By Randy Ice PT, CCS
In my previous article on atherosclerosis, I pointed out that I established a cycling club (SCOR CCC) in 1974 to enhance compliance with the exercise program for men who had had a heart attack in their 40s. We started meeting every Saturday morning for group rides with 15 – 20 men. Our first ride was down the Santa Ana River trail from Angel Stadium to Huntington Beach and back. That was about 18 miles of flat terrain, which was considered quite a bit of exercise for a group that was pretty much completely sedentary prior to joining the SCOR atherosclerosis research project!
As the months went by our club rides became longer and more difficult as fitness levels increased, and by 1975 we decided to attempt to ride from Downey to San Diego, a “century” ride. However, we split it into two 50 mile segments over a weekend. That went well and in 1976 we got up the courage to have a bus drop us off in Santa Barbara on a Friday evening, check into a motel and ride from there to my home in El Segundo in one day, a distance of 100 miles.
For nutritional support one of the wives followed us down the coast and had bananas, cookies and water available to eat and drink along the way — as that is all I knew about nutrition and long distance exercise way back then.
Riding Centuries became pretty routine after that. An annual Club ride we did was the San Diego Century from Fullerton to San Diego. in the late 70’s we began another annual club ride starting in Solvang out to Lompoc, then to Santa Maria and back to Solvang — a 100 mile loop route that lead to us organizing the Solvang Century from 1983 to 2019 as our annual club fundraiser.
Ultra Cycling and the Race Across America (RAAM)
I met John Marino, Mike Shermer, John Howard, Lon Haldeman, the Penseyres brothers and many other early RAAM riders in the early 1980’s, and it was Pete Penseyres who after finishing second in the 1984 RAAM, asked me for nutritional advice as he was planning on entering the 1986 RAAM and was confident he could ride faster and win. His food intake that year was a smattering of sandwiches, grapes, cookies and a variety of other solid food with no particular science involved — just eating what he wanted or thought he needed nutrition-wise while on the bike 21 to 22 hours per day.
Lon Haldeman, John Howard, Mike Shermer and John Marino right to left. This photo was at the start of the 2011 RAAM. These four were the founding athletes who first rode the 1982 “Great American Bike Race” that was re-named the Race Across America in 1983.
I worked with two other professional colleagues for 5 months of research, creating trial and error formulas that led to the development of a liquid food we named Ultra Energy. Pete and Casey Patterson used it in the 1986 RAAM, and both won their respective divisions.
Ultra Energy was slightly reformulated and re-named SPIZ in 1995, and has been used successfully by endurance athletes all over the world since then, including long distance cyclists, runners, hikers, adventure racers, canoeists, rowers, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders. One athlete paddled the entire length of the Amazon River utilizing this product as his primary fuel source several years ago.
In November of 2020, Chet “the Jet” Blanton completed a 6 day running race called the Florida UltraFest and completed his goal of running 300 miles. His primary fuel source was SPIZ mixed with water. At 62, he has completed over 100 full length triathlons, several triple triathlons and a deca triathlon He has also run many marathons and several 6 day running races over the last 25 years.
During the 6 day run, he consumed a total of 25,000 calories of SPIZ, two pizzas and one cheeseburger, with a lot of water due to 80 to 90 percent humidity. Overall he lost 4 pounds, which he admits was because he did not have a support crew person to monitor his liquid food and water intake and he got a little sloppy maintaining the planned hydration and liquid food intake schedule towards the end of the race.
My Personal Experience with Bonking
My first experience on the importance of properly fueling the body during prolonged exercise, which was a negative one, came in 1977 when I cycled from Fullerton to San Diego (100 miles) on a Saturday, followed by running the San Diego Marathon on Sunday.
I had heard of the term “hitting the wall” and at the 18 mile mark 3 hours into it, I hit it! I remember stopping at the aid station at that point when I could only walk and jog intermittently and yelling wild-eyed at the poor soul behind the table, “Don’t you have anything with some sugar in it?” At that time, water and ERG was all that was available at marathons.
ERG stood for “Electrolyte Replacement with Glucose.” I do not recall how much or what kind of glucose nor what electrolytes were in it, but after downing 5 or 6 cups of it, I still felt I had rubber for legs, had no energy, and walk-jogged the last 6 miles to the finish line, feeling like dead meat. This is how I learned that something was missing in the sports nutrition world when it came to endurance events lasting 3 hours or longer.
My college exercise physiology classes research performed at Ball State in the early to mid-70s taught us that no more than “120 Calories of glucose/hour” could be absorbed by the GI tract during prolonged treadmill running. That research became the foundation for ERG, Gatorade, Body Fuel and many other dilute energy drinks that came on the market back then and held back advances in this area for about a decade.
I started working with a nutritionist who worked for Amway’s Nutrilite Company and a compounding pharmacist next door to my Physical Therapy office in Whittier who specialized in making intravenous Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) formulas for hospitalized patients who could not eat due to illness.
