The Great Sugar Debate

Sugar is one of the most controversial ingredients in sports nutrition products. The mass over-consumption of sugar in the U.S. and its contribution to the obesity epidemic has demonized sugar as the worst thing a human being can put in their body. Period.

Nutrition brands that are designed to fuel you during exercise now use “No Sugar/Low Sugar” as an attraction to their product, but the reality is that their product(s) do contain sugar. A known sports nutrition brand claims to contain no sugar at all. But upon closer inspection it is revealed that its first ingredient is fruit juice, which is nearly all fructose – a form of sugar.

No Surger/Low Sugar RealityAnother company builds their product choice on “Cut the Sugar” even though their primary carbohydrate is maltodextrin. Interestingly, the FDA does not require maltodextrin to be labeled as a “sugar” even though that’s precisely what it is. Maltodextrin consists of D-glucose units (dextrose) connected in chains of variable length typically from three to seventeen glucose units long. So don’t be deceived by the nutrition label. While maltodextrin consists of glucose chains, only chains that have two or fewer glucose molecules are labeled as sugar on the nutrition facts panel.

Sugar = Fuel

If we look past the knee-jerk sugar condemnation, the truth is that sugar (in the form of glucose) is what fuels our muscles, brain and organs. Without it we wouldn’t last long and we certainly couldn’t engage in any endurance sports.

Our muscles and liver are like energy banks with about one day’s worth of glycogen (CHO) stored in them. During exercise, the glycogen is converted into glucose that muscle cell mitochondria use to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Muscle can usually store enough glycogen for about 60-90 minutes of high intensity exercise after which time these stores need to be replenished by consuming carbohydrates (sugar). Carbohydrates improve athletic performance by delaying muscle fatigue and allowing an athlete to compete at higher levels for longer.

As exercise increases, muscle glycogen becomes used up, which causes a higher need for carbohydrates. Many athletes, however, follow low carb high fat (LCHF) diets in an effort to shift fuel consumption to fats instead of carbs. The reality is, though, that we need BOTH for a successful fueling strategy. Our body uses the sugar for periods of high intensity, and uses the fat for times of low intensity. Your body uses a combination of what you are taking in, your glycogen stores and your fat stores, to fuel itself. THAT’s the balancing act.

Low Sugar Means Trouble

When there is glycogen depletion, muscles increase the utilization of protein and amino acids to produce glucose. Since protein and amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, they essentially feed on themselves for energy purposes. This can lead to muscle damage and can interfere with glycogen storage and synthesis. This is the opposite of what an athlete wants.

The fact is that athletes often have difficulty ingesting enough fast-acting carbs to drive them to the finish line – particularly in high intensity and/or endurance events. During a triathlon, for example, competitors may burn up to 800 calories per hour, but most can only absorb 200-300 at best. So the trick is to maximize your caloric consumption in the most efficient way possible without overloading your gut with more calories than it can process.

The Sugar Balancing Act

That is where Tailwind comes in. The carbs in our endurance fuel are simple sugars, like glucose, which need little to no digestion and which go directly to energize your muscles. This allows athletes to power up with minimal impact to the gut.

Is sugar necessary for endurance athletes? Absolutely! But the key is the type and quantity of sugar you ingest during exercise. Tailwind has nailed this carb balancing act with just enough fast-absorbing and fast-acting sugars to keep you moving – and stave off the depletion of your glycogen stores — without any lingering sweet aftertaste or residual carbs to mess with your gut.


So You Ran the Leadville Trail 100?

Start Running. Drink Tailwind. Don’t Stop.

That’s it. That was my plan to do for between 25 and 30 hours. I was a little worried that I was not more worried about the details beyond those facts, but in reality, I couldn’t control any of the things that were bound to happen on the course, therefore I just had to be ready to respond and adjust when they occur. I also knew I had a stellar crew at my side, who would be ready and willing to help meet my needs. They were my reserve confidence if my lack of training faltered.

The final two members of my crew, Dan and Julia, showed up to our campsite right before dinner after Kaitlin and I had returned from the LT100 Pep Rally. We made pasta, loaded Tailwind into little baggies, organized snacks into their proper bags, then went down to the lake for a final beer. We went through last-minute logistics, set our alarms for 2:30am and got into bed before the sun went down.

Mile 0 - Prerace

I was awake before my alarm but got enough sleep to feel rested as I loaded my pack with fluids. A little Carly Rae and some AC/DC got us to the start where I pulled my pack out of the car only to realize that it had leaked all over the floor. //* For the past three weeks (read: plenty of time to replace it) I have noticed that my bladder had a slight leak in the bottom. It was never enough to cause problems so I figured I’d replace it “someday.”) Welcome to someday, also known as race day. *// By the time the national anthem was finished my back was soaked and people were tapping me on the shoulder with worried looks for my livelihood. It was dark, 40 degrees, and I only had 12.5 miles to run, so I knew the water would last, but it was a frustrating way to start the race. My crew was on it and already had a plan to switch out the bladder when they saw me in a few hours.

