By Brandon Bilyeu
Active Hydration: $20 for 40 servings
Preload Hydration: $25 for 20 servings
Acute Recovery: $35 for 16 servings
Active Hydration: (men) orange, blackberry, lemon lime; (women) mango, lemon lime
Preload Hydration: (men) Pineapple Lemon; (women) Pineapple Margarita
Acute Recovery: (men) Vanilla; (women) Honey & Spice
How obtained: review sample from company
Available: online, bike shops
RBR Sponsor: no
Tested: one tub of each product
OSMO Nutrition has an interesting backstory. I first heard about them a few years ago in an article that chronicled the demise and rebirth of the company. Long story short, the company ceased operations back in 2016 after new management ran things into the ground and this made pro cyclist Peter Sagan grumpy. Sagan had found OSMO hydration products the only cure for his cramping issues and needed it to continue dominating the pro cycling world. Sagan floated the idea to buy OSMO but in the end convinced the original owners to resuscitate the brand and thus his pro career was saved.
The Science – Osmolality
The first thing to know about OSMO is that it is not an energy drink (you must get your calories elsewhere, more on that later), but a hydration drink designed to allow efficient and quick fluid absorption. OSMO’s science behind optimal hydration centers around osmolality whose role and importance in hydration is nicely summed up in the below explanation on OSMO’s website:
“The stomach and small intestine are critical organs when it comes to hydration. The stomach’s primary role in this process is to prepare the fluid you’ve consumed to be absorbed in the intestines. To do this, the stomach ensures that the liquid consumed has a lower osmolality than your blood. Osmolality is a measure of how much solid is dissolved in the fluid. The osmolality of the fluid you ingest needs to be equal to or lower than the osmolality of blood for the intestine to absorb it. If the osmolality of the ingested fluid is too high (meaning there is too much “stuff” dissolved in it) then the liquid will be kept in the stomach. In order to dilute and absorb the liquid, the stomach will draw body water from the bloodstream.” –https://osmonutrition.com/science/
Put succinctly, if you drink the wrong fluids your body must self-dehydrate before it can then rehydrate by absorbing what you originally drank. This also means the wrong fluids will sit in your stomach for longer periods of time which can lead to feelings of heaviness, bloating, and gastric distress. This description of an unhappy stomach during a ride will sound all too familiar for many people, myself included.
OSMO also recognizes that male and female physiologies are different and therefore offer all their products in two versions optimized for men and women.
Active Hydration – Optimized for Absorption but be Careful What You Eat
- Gender optimized formulas for men and women
- Low osmolality for fast hydration
- Reasonably priced
- Flavor is light and not sweet, easy on stomach
- Hydration only, no significant calorie content
- Certain foods must be avoided to achieve maximal hydration
The osmolality science is put to work in OSMO’s exercise hydration product dubbed Active Hydration. It is a powdered drink mix that comes in a tub with 40 “scoops” for $20. The mix is vegan, non-GMO, and gluten/dairy free. For a standard 24oz water bottle 3.0 scoops are recommended for a per bottle cost of $1.50. Single serving packets are also available for easy mid-ride fill-ups.
I tested a tub of the orange flavor Active Hydration this spring on rides ranging from long, steady distance to interval training. The flavor is very subtle with only a mild hint of orange coming through. It does not come across as sweet at all which is refreshing, and it doesn’t leave everything a sticky mess. The mix dissolves very well in water with only a barely perceptible chalky feel in the mouth. All this combined meant the OSMO was as easy to drink as plain water and didn’t bother my notoriously fickle stomach.
I can anecdotally state that OSMO’s hydration science did appear to help with my cramping issues. After so many years of riding I know what situations, distances, and intensities will cause my legs to cramp and so did my best to induce cramps while using the Active Hydration mix instead of my typical mix. The results were that the onset of cramps seemed to be delayed and then when they did occur they were less intense and I could recover more quickly.