Together, we put developed several trial and error versions of what we determined an endurance athlete would need to meet the heavy nutritional demands of exercising for hours on end day after day in one of the world’s most demanding endurance events. We would put together a formula on a Friday, and I would deliver it to Pete in Fallbrook and Casey in Malibu to use on their 400 mile training rides over a weekend.
Based on their feedback, eventually we got the combination of carbohydrates, fatty acids, free form amino acids, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes “just right.” Ultra Energy was created after both racers dominated their fields. Pete’s record of 8 days, 9 hours 47 minutes for an average of 15.4 mph was not broken until 2013 by the Austrian Christoph Strasser (15.68 mph average speed).
Nutritional Elements Needed for Successful Endurance Exercise
We determined that the body would need a combination of macronutrients, and all the micronutrients found in solid food that could be essentially pre-digested in a formula that would enhance absorption in spite of reduced GI blood flow. It made sense to us to make it in liquid form, as water is an essential nutrient and would also assist with faster absorption.
Of course it had to taste decent too, or no one would consume it hour after hour! We rejected the idea that carbohydrates were limited to 25 – 30 grams/hour as the exercise physiology research publications suggested at that time, and indeed found the missing element that allowed us to increase that to 95 – 100+ grams/hour.
Finally, it had to digest easily and cause no GI issues like nausea, bloating, gas or constipation, symptoms that have become pretty common with many energy drinks on the market and have been reported to me by many an athlete over the years.
Carbohydrate Needs During Long Distance Events or Training
Since carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for endurance exercise energy needs and are metabolized the quickest, our final concoction included a mixture of short intermediate and long acting disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
We chose sucrose, dextrose and maltodextrin in a ratio that would create a steady stream of glucose exiting the small intestine into the blood stream for delivery to the working muscles.
“Bonking” or “hitting the wall” results when both muscle and liver glycogen stores are depleted by exercise followed by hypoglycemia when blood glucose levels start to fall at that point. Without any re-fueling, this typically occurs at the 3 hour mark in an endurance event.
By using three different carbohydrate sources, our goal was to continuously replenish glucose stores so that muscle glycogen stores would more slowly be depleted and blood glucose levels would stay in the 90 – 110 mg% range hour after hour.
This is accomplished by drinking every 50 – 70 minutes a predetermined amount of calories so that carbohydrates are replaced at roughly same rate they are metabolized. This prevents insulin spikes followed by hypoglycemic episodes, which means even Type I and Type II diabetics can exercise and maintain a level glucose.
Protein Requirements During Endurance Exercise
Carbohydrates are not the only source of energy utilized during exercise. Many studies have shown between 5% and 15% of exercising muscle ATP production is derived from protein with the branched chain amino acids being the most contributory. These are alanine, valine, leucine and isoleucine. Exercising hour after hour for days on end is highly catabolic and if not consumed via the diet, the body will resort to breaking down muscle for these amino acid needs.
I remember Pete telling me in 1984 that it took 4 weeks to recover from RAAM that year, while in 1986 it took him only 2 weeks. I am confident that is because we reduced muscle catabolism significantly with the Ultra Energy (UE) that contained all 22 free form amino acids in very specific amounts in every serving.
In 1995, I reformulated UE as my partner at that time decided he was no longer interested in manufacturing it. I renamed it SPIZERINCTUM (aka SPIZ) so as not to violate the UE trademark and made a few minor changes to the formula to prevent infringing on the patent he had obtained. Free form amino acids can only be obtained from a Japanese company (Ajinomoto) and they taste terrible, so the formula was changed and an equivalent amount of hydrolyzed whey protein was substituted for the free form amino acids.
Whey protein has the highest biological availability. Since it is 20 percent hydrolyzed into di and tri-peptides, it is more easily absorbed in the GI tract, where digestive processes are impaired by the reduced blood supply created during exercise as blood is preferentially shunted to the working muscles.
Whey protein is also high in the branched chain amino acids that are essential to promote glycogen re-synthesis in the liver, via the glucose-alanine cycle. Including whey protein creates both a “protein sparing” effect and “glycogen sparing” effect at the muscle cell level.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) have documented anti-catabolic effects. I wanted a high concentration of BCAA’s-to-tryptophan, which each compete with one other to cross the blood-brain barrier. According to the Central Nervous Theory of Fatigue, keeping brain tryptophan levels down during exercise may minimize fatigue by reducing the synthesis of serotonin and promoting wakefulness.
Covalent Bonded L-Glutamine Needs During Prolonged Exercise
L-Glutamine is considered a “conditionally essential” amino acid, meaning the body cannot manufacture enough of it during certain conditions and therefore must it be provided through dietary sources. Stress and exercise are conditions that create a need for more L-Glutamine.
This amino acid also has been found to maintain blood glucose levels and is also considered to be the “thinkers” amino acid as it can help maintain mental concentration and focus during exercise.
