Testing the SOS Hydration Mix

Hydration is the difference between a good ride and a low-down, cramp-filled, no-good sufferfest that will make you regret ever getting on a bicycle (or running, or kayaking, or whatever it is that you do). I largely have my regimen set, but I’m always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. That’s why I was excited when SOS Hydration contacted me about testing their electrolyte mixes.

SOS Hydration sent me a sampler of two each of several of their flavors, including berry, citrus, mango, coconut and watermelon.

Putting SOS Hydration to the Test

I took a little time to crunch the numbers to try getting the liquid-to-’letctrolytes ratio just right.

My typical loadout for a hot summer ride is three bottles:

  • One 20-ounce one (exactly like the nice one SOS Hydration sent me) with a single Trace Minerals Magnesium tab in it. That 4-gram tablet contains 150mg of magnesium – which I’ve discovered is critical for me – along with 175 mg of sodium and not much else.
  • Two 25-ounce bottles each packing 1 Trace Minerals magnesium tablet and a Nuun Hydration Sport tablet.

To be somewhere in the ballpark with SOS Hydration, I’d need 1 5-gram sachet in the small bottle and two in each of the big bottles. Let’s break down the comparison between my two big bottles of Justin Formula versus the SOS Hydration bottles. Oh, and I’m also going to list my go-to Gnarly Hydration mix that I use for particularly hot days and races. All serving sizes are 10 grams. (I’m only hitting the electrolytes that are most-important to me rather than the whole laundry list. I also don’t really care about calories.)

Magnesium Sodium Potassium Sugar
Justin Formula 175 475 150 4
Gnarly 96.6 250 100 7
SOS Hydration 67.2* 660 190 3

*I calculated based on two things: The USRDA of magnesium for guys my age, which is 420mg, and the SOS Hydration label that said that each sachet has 8% of the USRDA of magnesium. That comes out to 67.2mg for two sachets, well short of the 100mg claimed on the comparison page of the SOS website.

 

That’s not the only discrepancy I noticed. It also appears that the SOS is comparing two servings/sachets of their mix to one Nuun tablet. I didn’t check the numbers on Skratch, which is the only other legit hydration mix for athletes in the table. Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of WHO ORS.

My main takeaway from the chart is that SOS is really salty, and it lags in magnesium. Through trial and error, I’ve found that potassium isn’t a difference-maker for me.

So how would it perform?

Testing on the First Ride

I had my three bottles all frozen the day before the ride, and my plans to use my road-plus Lynskey Urbano for a 50-miler want to hell. It had to get some attention from the good people at Bicycle Haus.

That meant it was time for a summer mountain bike ride! Hot weather makes desert mountain biking a real bear, and I had a nasty sunny morning to deal with.

I headed to South Mountain since it had been awhile since I’d been there. Right from the get-go, I could tell this ride would be pretty tough.

Aside from the heat, there are no casual, easy rides on a singlespeed hardtail. They’re demanding bikes that flog their riders pretty hard.

sos hydration test
There’s never an easy ride on this thing.

And I just wasn’t feeling it after the first five miles.

I slugged generously from my icewater-filled Camelbak and my two bottles of SOS Hydration mix. My first impression was that this is some seriously salty stuff. There was more than a hint of the Dead Sea to it.

I’d planned to ride at least 25 miles. But I turned around about 13 miles into it to head back to my car. I stopped at a trailhead to drink the rest of my SOS mix, then I refilled them with the sachets I’d brought along.

My ass was well whooped after this short ride. It was a nasty day, to be sure.

So I had to give SOS a more regular test.

Round 2 – Apples to Apples

With my Lynskey back in action the next weekend, I set my course for San Juan Point, which is about a 53-mile jaunt from my house. It’s also a ride I do often, so I have plenty of data to compare SOS and look for any major observations in performance.

I still hadn’t acclimated to the saltiness of the SOS Hydration mix.  But I did find that I liked the coconut and watermelon flavors best. I wonder if I like the watermelon so much because real watermelon contains big amounts of magnesium, which makes this guy happy.
sos hydration test
I had a pretty solid ride that day, especially since I’d bumped up my tire size from 32C to 38C. The big tires cost me very little time, only about 8 seconds slower than my personal best on a 3.1-mile climb. The very next weekend, though, I set a new PR that was 20 seconds faster with my usual mix.

As per usual, I drained my three bottles (all filled with SOS) and had to refill. Those were the last of my sachets, so I finished my ride with a bit of Gnarly mix. By that time, though, all the serious work was over.

Wrapping Up the SOS Hydration Test

It appears that SOS works pretty well. Aside from that one especially unpleasant mountain bike ride, it wasn’t a liability.

Still, I’m not a fan of the taste and I’d like to see more magnesium in it along with less salt.

