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Take Two and Call Me in Three Miles: Fueling with Fuelstrips

As an endurance athlete, I’m eating on the run — literally. Fueling during training and racing is a key element of success in long-course running and triathlon. Eat too much, and you’ll feel sluggish (or worse, deal with GI issues). Eat too little, and you’ve just bought yourself a one-way ticket to Bonksville.
Finding your “just right” is a guessing game. Though many gels, chews, and sport drinks provide suggestions for the timing and frequency of their consumption, the one-size-fits-all approach on the packaging is likely not the best for you. Too many factors go into your nutritional needs — height, weight, metabolism, intensity of the workout, sweat rate, temperature … the list goes on!
Fuelstrip tries to take the guesswork out of the game with its new “Sweat-Testing Sports Technology.” The premise behind the product is that all the glistening goodness on your forehead during a workout contains a wealth of information about the state of your body. Their product, a litmus paper of sorts, reads the metabolites in your sweat to determine just how full — or empty — your glycogen stores are. Testing results, then, tell you just how much you need to eat in order to “top off the tank,” so to speak.
Sounds like the answer to all fueling problems, right?
Recently, I took the strips out for a ride (and a run, and a Smashfest — more about that later). And, well … I wasn’t all that impressed.
I started by dividing the length of my ride (2 hours) by 4 to get the testing frequency, as outlined in the Fuelstrip instructions. Every 30 minutes, I paused during my ride to swipe my forehead with a Fuelstrip.

Swiping Fuelstrip

This is my science face.

And then I waited 30 seconds for the results.
Results from Fuelstrip

Note to my mother: This is not a pregnancy test. I repeat, NOT a pregnancy test.

As you can see, the litmus paper on the far right hand side changes color — from orange to yellow to green to blue, depending on how depleted your glycogen stores are. The color corresponds with a recommendation for how many chews you should eat in order to sufficiently refuel. A red result on your Fuelstrip means you should take in one chew; a blue result denotes four chews are needed:
Fuelstrip Chews

Every girl’s a sucker for color coordination, right?

So, with my results, I popped in two chews and hit the road for another 30 minutes. Every time I tested myself, I had a yellow result, so I ate two more chews and got back on the bike yet again.
The next day, I took the strips on a one-hour run. Every 15 minutes, I slowed down to a walk, swiped my forehead, and took a gander at my results. Yellow again, every single time. Two chews, down the hatch.
The Fuelstrips worked perfectly. A little too perfectly. The consistency of my testing results — eight yellow results in a row — just didn’t seem right. Did the steady dosage of Fuelstrip chews really keep my tank “topped off”? Would it really be able to tell if I was about to bonk? I decided to find out for myself. Because, you know, I make really good choices in the name of science.
Luckily (or perhaps not), I’m well-versed in the language of Le Bonk. As someone who has dug herself into a nutritional hole on more than one (dozen) occasion, I know what it takes to get me into a depleted state: hard work, over a long period of time, with no food. If I don’t follow my fueling schedule while training or racing, I pay for it big-time. So to really put Fuelstrips to the test, I put myself through what my friend Hillary calls a “Smashfest” — a long, intense workout of the ass-kicking variety.
After three hours of high-intensity cycling, weights and running, I was smashed. I was also insanely hungry — for those three hours, I only consumed water. I was tired, grumpy and lightheaded. Before I conducted an all-out raid on my fridge, however, I swiped my brow with a Fuelstrip, fully expecting to see the paper turn blue.
It was yellow. Again.
My partner, Neil, arrived home from his long run just in time to see me cursing at a tiny strip of paper. I handed one to him and asked him to swipe his own sweat. Anyone want to guess what color his was? Effin’ yellow.
In theory, Fuelstrips are a great idea — a way to help athletes of all levels learn how to fuel properly. But in practice, I found them to be as accurate as a mood ring. For $2.49 per six strips (enough for a workout and a half), plus $2.49 per bag of chews, I’d probably be better off buying the mood ring.
Have you ever been excited about a new product for training, only to be let down? —-Susan

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