As I swayed in the start line as the clock ticked down, I was underwhelmed by the sense of calm I had toward the race. All week I knew I didn’t have the legs to “race” the run, knew that I had the legs to finish, and knew that something would happen that I didn’t know. My plan to hold back was easy as I positioned myself in the middle of the pack and flowed downhill with 600 other runners after the gun. We formed a headlight parade down the dirt road before funneling onto the single track along Turquoise Lake. As I skipped slowly over the rocks, I gave myself kudos for not wasting any time running at night during training, because this seemed easy enough, and night running means staying up past my bedtime.

I was happy that my pace allowed for the sun to rise just as I was arriving at May Queen (Mile 12.5) because it allowed me to drop my headlamp with my crew and not have to worry about carrying it for another 11 miles. We swapped out my bladder, preloaded with Tailwind, but in typically Goldilocks fashion the second one didn’t work well either. It sat heavy in my pack and pulled the front straps up towards my face. Too wet. Too big. What’s next? It better be just right!

The trail climbed steadily up towards Sugarloaf Pass for about 1500′ and I got in line with other runners power hiking up the road. The ups were going well and I was passing a few people, but as we turned down my knee started to tingle in a familiar way. Not limiting my running by any means, but making me aware that it could in the near future. I became cognizant of my steps and tried to align my legs better to take stress off of my joint. I was moving fluidly but holding back to make sure I preserved energy for the long haul. Mile 15, only 85 more to go. Once I could see the city in the distance I turned on my cell phone to text the crew that we still had bladder issues.leadville-100-89The trail turned to road for a few miles going into the Outward Bound aid station (Mile 23). This is the place where the Leadville party begins. Crews have gotten their coffee and the sun has awakened signs of life. The nerves of the first aid station are behind them and they have the task of preparing their runners for a 16-mile stretch without them. Kaitlin greeted me at the entrance to the aid station and told me where to look for Dan and Julia among the masses. I found them near the end of the line where they took my pack and placed my former bladder, now heavily duct taped, back in. I was still feeling fresh so I intended the stop to be quick. They lubed me up with sunscreen, force-fed me snacks and made me drink some water before pushing me back out on the trail.


Before I knew it a marathon was behind me and I started climbing towards Half Pipe aid station. The leak in the original bladder had been slowed, but it was still there. As I approached the aid station at mile 30, I realized that I hadn’t grabbed an extra bag of Tailwind, so would have to rely on a few aid station Gu’s for the 8 miles back to Twin (verdict: gag face emoji). I checked my pack as I entered the aid station and felt that I had enough fluids to make it the 5.5 miles to the Mt. Elbert water stopped, so I hustled through and told the Aid Station captain I’d see her before midnight.

The trail undulated between climbing steadily and descending steadily, challenging my resolve to mix my walking and running. I knew I could run it all, but I also knew that I shouldn’t run it all because the hard part of the course was coming. I started chatting with a few runners, but most were in the headphone zone. About three miles out of the aid station I realized that my water was almost empty. I’m not sure if it was the leak or the heat that made me drink more, but either way, I had misjudged my needs and cursed myself for not refilling before. I limited my sips as I kept climbing and passing people along the way.

I hit Mt. Elbert and filled with a liter of water that ended up being quickly consumed as I descended towards Twin Lakes. I turned my phone on again to update the crew about our continuing bladder issues and got a burst of energy from incoming text messages from friends and family. I slowly danced along the trail down towards the thumping base of Twin Lakes Aid Station (Mile 39).

The party that started at Outward Bound turned into a festival by the time I reached Twin Lakes. You hear it long before you see it and as I crested the final hill, I dropped right into the arms of my old friend Monica who wrapped an ice cold bandanna around my neck. Julia picked me up as I ran through the arch and directed me towards my personal oasis across the road. Along the way I passed multiple friends who called out to cheer me on. The personal greetings gave me more life and made me remember why I was drawn to sign up for the race in the first place. It’s so cool seeing people spend their days crewing, pacing, and cheering other runners.


Greeting me were my exuberant crew, a box of doughnuts, Mountain Dew, and my trusty oat balls. I pounded a bottle of water and moved slowly and deliberately to make sure that I got some hydration inside since I had been running low the last few miles. I knew that if I got behind on Hope Pass as I climbed up towards 12,500′ I would be screwed. The combination of dehydration and exhaustion could be lethal to my goals.