I think it would also be a good idea for SOS to double-check the numbers in its comparison chart to make sure they’re measuring similar serving sizes. They should also include more serious competitors, like Gnarly, EFS and CarboRocket Half-Evil. That’s serious stuff that you’ll see at the big races.

And that might be the problem with SOS: It positions itself not just for sports nutrition, but also for hangovers and illnesses. Casting a wide net might cause some of the finer points of more-athletic use to get overlooked.

There’s also something else to note: There is literally no one-size-fits-all formula for every bike racer, marathoner or (insert sport here). This makes me extremely skeptical of their research claims. I know I said this a few sentences earlier, but it bears repeating: The same formula will not work for every single person.

We’re all individuals, and the ratios in SOS Hydration might be exactly what you need. If it fits you and you like the taste, you’re good to go.

Recap of El Tour de Tucson 2017

Within a few miles of starting El Tour De Tucson a few weeks ago, a mantra came to me out of the blue. It was a phrase I’d heard from a co-worker. It was "Calm yo’ tits." (Hearing it for the first time was doubly funny since it came from the mouth of the most Disney-obsessed young Mormon woman on the planet.)

Here’s the thing: When I rode El Tour De Tucson last year, I rode a high of starting out fast and furious. I was feeling way too good and pushed way too hard when I should’ve saved more for later. I’ve been hanging my head in shame ever since.

El Tour de Tucson
Last year, before my ride went wrong.

This year, I was determined to ride calm and cool – like Spock, Iceman, Arthur Fonzarelli and Jan Ullrich gene-spliced into one El Tour de Tucson-riding machine. I would reign myself in by repeating "Calm yo’ tits" whenever my mood swung. Ripping it up with a fast time? Calm yo’ tits. Feeling like I should be motoring faster? Calm yo’ tits.

tour de tucson
I swear, I found this gif. I didn’t have to make it.

To set the stage, last year’s El Tour went beautifully for me until about the 55th mile of the 76-mile race. The route turned up Silverbell Road into a headwind and a slight climb. At some point both my quads contracted. When I finally loosened them up, I could barely spin the pedals without warning signs of another cramp. My average speed went from respectable to laughable. I was literally embarrassed.

I didn’t want that to happen again.

At the last tours – and in fact for most race events I’ve ever done – I’ve relied on gels and Skratch Labs drinks. I can’t even remember exactly where I found two vital pieces of advice: that I was too low on magnesium and that I needed to eat some solid food earlier in the ride and save the gels for later. I do know that my wife, who had four Ironman triathlons to her credit (including one in the 11-hour range) and has actually been coached, had advice for me.
And then there was the pickle juice debate: I was skeptical. It’s just a bunch of salt, right? Well, one of the faster local people pointed out that the vinegar in pickle juice is just as important.
When I lined up for El Tour De Tucson, here’s how I was loaded:

  • Two packages of organic fig bars (total of about 400 calories)
    A vial of pickle juice
    Three bottles of EFS mix, about 100 calories each with a huge hit of magnesium
    A bottle of EFS gel for the final stretch
    Two Hammer gels just in case
    An extra serving of EFS in a Nuun tube
    Two packages of electrolyte brews I found at Sprouts

All of this was loaded into either my jersey or my amazing Beer Babe feed bag.

El Tour de Tucson
A few last-minute instructions from my assistant coach.

OK, now let’s talk about the ride day.

We started it off by breaking my coffee fast with a perfectly made cappuccino at a place called Ombre; we grabbed breakfast at the adjoining Bisbee Breakfast Club; their baked oatmeal is a perfect way to fuel for a race. It’s also on the big side – two people could pretty much split it.
From there, we made our way to the race start at the east campus of Pima Community College. This is a bit of a chore since Google maps wants to route you up roads closed for the event, and the El Tour map in the race packets isn’t very handy. There’s also not much signage near the start line. This made my wife, who was at the wheel, a bit crazy. It’s really the only criticism I have of El Tour De Tucson – well, that and the absolutely dog-ugly t-shirt that is already pulling drivetrain-cleaning duty in the workshop.

I don’t do this stuff for the t-shirt. I do it for a good ride and a good vibe. Even last year at my worst point, I had nothing but praise for El Tour De Tucson. This year’s tour – from course to volunteers to traffic control – was just as good.

via GIPHY

I was Fonzi-cool through the chaos of the first 10 miles. I chatted with a few people and tried to find my happy place -- that perfect pace where I can settle into a groove and establish a good base for the race. The course starts off with a bit of climbing, and then a long section of screaming downhill. I held back a bit on the descents, choosing to keep the legs fresh for the later parts of the ride. I ate my first fig bar on schedule 40 minutes in, and finished my first bottle of EFS in the first hour.

