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.)
*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.
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.
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.