People need carbs to run a long way quickly, and so for a long time experts have been working on ways to provide as many of those carbs as the body can tolerate in the most efficient manner possible. Running gels, sports drinks and sweets are some of the most common ways of supplying that energy hit, but all suffer from the same issue – when you consume too many sugary carbs quickly your stomach tends to kick up a fuss. This can lead to a quick dash to a Portaloo mid-race, and can also mean the body becomes less efficient at absorbing the carbs to provide energy.
There hasn’t been a great leap forward in the field of running nutrition since Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida in 1965 – but, without huge fanfare, a Swedish brand called Maurten seems to have made great strides in delivery carbs without the digestive issues.
It was Maurten’s drinks that first made its name, when people noticed the company’s branding on the bottles used by elite athletes like Eliud Kipchoge and Mo Farah. Maurten doesn’t have standard endorsement deals where it pays athletes to use its stuff: the company just gifts them the product in exchange for photo rights. Elite runners clearly love it, with Maurten fuelling winners at all of the six world marathon majors in 2018, including Kipchoge’s world record run in Berlin.
The breakthrough difference with Maurten’s drink is that it forms a hydrogel when it reaches the acidic environment of your stomach. This passes through much more smoothly than standard syrupy gels and sugary drinks because the sugars in the gel don’t come into direct contact with your stomach lining, with the gel forming a barrier. This means it reaches your small intestine, where the sugars are absorbed by the body faster and without upsetting your stomach. You can observe the formation of the hydrogel if you pour a bit of the drink into a glass of water mixed with lemon juice.
Since Maurten’s products are easier for the body to tolerate, they can pack in more carbs than others, with the 320 Drink Mix containing a huge 80g of carbs per serving – about the same amount as you get from four standard gels. The gel and drinks are also pretty tasteless, with no artificial flavours or colourings used, and aren’t sticky so you don’t have to wash the gel down with a drink. The consistency of the gel feels a little bizarre when you first try one. You bite off chunks of a jelly rather than drinking a syrup, and it has no lingering aftertaste at all.
Of course if you’re not an elite athlete and don’t get your drinks handed to you along the way in marathons, the gel is a more portable option. That said, I loved the 320 Drink Mix so much during marathon training last year that I ended up carrying two 250ml bottles of it with me during the race.
Maurten’s products have become the go-to supplement for both Adidas’s and Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon projects, as well as the sub2hr project, which is researching the science behind running a sub-two marathon. The supplements share some characteristics with the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% running shoe, which was developed for Nike’s Breaking2 attempt in Monza. Both products make grand claims that are being backed up by impressive results and both have become ubiquitous at the sharp end of marathon racing. Perhaps more importantly, once keen amateur or pro runners try either the 4% or Maurten’s supplements, they don’t tend to want to use anything else.
Maurten currently sells three products: the Gel and two Drink Mixes – the 160, which contains 40g of carbs, and the 320, which packs in 80g. Maurten supplements are more expensive than their rivals, with a box of 12 gels costing £32.40. In contrast you can get a box of 30 SiS energy gels for around that price. You can try all three Maurten supplements before splashing out, with a box containing one Gel and one of each of the Drink Mixes along with a bottle widely available for £10.