, and the 5) elimination of excess ingredients like coloring agents, emulsifiers, preservatives, and flavoring agents. The result – a very light and clean sports drink with an extremely low molecular concentration or osmolarity (160 mOsmol/L) that transformed how athletes and the industry view hydration.
Our goal in making our “Fruit Drops” was to apply the key lessons we learned when formulating our Exercise Hydration mix to the category of “energy chews and blocks.” To be clear, we were never fans of energy chews for the same reason we were never happy with sports drinks before we made our own. We also didn’t know if it was possible to transform the common energy chew into something we wanted to use ourselves or give to our friends and family. But in the same way we reimagined sports drinks and hydration, we thought it worth a try to reinvent the energy chew. Moreover, we realized the benefit of simplicity and convenience for those needing more carbohydrate than provided by our Exercise Hydration Mix, especially since cooking real food portables from scratch isn't always possible.
To reinvent the energy chew, we took the basic recipe for a gumdrop and made the following modifications:
1. We made our Fruit Drops less sweet by adding slightly more water. This makes our fruit drop softer, less sticky, easier to chew, and more palatable. Gram for gram, this also makes our fruit drop about 15% less sweet or energy dense than competing energy chews. Although this reduces the total calories per bite, it makes eating more fruit drops easier on the palate and gut, which improves one’s ability to stay fueled over the long haul.
2. We made cane sugar the primary ingredient followed by tapioca syrup to get a specific ratio of two sugars – glucose and fructose – that we believe better matches the ratio of fructose and glucose transporters in the small intestine. This allows improved absorption of carbohydrate by taking advantage of the two key sugar transporters in the gut. Our ratio of sugars is significantly different than what is found in competing energy chews – a ratio we put considerable time and effort in developing.
3. Compared to other products we increased the sodium content of our fruit drops to help replace a small portion of the sodium that is lost via sweat. The increased sodium content also has the benefit of satiating the craving for salt that people often get during exercise. Finally, adding sodium along with glucose helps to facilitate the transport of water into the body.
4. Rather than using natural or synthetic flavoring agents we used real fruit for flavor. This gives our Fruit Drops a subtle and light flavor. It tastes like real fruit because it’s made with real fruit.
5. We eliminated a number of ingredients that we consider to be excess that aren’t easily recognized or managed by the body. These ingredients include carnauba wax, coloring agents, additional vitamins, and strong perfumes and flavoring agents.
6. To prevent our Fruit Drops from sticking together we added a sour sugar coating using a combination of apple acid (fumaric acid) and crystalized sugar. Not only does this make each drop easier to handle, it gives our drops a unique and salivating taste. Most importantly, it allowed us to eliminate wax and oils from our fruit drops.
To our delight, the process of tinkering, testing, and trying eventually led to modifications that profoundly changed the taste, feel, and function of our Fruit Drops compared to other energy chews. Admittedly, we didn’t begin with high expectations that the transformation we achieved was even possible. At the same time, we did have extremely high expectations that we weren’t going to put out a product that didn't completely blow us away. The epiphany is that we were all blown away by the end product. We developed something we wanted for ourselves – something we were so happy with that the difficulty and stress of brining something new to market as quickly as possible became moot. Ultimately, we get that there’s a demand for energy chews, but as athletes, coaches, and people our first priority was something better for ourselves and our active friends and family.
Thoughts on Usage:
The use of our Fruit Drops really depends on two things – calories and convenience. Do you actually need the calories? Is your blood sugar low? Are you even hungry? And, most importantly, are you lacking the time and resources to prepare something from scratch?
If the answer to the questions above are yes, then for most people having a package of Fruit Drops, containing 160 Calories (40 grams of carbohydrate), for each hour of exercise is likely more than enough to fuel most activities, especially if adequately hydrated with something like our Exercise Hydration Mix which contains an additional 80 Calories (20 grams of carbohydrate) per 500 ml serving.
Carbohydrate need and usage, however, is a highly individual thing and specific to the type, intensity, and duration of exercise. Thus, regulating carbohydrate consumption is ultimately the responsibility of the individual. It’s a responsibility that can be vetted through direct metabolic measurement in an exercise physiology lab or through careful self-experimentation in the field. With that in mind, realize that our usage recommendations – to have a package on hand for each hour of exercise – is simply a starting point that doesn’t trump an individual’s specific needs or their responsibility to assess them.
It’s also important to realize that the upper limit for external or exogenous carbohydrate absorption and usage during exercise for the fittest individuals is about 100 grams of carbohydrate per hour or 400 Calories. That’s not to say that we don’t burn more than 400 Calorie in an hour. What this means is that most people can’t actually absorb and use more than 400 Calories of ingested carbohydrate each hour – that above 100 grams of carbohydrate in a single hour, the extra fuel is not likely to be absorbed or used, and only increases the risk for gastro-intestinal distress, even if more calories are actually being burned by the body. The reality is that the energy we use during exercise is highly dependent upon the fat and carbohydrate (i.e., glycogen) we have stored in our bodies. The exogenous carbohydrate we consume only supplements what is stored.
With all that in mind, a solid foundation for better understanding the calories that one needs during exercise can be found in the Feed Zone Portables cookbook (32). As a general rule, for activities lasting 2 to 6 hours in length, a reasonable goal is to replace half the calories burned per hour. Measuring calories accurately is it’s own problem that is addressed in detail in the Feed Zone Portables. But, for perspective, a 154 lb person walking at 3 mph will burn about 230 Calories per hour. At a 12-minute mile or 5 mph, the energy requirement goes up to 600 Calories per hour. At a 6-minute mile or 10 mph, the energy needed will be just over 1000 Calories per hour. So unless you’re able to hold an exercise intensity equivalent to a 6-minute mile pace for more than 2 hours, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to consume more than 100 grams or 400 Calories per hour, which just happens to be the upper limit of what our gastrointestinal system can even absorb per hour while exercising. What this means is that we don't think anyone needs or can consume more than 2.5 packs of Fruit Drops per hour.
Ultimately, usage is about context. Energy rich foods and simple sugars like those found in our Fruit Drops are great if we are exercising for prolonged periods of time, but not great if we are sedentary or exercising for short durations. Moreover, even for the fittest athletes there is an upper limit for how much carbohydrate that can be consumed and absorbed, so relying on and improving our ability to use stored glycogen and fat to reduce our need for exogenous carbohydrate is an important key to endurance performance. When all is said and done, our Fruit Drops are simply a convenient and extremely simple carbohydrate supplement that is a great alternative to freshly made portables when we don’t have the time to be in the kitchen or as a safety net in our pocket or pack for situations when we find ourselves needing more energy than we thought. So keep a pack or two handy for whenever you’re on the move.
Allen Lim, PhD
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