L-Glutamine has also been found to be the most important amino acid regulating protein synthesis. If muscle L-glutamine levels are reduced (which is common in long distance exercise) muscle synthesis is impaired. Conversely if muscle L-glutamine levels are maintained then protein synthesis occurs in direct proportion to those levels which is essential for recovery purposes.
L-Glutamine by itself is extremely unstable in the presence of water, heat, acid or base solutions making its use impractical. Covalent bonded L-Glutamine refers to attaching it to other amino acids and is referred to as an “oligopeptide. This allows it to survive stomach hydrochloric acid and enhances the absorption of L-Glutamine by a factor of 10. It is derived from wheat berries and as a result has 14 percent gluten by weight.
Fatty Acid Utilization During Endurance Exercise
Prolonged endurance exercise at mild-to-moderate intensities such as RAAM results in endogenous fatty acids being consumed to produce ATP, the energy molecule needed for muscle contraction. Fatty acids meet roughly 50 percent of endurance exercise energy needs. There is not a high need for dietary fat sources, as everyone has sufficient fat stores — although I have seen an occasional male RAAM athlete go into this event with only 6 percent body fat and not complete the race, possibly due to too little fat stores to draw on.
Indeed medium chain triglycerides (MCT) were included in our formula in small amounts specifically for the purpose absorbing the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E in the formula. MCT is are short chain fatty acids and are the most easily metabolized during exercise.
Our testing of Pete Penseyres and Lon Haldeman’s body fat levels before and after their 1987 Tandem record 7 day 15 hour ride across the country confirmed the 4 and 6 pound weight loss they had respectively was half from body fat losses with the rest of their caloric needs being met by the liquid food. They obtained 85 percent and 90 percent of the total calories respectively from Ultra Energy.
Vitamin and Mineral Needs
We decided to include all the known vitamins and minerals at 100 percent of the RDI in every serving. We added additional amounts of mixed tocopherols and Vitamin C for antioxidant protection against exercise-induced free radical production and to minimize muscle cell damage.
All the B vitamins were included which are critical for the Kreb’s Tricarboxylic ATP energy cycle.
Due to research showing vitamin D3 improves exercise performance, and because the vast majority of Americans are vitamin D deficient, I increased the amount of D3 from 100 IU to 400 IU per serving when I reformulated Ultra Energy to SPIZ.
All known essential minerals included are chelated, which means that a protein such as citrate, malate or glycinate is attached to the mineral. This enhances absorption in the GI tract from 10 percent to 30 percent. These minerals are needed to support metabolic functions and catalyze various biochemical pathways.
Sodium (Salt) Needs During Ultra Racing Events
Sodium needs during long distance exercise are considerable. In the 1984 RAAM Pete Penseyres became dehydrated crossing the California and Arizona desert in 105 – 110 degree weather — something that has occurred many times to other RAAM athletes since then.
Excessive sweat losses lead to dehydration AND hyponatremia, which is a condition of low blood sodium levels. Pete was seen in a local hospital and given an IV containing salt water to restore his blood sodium level. He then got back on his bike and moved from dead last to eventually finish in second place.
Low sodium levels lead to muscle cramping and can be prevented by consuming adequate amounts of salt (sodium) while training or racing. We decided on 580 mg of sodium/serving which for the vast majority of endurance athletes will prevent cramping even in very hot ambient temperatures as well as hyponatremia and dehydration.
The “secret sauce” as to why an energy drink will work well or not, is its sodium content. A review of gastroenterology textbooks back in 1986 revealed that sodium is a “carrier molecule” in the GI tract and serves to facilitate a more rapid transfer of glucose and amino acids across the intestinal membrane into the circulation via an “active transport” process.
This is another reason we include 580 mg of sodium in each serving — to prevent muscle cramping in hot weather from sweat sodium losses and to assist in greater absorption of the two nutrients exercising muscles need the most, glucose and amino acids.
Years of use by many endurance athletes have documented when the above macronutrients, micronutrients and electrolytes are included in an energy drink/meal replacement product during events lasting 3 hours or longer, athletic performance is enhanced and there is a faster recovery in the ensuing days afterwards.
Including all the correct nutrients in the right quantities also eliminates the need for dilute Gatorade-type drinks and gel packets, and for “energy bars” that are slower to digest and do not have all the necessary ingredients to optimize performance.
The product can even be used as a meal replacement, and many customers who have wasting diseases such as cancer or malnutrition for whatever reason can use this product to maintain their lean body mass, feel better and survive. It is clear to me that it is quite dangerous when lean body mass reaches a critically low level, so taking steps to prevent that are essential.
Randolph Ice PT, CCS
USC Graduate – 1971
Founder SCOR Cardiac Cyclists Club – 1974
Inventor/Manufacturer of Ultra Energy – 1986, SPIZ meal replacement/energy drink – 1995 (www.SPIZ.net)
Clinical Coordinator – Vintage Medical Hormone Replacement Group – 2000 to present
Director of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Rancho PT, Murrieta California 1991 – 2020
Director of Physical Therapy and Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation – Metroflex Gym – 2020