We made what we hoped would be the final switch of my water bladder as they relubed me up with sunscreen and handed me my hiking poles for the daunting climb. The hiking poles were a last minute addition to my race kit. I hadn’t used them since my fated journey up San Gorgonio in 2010. I figured I would give them a go heading up and if I didn’t like it, I would drop them at Winfield. Better to have them than to not.


I left the aid station to a few additional cheers and started along the trail. About a quarter mile down the trail I tried to drink from the bladder only to find no Tailwind hitting my lips. I was furious. Not at my crew, but at myself. Here we are, 40 miles into the race, on basically my fourth bladder. If I had only spent the $30 last week to replace my original one, we wouldn’t be having any problems. I knew that chastising Past Mike would not benefit Present Mike and that Future Mike depended on us fixing this issue, so I stopped, took off my pack, and examined the problem. (It was mile 40, I was starting to talk to myself in the third person)

First I thought that we had accidentally popped the tube out when putting my jacket into the pack, but I found it still connected. That is until I started messing with it and accidentally pushed the button to pop it off. I then stood on the side of the trail with my poles swinging wildly around me, trying to jam my shaky hands into the depth of my pack to reattach everything. As the frustration mounted, I stopped, took a deep breath, and worked slowly to remedy my situation. I got the tube plugged back in, but the flow was still low. I questioned heading back to the aid station, before looking at the nozzle and realized that it was relatively new. The opening was quite small, but since I didn’t have anything sharp, I stuck my pinky finger inside to stretch it out a bit. Flow improved enough for me to keep moving, but I would have to reinsert my pinky every now and again to make it functional. Crisis averted. 5 minutes lost.

I started moving again only to realize that I felt like Ricky Bobby in a post-race interview carrying my poles.  What do I do with my hands? I quickly realized that having my poles extended was problematic so after the water crossing I collapsed them and ran to the start of the climb.


Like the moon at a solar eclipse, I looked at Hope Pass as my time to shine! While my training had been short, my focus had been on steep climbs at elevation. I quickly adjusted to having poles and appreciated their support in propelling me up the mountain. I started passing people who I had been leapfrogging with all morning and chasing one red backpack who was also moving towards the summit relentlessly. My bladder situation wasn’t great, as I could only take small sips at a time, but it was good enough to keep me moving.

My breathing became more labored as I climbed, but before I knew it I could hear the cowbells at the Hopeless Aid Station (Mile 43.5). When confronted by a helpful volunteer, I requested a knife, and after a concerned look, he battled the nozzle of my hydration pack converting it from a coffee straw to….a hydration pack. I was jazzed to have finally solved the Goldilocks Challenge and quickly moved through the rest of the aid station heading up towards the pass.

As I broke through the trees approaching Hopeless, I saw the clouds forming up above and as I left the aid station they appeared to get darker. I didn’t hear any thunder, so I took my new found access to water to push toward the summit with glee. I hit the final approach and the skies opened dropping a deluge of pea-sized hail. Winter is here. It was small but intense, so I quickly pulled on my rain jacket that I had packed in the sunlight “just in case” as I watched a fellow runner duck for cover and warmth.

I turned downhill expecting the worst. I’m not great at running downhill at mile 1 of a normal, dry day. At mile 44, while hailing and raining, over rocks, I knew it would be even worse. I tiptoed across the rocky trail and began cheering the runners who were already making their way back up the hill. The train of people who I had passed on the north side of Hope began to reappear as I couldn’t find the confidence to test my legs on the descent. The more I thought about it, the slower I went, and the less I trusted my footing. While frustrated that I couldn’t move faster, I was still feeling good and told myself that there was still 55 miles to run and that it would be ok. This was the only super steep descent of the race.

As the course flattened out and then started to climb again, I was able to catch up to a few people who had passed me, giving me confidence and a smile as I lumbered into the Winfield Aid Station (Mile 50.5). Looking around, other runners spanned the spectrum from eaten alive to running strong. I felt that I was somewhere in the middle. My body felt a bit used, but my spirit was good. My crew greeted me with glee and met my every need as I tried to calm down their rush by telling them that I wanted to take 10 minutes here to recoup.


Winfield was a little less hectic than Twin as runners were a bit more spaced out at this point, but I saw a few new faces and got a few more hugs. Knowing that this was about the point where I dropped out at Wasatch, I was wary of staying too long or getting too comfortable. I swapped out my Timps for Lone Peaks, pounded another Mountain Dew, and left with the same water bladder that I came in with! We did it guys!

