According to the Bicycle Retailer and Industry News’ 2015 Industry Directory, there are seventy-eight nutritional product companies competing for space on bike shop shelves these days. In a—pardon the pun—saturated energy drink market, Osmo Nutrition has a truly unique selling proposition. It has a line that’s specifically designed for women, promising nutrition that matches our specific physiological needs.
The men I ride with chuckle openly at this, and ask me if I’m kidding when I tell I have women’s-specific mix in my bottles. I’m not kidding. In fact, I’m a believer in Osmo’s basic premise—that women are not small men. In my years of training and racing, using a variety of different products, I’ve been over-caffeinated, over-caloried, and “inexplicably” left to bonk after consuming “mainstream” (MANstream?) products. It’s the nutritional version of slamming down the stem and putting smaller handlebars on a frame that’s just too big with all the wrong geometry.
And furthermore, (yep, I’m going THERE), like all women, I experience a menstrual cycle, the monthly roller coaster of physical discomforts, basal temperature changes, plasma volume decreases and—yes, newsflash—hormonal shifts. So with all THAT going on, tell me why a woman would have the same physiological and nutritional needs as a man?
Not surprisingly, a female athlete developed Osmo. Dr. Stacy Sims, Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer, ran cross-country, rowed, competed in marathons, and raced triathlon throughout high school, college, and graduate school.
Observing her own athletic performance (and occasional lack thereof) compelled Sims to focus her academics on the differences between male and female athletes. In particular, she tuned in to the affect of estrogen and progesterone on women’s performance.
Her extensive studies (she’s a Ph.D in Environmental Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition) and later work as an exercise physiologist proved that proper nutrition could mitigate the havoc wreaked on the female athlete by her own body. The only challenge was that women’s-specific product didn’t exist. Enter Osmo.
Osmo’s name derives from “osmolality”, which in layman’s terms is cellular absorption of water. Drinking water, ironically, does not guarantee protection from dehydration. A combination of sodium and sugar is the key that opens the lock to cellular absorption, and Osmo is formulated to deliver the ideal ratio of electrolytes, sodium, glucose, and sucrose to ensure the most efficient and effective fluid absorption possible. Notably, the mixes are low calorie in comparison to other drinks, because Osmo’s philosophy is, “Hydration in the bottle, food in the pocket.”
The Osmo Nutrition Women’s lineup that Sims developed includes three products: Preload Hydration, During-Exercise Hydration, and Post-Exercise Recovery. The company has since debuted a hydration formula for kids as well. Osmo for Women is a family of powdered drink mixes, made with 100% natural ingredients, easily stored and transported to one’s chosen events. Depending on the product, they retail between about $20 and $35 per canister.
Osmo Nutrition Preload Hydration
Osmo’s Preload Hydration formula is considered a “special application” product, for use prior to races, ultra-endurance events, exercise in extreme heat, and other intense efforts. It’s formulated to reduce muscle fatigue, improve recovery, and increase power and endurance by counteracting hormone-induced decreases in body water. Interestingly, its dosage is determined by body weight; 16 ounces delivers 70 calories and 100% daily value sodium for a 130lb woman.
Preload is only available in ‘Pineapple Margarita’, which boasts a pungent pineapple scent, but comparatively mellow flavor. The mix is derived from 100% natural ingredients, which translates to a “real food” taste in the bottle. The lack of sugary sweetness and artificial tartness is really notable. Like revenge, it’s best served cold. I generally mix mine with a combination of measured water and ice cubes, then allow the ice to melt before drinking.
Preload Hydration gets much of its sodium from good old baking soda, and this makes it pretty easy on the stomach. Remember, baking soda is a fantastic antacid and a popular home remedy for indigestion. To me, this is an added benefit of using it, since my stomach is always a bit jumpy before a race.
This mix tastes distinctly salty. It’s much saltier than a ‘normal’ drink, but tangy, like a margarita. I find it to be a refreshing flavor with a mild aftertaste and a good mouth feel. The taste says, “GO!”— there’s definitely a sense that you’re getting ready for something out of the norm when you consume it.
I’ve had the opportunity to use Preload Hydration before a couple of recent bike races and I truly noticed a difference in how hydrated I felt prior to, during, and after the events. This translated into more consistent power and easy recovery. And for me, that will translate into better confidence in preparing for future races. It’s a relief to find something that works.
I used Preload, as directed, prior to an early season race, the Red Trolley Criterium in San Diego. I dutifully drank a bottle the night before, and another 30 minutes prior to the race. My modest goal for this race, my first in many years, was to avoid getting dropped by my field. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was competitive and that I had enough gas in the tank to take a prime and finish 11th. My energy level felt steady throughout the intense event and my recovery was a breeze. I’m a fan!
Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration
Osmo’s Active Hydration formula, recommended for use “every time you sweat”, offsets the effects of the menstrual cycle on the body through enhanced absorption of fluids. It has one job: to promote hydration. This translates into increased power output and improved endurance, which I can personally attest did happen for me, numerous times while testing.
Active Hydration is the recommended “gateway” product for those considering a switch to Osmo. It’s available in one flavor: Mango, and sold in canisters (MSRP $19.99 for 40 eight-ounce servings) and jersey pocket-friendly sachets for convenient on-the-road hydrating (MSRP $1.99 each or a box of 24 for $39.99).
A 20-ounce bottleful of Active Hydration has 88 calories, 18% daily value of sodium, and 23 grams of carbohydrates. Again, one shouldn’t look to Osmo’s drinks to provide fuel to replace calories burned; they are focused solely on hydration.
The mix itself has a fine powdery consistency that dissolves quickly and completely in water of almost any temperature, enhancing ease of use and eliminating that horrible bottom-of-the-bottle sludge. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to measure the correct dosage of two-and-a-half scoops for a 20-ounce bottle (the more common size in my race bag), due to the tininess of the scoop and the absence of a “1/2” mark on it. On the plus side, however, the small scoop pours easily into the bottle without spillover.
At first, Active Hydration tastes diluted and almost bland, but unlike many hydration mixes, it’s not too tangy or sugary. The Mango flavor of Active Hydration is lightly sweet, not at all cloying, and quite pleasant. I don’t find myself wishing for a toothbrush halfway through a long training ride, and I’m more likely to reach for my bottles because it tastes so light and refreshing.
The taste is a direct result of Osmo’s all-natural ingredients, which sing quietly, providing a tasty but distinctively mild flavor. After using Active Hydration exclusively for a number of weeks, I switched to another brand that was offered from a sag vehicle, and nearly gagged at the sweetness and artificiality of its taste. I hadn’t realized how much I had been appreciating the “real food” taste of Osmo until I made that comparison.
As for Active Hydration’s performance, I also give high marks. During long training rides, I’ve felt that my body was responding well, with steadier than normal power output and good endurance.
It’s worth noting again that Active Hydration won’t help much with calorie intake during long rides; that’s not its purpose. Those who have become accustomed to all-in-one hydration / fueling approaches will need to pack a bar or two, as I did.
I rarely have cramping issues and I wasn’t riding in particularly hot weather while using Active Hydration, so I’m not the best judge of these conditions from my testing so far, but this product has earned a place in my bottles, thanks to its great taste and the consistent, predictable benefits it provides.
Osmo Nutrition Acute Recovery
When the ride is over or the race is done, it’s time to boost the body’s recovery, and Osmo’s Acute Recovery formula (MSRP $34.99 for a 12.6 ounce canister) addresses women’s unique recovery challenges with a formula that promotes the repair of muscles and restores the body’s glycogen. It’s recommended for use within 30 minutes of completion of every workout.
Active Recovery, available in Honey & Spice flavor, differs from mainstream products in that it works to reduce the negative effects of progesterone and estrogen on recovery, promoting muscle synthesis and optimizing training adaptations. What does this mean? In simple terms, it helps maximize the benefits of the workout just completed, while prepping the body for the next event.
Like the Preload, dosage of Active Recovery is determined by weight. The recommended portion for a 130lb woman is 1 ½ scoops with 12 ounces of water or rice milk, to deliver 120 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 22.5 grams of protein.
The mix gets its “spice” from organic cinnamon and vanilla bean powder and is the only product in Osmo’s women’s lineup to use milk and soy ingredients. It additionally contains green tea extract, which unfortunately eliminated yours truly from properly testing it. I am one of a small percentage of people who are allergic to green tea extract – but this didn’t stop me from giving it a small taste. The flavor is reminiscent of a chai tea or Thai lassi, but with a slightly more chalky texture, and a notable lack of sweetness. On its own, Honey & Spice is pleasant and light, but numerous recipes have been formulated, both by Osmo and its customers, incorporating the mix into new and tasty hacks including Honey Mocha and Chocolate Spice.
The dense powder of Active Recovery is prone to clumping and requires a bit more vigorous shaking than its siblings. A Blender Bottle seems to work the best for optimal preparation. On the plus side, the mix doesn’t require refrigeration and thus is fantastically transportable from kitchen to race venue. The portability makes it easy to incorporate a recovery plan into every ride or race.
Before I used Osmo and had the opportunity to expand my sports hydration and recovery knowledge, I understood the broad brushstrokes of replacing fluids, but had not stopped to consider that I needed a women’s-specific product, or that the various products on the market today vary in composition so dramatically. Having had the chance to use Osmo and experience its effects, I can say, quite literally in this case, that knowledge really IS power—power (and endurance!) on the bike.