Osmolality Affected by Food Intake
Active Hydration is designed with low osmolality for optimal absorption in the digestive tract, but this only provides hydration and not energy (calories). The trick here is that eating food to get energy during a ride adds solids to your digestive system and therefore can increase the osmolality. To minimize this effect OSMO recommends eating solid foods as opposed to gels. The nature of energy gels leads to high dissolved solids in the gut and therefore high osmolality. According to OSMO “solid foods” include things like potatoes, sandwiches, pretzels, muffins, and cookies. If you use off the shelf energy bars then protein-based products are best as they will lead to less dissolved solids.
The good news is that even if you keep to your typical feeding OSMO will still work just as well as any other sports hydration drink you could buy. But if you do want improved hydration you will have to be a little more careful about how you fuel during rides.
Preload Hydration – Prepare for Big Days
- Gender optimized formulas for men and women
- Great for heavy sweaters who lose a lot of salt via sweating
- Tastes better than pure saltwater, but . . .
- . . . I would not say it tastes good
- High dose of sodium requires caution in use
OSMO Preload Hydration is essentially a high dose of sodium designed to hyper-hydrate you before big days or hot weather and is not meant for everyday use. One serving/scoop of the men’s mix contains a whopping 1620mg of sodium, 70% of the recommended daily value, which leads to the warning on the tub “do not use if you have high blood pressure or have been advised to limit salt in your diet.” The recommended use is to drink one bodyweight based serving the night before and one serving an hour before your ride.
Preload is available in Pineapple Lemon for men and Pineapple Margarita for women, and as you can imagine is not the best tasting with that high sodium content. But the flavor is not that bad and certainly tolerable as a pre-ride drink. As a super heavy sweater (I’m always covered in crusty salt) I like the idea of Preload and used it before my interval workouts. As mentioned above, I saw reduced cramps and can likely attribute some of this to the combination of Preload and Active Hydration.
Acute Recovery – Post Workout Protein
- Gender optimized formulas for men and women
- Provides protein, carbs, and caffeine
- Two types of protein for longer availability
- As with most protein drinks flavor is not great, chalky consistency
We all know that it is important to eat soon after a ride or workout, specifically within 30-60 minutes of finishing. The right combo of protein and carbs in that time window replenishes your muscles and starts the repair that is responsible for making you stronger. OSMO’s version of post workout fuel is a drink mix called Acute Recovery that is a combination of two proteins, carbs, and caffeine. Per OSMO, the addition of caffeine “has been shown to accelerate glycogen replacement by 66% over carbs and protein alone.” The carb content is a bit low so you still need to eat some real food.
In addition to whey protein, which is found in just about every protein drink mix, OSMO also includes micellar casein. The fast-acting whey protein combined with the long-lasting micellar casein stretches out the window of protein availability over several hours leading to better recovery.
Available in vanilla flavor for men and honey & spice for women, the Acute Recovery mixes up the same as every other protein drink I have tried. That is to say lots of suspended solids and a chalky feel with the vanilla flavor added to make it a bit more palatable. Mixed with water it is tolerable, but using milk (cow, almond, rice, etc.) makes it much better. I can’t say that I noticed improved recovery (not sure how to quantify that), but being able to mix up the drink right after a ride was very convenient. Arriving home exhausted and often not feeling very hungry can make it hard to re-fuel properly in that 30-60 minute window, but even I can handle mixing up a drink and tossing it down the hatch.
If you deal with chronic cramping or hydration issues OSMO might be worth a try. The Preload and Active Hydration products focus on fast water delivery by working with your body’s chemistry where other hydration/energy brands simply dump everything in your stomach and hope for the best. Of course the caveat is that you have to be mindful of your food intake so it does not interfere with the water absorption.
If you hate the taste of strong and sweet flavors during rides Active Hydration might be a good option with its very light flavor. Preload and Acute recovery may not be the best tasting, but I’m less concerned with the flavor of pre/post-ride drinks than I am with something I have to drink for hours on end in the saddle. And I’m willing to put up with a salty drink before a ride if it helps keep the cramps at bay.