For the second half of the race, I would have one of my crew members with me at all times. Julia was dressed to run as she was picking up pacing duties from here back to Twin Lakes (see Julia’s crew/pacer blog here). I was nervous to share the trail with someone after running 50 miles in mostly silence, but it was a pleasure having her with me as I was able to recap my day as I learned about some of their struggles from the crewing side. She helped me push my pace a little bit on the rolling hills leaving the aid station and cheered me on as I passed some other runners out of the gate.


We turned up Hope and I re-engaged my poles. I kept a good pace and kept picking off runners who had left before me. Things were going exactly as planned until they weren’t. We caught up to our friend Johnny Chia and his runner, as well as Julia’s aid station friend Alex and his runner, but instead of leaving them behind us they hung right there. The three of us runners got in line and grinded up the climb mostly in silence, as our pacers filled the dead air with exuberance. I could feel my breaths shorten, and anytime I made a push with my legs, my lungs revolted and told me I was at max speed. I tried to push through, telling myself that “this is what I trained for,” but each sip from my bladder led to a small bout of nausea that faded with a relaxed effort. I continued to look down at my watch hoping that the vertical feet were moving by more quickly than they were. I finally relented to the challenge and stopped my “keep moving” mentality.

The break was pleasant but short and I felt a little better as I kept moving. I repeated this pattern towards the top as my pain train partners moved on ahead, disappearing over the pass and down towards the freedom of downhill. Julia encouraged me forward avoiding telling me about the paleness that I could feel overtaking my complexion. Every time my watch beeped a mile, I would look down expecting the worst, but still found myself moving around a 25 minute per mile pace. I knew that it was more important to stay in the game than to move faster, so I took my breaths and took my steps until we were back on top of Hope.


We took a quick spin at the summit, Julia’s excitement radiating through the setting sun, but we both knew we had to get me to a lower altitude, sit me down, and feed me some broth. Luckily, all three were found at the Hopeless Aid Station a half mile below (Mile 57). I moved gingerly downhill where I plopped down in a chair. Julia brought me some sustenance and then frolicked with the llamas while I refilled on Tailwind, veggie broth, and a Picky Bar. After ten minutes of rest, she was shoving my poles back in my hands and we were on the trail again. I felt better instantly, but it took about two miles until I felt good again. Knowing I had a long way to go, I didn’t push the downhill too hard. Julia kept talking about how fun it would be to run this section, so I think we need to take a trip back next summer and we can both let it rip.

Before we knew it, the sun had set, we had our headlamps on, and we were out of the forest approaching Twin Lakes. The frigid crossings were less exciting in the dark, but the knowledge that I would have my shoes off in a few moments made it ok. The slow downhill had gotten me into a walking groove, but I finally relented to Julia’s running assertions when I could hear the cowbells of the aid station coming out of the darkness.

I was happy my spirits were high again as I met the crew. Dan was loaded up and ready to go, and he pulled Julia away for some private conversation about what was working and not to keep me moving along the trail, while publicly asserting that I was “Doing Great!” In reality, I knew that I was. Outside of my lungs getting sore from breathing for 17 hours, my legs felt good, my stomach felt good. At least from my vantage point, I felt better than a lot of people looked. My crew did another amazing job as a pit crew swapping out my shoes back to the Timps, taking my poles, and loading me up with Caffeinated Tailwind. A quick stop for some noodles and Dan and I were on the trail! (See Dan’s perspective here)

And pretty quickly, I got what you would call a “second wind” in a marathon, but was probably my sixth or seventh wind given that I was at mile 62. We started passing struggling runners and runners who seemed to be moving well. Dan was whooping and hollering around me as I felt like I was born anew. We moved with purpose, but not too fast to strain. I think I was half delusional at this point because even though I felt like I was running as fast as I had all race, my miles were ticking off around 13-14 minutes. Not what you would call speedy. It didn’t matter though because my legs felt good and they were moving.

I started talking to Dan how I must have made a deal with the devil because there was no reason for me to be able to move this well. We kept trucking along towards Half Pipe with Dan singing in my ear that no runner was having more fun than I was out here. Everyone else looked miserable, he said, and we were just laughing and talking our way down the trail. We talked and laughed our way into Half Pipe around 11:45pm (Mile 71).leadville-100-69

We didn’t stay at Half Pipe too long, but the growing cold made us add another layer and drink a couple of cups of hot broth. Dan loved this pace of racing because for the first time he was able to reap the benefits of aid station food. As we started descending towards Outward Bound, I couldn’t get back into a running rhythm and instead found myself power walking downhill. BAD DEAL! I’m not sure what I had inadvertently given up in the deal, but it had better be worth those 6 miles. In truth, they were some of my favorite miles of the race. Mostly it gave some life back to my spirit and made me more willing to push through some of the mounting pain in my legs.