The first 18 miles flew by. I stopped for a good pee at the "push a bike" section, and then the course got a bit hilly. There was the steepest climb of the route, and I blew past a bunch of people but also met some people I’d ride with on and off for the rest of the ride. If I were smarter, I would’ve pulled us all into a little group. I’ll give that a shot next year.
The next 20 miles had some climbing, but also more than a few descents to break things up. The climbs were a bit tough, but I rode inside my comfort zone. I largely ignored my heart rate monitor, but dropped to the lowest gear of my 2X11 drivetrain early and spinning it out instead of pushing big gears.

tour de tucson
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

[bike break]
I ride a 1999 Lemond Zurich. It’s been repainted and refitted with a 2016 Ultegra 6800 group and wheelset. It has a slick Ritchey handlebar/stem combo. In the months leading up to the Tour (this year and last year), plenty of new bikes have turned my head. But then I ride this thing in a tour, and it feels like I’m on a monorail. So steady and comfortable. I know it’s not 100-percent future proof with its 1-inch headtube. I’d love at some point to have a road bike with thru-axles, disc brakes and room for bigger tires. But holy cow, it’s really hard to give up on this bike. Really, really hard.
[/bike]

Here’s the interesting part: In analyzing my Strava data afterward, it appears the I climbed faster in 2017, yet descended slower.

How about them apples?

I made my first real stop just before the big Oracle climb. I refilled all my bottles, and dumped my EFS into one of them. I recognized this next 15 miles or so as pivotal for my ride. I resolved to repeat "calm yo’ tits" no matter who I passed or who passed me.

I had some good chats with a guy doing the 100-mile ride, and teamed up shortly with a few different people. Thing is, none of us were paced perfectly for each other. I seemed to be climbing faster, while others hammered the descents or flats. The Moore Road section was a bit desolate, and the surface is pretty chewed up. How rough was it? The rattling would actually ring the little Knog bell on my handlebar!

My confidence was growing here because my legs felt good, but the rest of my body seemed happy, too. No aches, no pains – and I was sharp mentally. I’d stuck to my schedule of one fig bar every 40 minutes, and one bottle of EFS every hour.

tour de tucson
Some confidence is a good thing – but I was still trying to not get Ron Burgundy about it.

At the end of Moore, we had our screaming descent toward the freeway. And toward a repeat of my old enemy -- Silverbell Road.

Last year, my legs started to get that funny electric tingle that warns of cramps right when I crossed the I-10. This year? Nothing. Not a twitch. I told myself to "calm my tits" and check in again five miles later. Sure enough, rock solid. I rode into a rest stop a bit up Silverbell, which was the last stop for the ride. I ate half a banana, grabbed some bits of chocolate cookie -- and then – I noticed little cups full of pickle slices. Brilliant! Perfect! I quickly gobbled a few cups and topped off my third bottle with Gatorade – I figured better to have something with salt in it rather than just all plain water, especially since I’d used my pickle juice already.

As I rolled out of the rest stop, someone latched onto me. He was moving a bit more slowly than I probably would, but I figured he would help me stick with my "calm yo’ tits" mantra. He turned out to be fun to ride with since he could talk about stuff like long-haul air travel and solar power. He was eventually unable to keep the pace, so we parted ways and I headed out alone.
I hit the 65th mile, than the 70th. Not so much as a twinge of problems from the legs. My back was holding up, and I was still mentally really alert. Silverbell seemed to fly by, especially without last year’s horrible headwind.

Sure enough, the course made its final turn toward the finish line, and I rolled in with a strong finish. I lopped more than 45 minutes off my previous time. The thing is, I could’ve done even better. I had a hard time being disappointed with myself about that because I rode and ate according to plan. I now have a very good idea of what I need to do to avoid cramping and stay focused and dialed in through a good tour. My official results brought me into the top half of the pack, which I’ll take any day!

To really make a big improvement next year, I am convinced that I’ll need to find a few other people to form a pack. If any of you want to join me, I’m gonna aim for a moving average of 17-17.5 mph. Hit me up if that sounds like a good pace for you, and let’s see about working together.

El Tour de Tucson
I swear, I won’t make you help me pee if you ride with me at El Tour de Tucson in 2018.

After the race, I refueled with a giant burger at Graze. After some rest at the Varsity Club hotel (which I highly recommend), we headed to the new-to-us Tucson Hop Shop to have beer; I dearly love the beer at Pueblo Vida, but I couldn’t get my head around voluntarily heading into the downtown Tucson traffic again.

I have to say, Tucson Hop Shop is one of the coolest beer bars ever. Such a relaxing vibe – and that stupidly delicious Sri Lankan fusion food truck helped, too.

I am 100 percent on-board with riding El Tour de Tucson in 2018. Again, hit me up if you think it would be fun to ride with me!