The power walking was keeping me moving but was doing a number on my shins. I kept talking about conserving energy here because I knew we had one more big climb to go, but I mostly lacked the motivation to push any harder. Dan would try to get me to run now and again, and I would respond by exaggeratedly running in place for a couple of steps and then tell him that walking was faster. We swung our arms wildly to warm us against the darkening night and kept moving I know it dragged at the time, but before long we were ducking through the arch at Outward Bound and saw Julia and Kaitlin running towards us and directing us to the heated tent (Mile 78).

It got super cold as we dropped down the hill to Outward Bound, so I added even more layers to officially have on all of the clothes that I brought with me. I figured it was a bit of overkill, but the last thing I wanted was to be stuck out in the cold, not being able to move fast enough to build a sweat and having hypothermia pull the belt buckle from my cold cold hands. Therefore, I left the aid station in a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a windbreaker, a rain jacket, and a puffy, while wearing tights, running shorts, and my #trackpants (sweatpants from Old Navy). I looked foolish and felt foolish, but I was warm and I was moving.


I battled the mental battle up the road as I questioned out loud to Dan if this could even be considered an athletic event if I could compete in it wearing this many clothes. As a good pacer does, he assuaged my ego and told me I looked great and was moving well, which meant I was working harder than everyone else who was wearing fewer layers.

The Xcel Energy Powerline Climb presented by Comcast Xfinity rose in the darkness via the shaky headlights of the runners ahead. Powerline is famous for chewing up runners and spitting them out between miles 79 and 82. In 3.3ish miles, it climbs 1,500′ in a series of false summits along an eroded road. Like the road, the condition of my body was eroded, and while I felt like my legs had the strength to raise hell, my lungs felt like they belonged to an asthmatic breathing through a straw. I continued taking short shallow breaths, but it wasn’t enough to replenish the oxygen needed to climb. I thought back to Hope Pass (how was that 8 hours ago!?) and how I allowed my ego to push through my shortness of breath and started stopping every quarter mile…tenth of a mile…ten steps to catch my breath before resuming forward momentum. If I regret anything from the race, it was not taking my poles on this section of the course. I think they would have helped my confidence as well as given me something to lean against when I was flagged. Dan could tell I was in a rough place and was very supportive giving me space and quiet and positioning himself downhill from me ready to catch me if I were to lose my footing.

While not moving as well as I would have liked, we didn’t lose a whole lot of ground to the runners around us. I wasn’t gaining on anyone, but I wasn’t getting passed by too many people. At this point in the race, everybody had their story. We were all in the struggle together and gave supportive accolades to each other with each leapfrogging push towards the top.



We summited at 11,200′ and quickly (slowly) began descending towards May Queen. Dan kept requesting a “little pitter patter” and I responded with a “little pity party” about how I couldn’t get up to a faster speed running than I was walking. The descent was gradual but rocky enough that I didn’t want to risk a trip with extra speed. I knew that the miles around Turquoise were flatish, so I could push there if I needed to as I brought it home. We turned onto the single track that would bring back to May Queen and I started getting scared about missing trail flagging even though there were headlamps just ahead of us. After about 100 yards, I would start silently worrying that we had missed a turn. My fears were always unjustified as we stayed in line with our runners and cruised out onto the blacktop leading to May Queen (Mile 88.5).

Julia and Pace were waiting with my chair, where I removed a few layers in preparation for the rising sun before Pace put on the “Pacer” bib and led me out towards the finish. I could tell she was a bit nervous to lead me to the finish, and for better or worse I could tell I would have the upper hand in setting the pace as I long as I could convince her there really wasn’t any need to move faster.

As we walked, I enjoyed the sunrise and did the math. 12. Then did more math to make sure my last math was right. 11. But if I did the math wrong would I still make it? 10. If I twisted my ankle, could I limp in? 9. How much time will I have if I were to finish at this pace before having to come back for the awards? 8. Can I soak in the lake? 7. Speaking of the lake, there’s my campsite, and coffee, and a sleeping bag. Too late. 6. Should we go to Periodic Brewing or just have a beer at the campsite? 5.

As we exited the Turquoise Lake trail, we had been passed by a handful of people and each time the answer to “should I go with them?” was “Nah, I’m good.” I knew I had a little kick in me if I needed it, but with my labored breathing, mucousy lungs, and throbbing knees, the difference between a 28 and 29 in my finishing time wasn’t worth it.

We turned up the road and the sun started beating down on us. I stripped off two of my coats but left my long sleeve on mostly to protect myself from the sun, since I didn’t think to bring sunscreen while leaving in the dark. There were a handful of spectators scattered across this final three-mile climb sheering in the dregs of the race. One of them handed me some Belvita crackers that served as my breakfast with a Tailwind chaser. I cheered on the runners I passed and the runners who passed me, see the determination in their eyes as they pushed towards the finish and their shiny new belt buckles.

We met Dan and Julia at the bottom of 6th street and we were all smiles as we reunite for the final push. I know I want to run across the finish line because walking across at the CO Marathon made me sad on the inside. As we approached the finish line, we got stuck between two people’s parades. We hold up at first to let people go, but impatience to cross the line brings us up to their backs. I get three steps away and think, “How are we going to do this?” “Cartwheel?” “Sure!” “But Mike! You can’t do a cartwheel on a good day!” Too late. In the three-quarters of a second, I am bent over trying to put my hands on the ground trying to lift my feet above my head when they couldn’t reach my shins for the past 8 hours. I don’t know if I ever get off the ground, but I smile as I hit it on the other side of the mat. 29:31:39.


It’s funny looking back at the finish line. The excitement of walking and running up the street with my crew and crossing the line quickly turned to the excitement of seeing friends who were already there. I look back and I’m sad that I didn’t take a picture at the finish line with Dan, Julia, and Kaitlin (or at any point during the race), because this race was only successful because of their presence on and off the trail. I was more excited to recap the process and to be done moving for the first time in 29.5 hours.

As I exited the finishing shoot, Dan and Julia handed me a doughnut and a beer finalizing their pacing duties and allowing them to settle in the shadows to recap their own 29.5 hour adventures and come down from the crewing high. I laugh now because I didn’t end up sitting down for another 45 minutes as I celebrated with friends and cheered other runners coming through the final stretch. After the final gun sounded a mere 29 minutes after my finish, we head back to the campsite to clean up, pack up, and go get my belt buckle.

leadville-100-82Total Miles: 101 | Part I Part II
Total Elevation Gained: 14,250′
Time Elapsed: 29:31:39
Shoes used: Altra Timp (90), Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (11)
Scoops of Tailwind: ~35
YouTube Video

Fueling at High Altitude

With the Leadville 100 races on the horizon, we thought we’d give our Tailwind community some pointers for high altitude fueling. “The Race Across the Sky” pushes the body to the extreme for 100 grueling miles at 9,100 – 12,600 feet. To put this in perspective, the highest mountain passes at the UTMB and Tour de France just barely hit 8,000-9,000 feet above sea level. At this high elevation, three things need to be taken into consideration: lack of oxygen, hydration, and digestive issues. In this unforgiving environment, issues in any of these three areas can quickly lead to problems for an athlete so we need to be prepared.


There is a common misperception that there is less oxygen at high altitude. This is not technically true. The same 21% percent of oxygen is in the air at the 12,000 foot summit of Columbine Mine (Leadville 100) as at sea level; what is different is the barometric pressure (PB). The PB at sea level is 760 mmHg and at 10,000 feet it is 534 mmHg – so there is 21% of a smaller number as one goes higher. Put another way, when pressure decreases gas molecules expand and take up more space within a given area. The result is that for a given volume of air there are less total oxygen molecules present.

In addition, the reduced atmospheric pressure at altitude reduces the driving pressure for oxygen to enter the lungs. Oxygen enters the body and the cells through partial pressure gradients. The lower partial pressure exerted at altitude makes it harder for the body to consume and use oxygen. This produces hypoxia, where our blood carries a lower level of oxygen than normal. The body compensates by increasing our heart and breathing rates to try and absorb more oxygen and deliver it to our muscles. Plus, hormonal changes occur, like the pumping of adrenaline to help with oxygen transportation and delivery.

The only cure for these dramatic changes is time. We need time to let our body adjust, or acclimate, and increase the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that improve our ability to deliver oxygen to the brain and working muscles. Most adaptations occur within two days to two weeks of exposure to altitude. During this time the amount of oxygen that the body can consume and utilize is reduced and endurance performance may be impaired. So aim to get to the race location a week in advance and stay active — which accelerates the acclimation process. Don’t, however, workout at your full intensity. Instead, take the first day or two off, and if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of acute mountain sickness, gradually start training.


High altitude presents the perfect storm for dehydration. The air at high elevation is very dry, so sweat evaporates quickly and we experience increased evaporative losses from our lungs. High altitude also causes an increase in urination. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we lose the sensation of thirst at higher elevations since lower temperatures suppress thirst even when the body needs fluids.

The obvious conclusion is that proper hydration is of the utmost importance while training or racing at high altitude. Athletes can lose as much as 12 liters of sweat in a 100-mile race! It is equally important, however, to get adequate electrolytes and glucose in our fuel to ensure the proper absorption of liquid. Tailwind does just that. It keeps you hydrated and provides the optimum ratio of sodium and glucose to keep our inner hydration pumps working at their peak.

GI Distress

Your digestive tract gets compromised at altitude. Period. Symptoms like nausea and vomiting are common signs of altitude sickness and are seen in 81.4% of short-term visitors. At high elevations, the body is working on overdrive so it suppresses the digestive system in favor of increasing its cardiopulmonary reserves. In other words, the heart beats faster and non-essential bodily functions are repressed, resulting in a decline in food digestion efficiency. Tailwind’s use of glucose as its primary fuel source makes it easy to absorb since it doesn’t need digestion to get transported into our blood. By literally bypassing the need for digestion, Tailwind is the fuel that is easiest on the GI tract.

Strategies at High Altitude

It is important to have a solid game plan for race day. Here are some important strategies to keep in mind:

  • Stay hydrated with a target of 20-24 ounces of water per hour. Most GI problems stem from the fact that you get dehydrated. If you are taking gels, don’t forget to drink – this is a fairly common problem since gels are somewhat viscous.
  • Carbs, like glucose, are the body’s fuel of choice at high altitude because carbs can supply 15 percent more energy for the same amount of oxygen in comparison to fats.
  • Don’t overload the gut with too many calories. Aim for 200-300 calories/hour.
  • Have your crew monitor your intake of calories and fluids.
  • Avoid drinks or foods that are high in protein. Although protein is important for recovery and as part of your overall diet, it is too hard on the digestive tract during a high altitude race.
  • Don’t go too hard. At altitude where your GI system is already compromised working too hard can just stress it more. Instead, strive to maintain a nice achievable pace.

Tailwind’s revolutionary fuel will keep you hydrated and powered-up with minimal digestive stress, and help you get to the finish line – even in the infamous “Race Across the Sky.”


Tailwind: Your Personal Hydration Station

All too often in endurance sports, athletes get so focused on their calorie and electrolyte intake that they forget about the most essential component, water. Proper hydration plays a critical role in delivering oxygen, hormones and nutrients to our cells. Why? Because water makes up about 50% of our blood which acts like a highway in our bodies.

Dehydration can impact your performance before any calorie deficit will. During exercise, water helps with thermal regulation (sweating) and a lot of water is lost – as high as 48oz per hour in hot weather! When you sweat, this water loss causes your blood to thicken which puts stress on your cardiovascular system. And, if you are taking in calories during this time and do not have adequate fluid balance, your GI system will start pulling water from your blood and the rest of your body to process those calories. These create an extremely low blood volume that reduces the capacity of your blood cells to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. The result? Increased heart rate, increased body temperature, decreased cardiac output, compromised mental concentration and delayed stomach emptying and GI upset. Yikes!

While it may be difficult to know exactly how much water you are losing during exercise and to properly replace all that fluid, many researchers suggest aiming for 20-24oz water per hour, to minimize the effects of dehydration and gastric distress. That is why Tailwind recommends drinking between 20-24oz of water per hour mixed with our endurance fuel to ensure that the risks of dehydration are minimized and you can have the best chance at finishing your race (or your epic climb) feeling strong and energized!


Want to learn more about the science behind Tailwind? Ask your support crew!

Spartan Race World Champ: Robert Killian

We had the recent opportunity to chat with Tailwind athlete and 2015 Spartan Race World Champion, Robert Killian. Currently Killian has been seen competing on the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge with his team, the Commanding Officers. When he’s not competing in OCR (Obstacle Course Racing), he’s busy being a father, husband, active member of the CO National Guard, Special Forces, and 2016 Army Best Ranger. Throughout  training and racing Killian uses Tailwind Nutrition, and we asked him a few questions about being a competitive Obstacle Course Racer and how he uses Tailwind to help him reach the finish line ahead of the competition.

How did you get into OCR and how long have you been competing? I started Obstacle Course Racing in 2015 when I was recruited onto the All-Army Sports OCR team. Our team captain Liam Collins contacted me after taking second place in the 2015 Best Ranger Competition. In 2014 I was a member of the Army Orienteering team which helped to develop off-trail running through the woods, having to break brush for much of the race to save time. This development, as well as years of training on military style obstacle courses such as the Darby Queen and Nasty Nick throughout Ranger and Special Forces training, are what really made it a seamless entry into the sport. I went on to win the Spartan Race world championship on my fourth official race in 2015 and have competed as a professional for two years now.

Why is Tailwind so ideal for OCR’s? OCR demands focus and balance between all aspects of fitness, especially nutrition. Having full glycogen stores is key and I go right to the source with Tailwind to fuel my body.

We saw you’ve been competing in the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge on NBC, can you share a little about that experience? As the sport of obstacle course racing gains popularity it’s truly the community, with so many positive life stories about overcoming adversity, that makes our sport special. Last year NBC and Spartan Race teamed up to not only highlight some of those stories, but to pit teams against each other on obstacles that can only be conquered by working together. This is my second season on the show and it’s been an amazing experience each year. The course is just under a mile and has a range of obstacles that test strength, agility, grit and teamwork. I’ve been fortunate to work with military veterans and members for both seasons, and I believe that even though we don’t train or live near each other, it’s the warrior ethos we live by that makes us a strong team. Be sure to tune in to NBC Monday nights at 10PM EST (9pm CST) and watch out for the Commanding Officers.

Do you mind sharing with us how you use Tailwind? My pre-workout fuel is Tailwind because I like to go right to the source with all-natural ingredients, no gut bombs or GI issues. Tailwind Nutrition’s Green Tea Buzz is my pre-race fuel of choice, the caffeine really gives you that extra buzz needed as you conquer obstacles. On race day morning I’ll usually mix half a serving of Tailwind with water to make sure I’m well hydrated and to prevent cramping. For longer training days Tailwind is the perfect liquid fuel when mixed with water, giving you 100 calories per serving and electrolytes needed to replenish what is lost.

Do you still get race day jitters? If so, how do to calm them and focus on the task at hand? I’ve been racing for over twenty years now and I absolutely still get pre-race jitters. However with obstacle course racing it’s more excitement for the challenge rather than anxiety. Unlike other sports where you know what you’ll be facing, every single Obstacle Course Race is different and literally anything can happen during a race. I’ve been in situations where I thought I was going to finish a race in a certain position but approached an obstacle to see another competitor stuck at an obstacle and I was able to overtake them by completing it. I think it’s that excitement of never really knowing how the race is going to end up until the finish that keeps me coming back for more. With so many variables involved like terrain, weather, obstacles, and other competitors, I try to focus on other more difficult situations I’ve been in and overcome to help me focus on the race at hand. I also remind myself to just go out and have fun win, lose, or draw because in obstacle course racing you will be pushed outside your comfort zone and will put your limits to the test, which to some doesn’t sound fun but you’ll know at the finish!

One last question, just for fun ~ Do you have a mantra or song that keeps you going when you need it most in training and competing? I don’t really have a mantra other than never quit. One of the races that stands out the most in my mind was at the 2015 ORCWC where I got stuck at an obstacle for 35 minutes battling hypothermia but refused to drop out of the race. I just kept telling myself, “Don’t quit, Don’t quit” and I dug deep and got past it to finish the race. I went back to the event in 2016 and finished as the top American racer and 4th in the world.

SALT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Many Tailwind users wonder about the science behind one of Tailwind’s main ingredients, salt, and its impact on performance and the body.

To begin with, most athletes think that Tailwind contains sodium to prevent cramping, but its primary function is actually to activate the glucose transport mechanism which accelerates the absorption of calories and improves hydration. Without the presence of sodium in your fuel, these pumps will not work. And, these pumps are not only the most efficient way to bring energy to your cells, but also increases your absorption of water at a higher rate than just drinking water by itself.

Tailwind Nutrition also includes sodium to help replace what you sweat out along with potassium, calcium, and magnesium (we’ll cover the role of electrolytes in a future post). One interesting aspect of sweat is that the ratio of salt to sweat doesn’t change regardless of the amount of salt you are consuming. Your body gets rid of excess salt via its urine. Conversely, if your body senses it has too little salt, it will use the sweat glands to reabsorb the sodium contained in sweat from your skin. If your salt levels are where they should be, then the sweat glands won’t reabsorb the sodium and the salt will remain on your skin which appears as crystals once evaporation has taken place.

We have quite a few customers who write in and ask us about an increase of salt deposits on their skin when they start using Tailwind. If you are used to a water/fueling combo that doesn’t contain sodium, you may have experienced a low sodium condition because you were replacing water, but not the sodium lost to sweat. With Tailwind, you are replacing both water AND sodium (along with potassium, calcium, and magnesium). The sweat glands are no longer reabsorbing sodium, resulting in more deposits on your skin.

So if you notice salt on your skin after your workouts, it means that your body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: secreting sweat to cool itself off. These salt deposits can be due to a number of factors that have nothing to do with intake such as higher sweat rate due to exertion, environmental factors- temperature or humidity, evaporation rate (dries on skin vs dripping or soaking into clothing), or the length of exercise time (more accumulation).

Want to learn more about the science behind Tailwind? Ask your support crew!

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