This has been a long time coming: Here are the ins and outs of what Tailwind Nutrition is, why it’s my favorite fuel, and how I use it in training and in racing. I’m beyond excited that they made me one of their Brand Ambassadors (Tailwind Trailblazer) earlier this year in March. If you’ve met me at a race, I probably handed you a stick with Tailwind product.
I know what you’re thinking: If I’m a Brand Ambassador for Tailwind, how can you be sure that I am not just praising the product because I’m getting some personal gain out of it?!
Rest easy, I’ve been preaching the benefits of Tailwind for more than a year before I got on board, and I have the blog posts and success stories on here to show for it: From BattleFrog Xtreme in February 2016 (1st place) to the Lake Tahoe Ultra Beast in October 2016 (9th place), and finally World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 (Part 1, Part 2) where I finished with 75 miles under my belt.
I didn’t blog or race as much this year, but I did finish 3rd at Rugged Maniac NorCal and 2nd at Tougher Mudder Sacramento. Both times I was using only Tailwind pre- and post-race.
Now, I’m not a professional athlete and I also don’t make a regular appearance on the podium. What I am is a regular dude, pushing 50 hours each week as a desk jockey, and juggling work with training and relationships, just like 99% of athletes out there. But don’t just take it from me, you can find people who have success at the Leadville 100mi, Western States, Lake Tahoe Triathlon, and there’s also a certain Robert Killian, 2015 Spartan Race World Champion and 2017 Best Ranger Competition Champ, who is an outspoken Tailwind enthusiast.
My Tailwind Tale
My athletic background consists mainly of my time in the German Army and doing GORUCK and other endurance sports events of 8 hours or longer. In the Army, they don’t want you to mix anything into your water, so you have clear and clean liquids available if you need to wash out a wound or someone’s eyes in the field. Also, you never know when you’ll get the opportunity to refill water, so you can’t rely on a nutrition source that requires water for consumption.
All of these factors kept products like Nuun, Cellucor, or other water-soluble nutrition options off of my radar. That changed in 2015, when I switched from endurance/teamwork and rucking to running as my primary focus.
After a year of messing around with Clif products and juggling energy gels, bars, chews, and salt pills, I couldn’t take it anymore. Dragging around the empty wrappers (leave only footprints!), having a dry mouth thanks to dry bars, having bits of the chews stuck between my teeth… There had to be a better way.
In early February 2016 I introduced Cellucor Alpha Aminos to my nutrition for my next 8 hour race, and that made a noticeable difference. Encouraged by that experience, I experimented with Tailwind in training after having seen the product online. I completely switched to using Tailwind in the same month for my next 8 hour event and felt incredible!
After wrapping up World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 with great success, I’ve never looked back, and have been vocal about my excitement about Tailwind ever since. If you love a product, wouldn’t you want to be an official ambassador for it as well?
Here we are almost a year later, and I finally get around to write about Tailwind, since I have been repeating the same things in plenty of Facebook groups and conversations: What is it, what’s in it, how do I use it, and why do I think it’s superior to any other product I have tried?
What is it?
Tailwind Nutrition is a young company, founded 2012 in Durango, Colorado by an athlete who couldn’t handle the gut-bombs and the taste of the gels and other stuff that was out on the market and was determined to come up with a better way to fuel athletes.
In essence, Tailwind is calories and electrolytes in powder form, which mixes quickly and clearly with water. It allows you to take in all the good stuff you need to fuel your body just by sipping on your hydration. Also, you don’t need to remember when to take your salt pills and your gels and your chews etc. anymore, since everything is mixed in your water.
Let’s clear up the thing about electrolytes real quick; the term usually refers to sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Tailwind comes with a high concentration of all of these. Most “electrolyte” drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, etc. do contain these things, but they’re also full of artificial coloring, unnecessary substances to achieve some flavors, and other chemicals intended to extend the product’s shelf life or enhance its taste or appearance.
Tailwind comes in powder form and the ingredient label is straight forward (see below). Once you mix it in water, you should treat it like fresh juice — e.g., keep it chilled if you don’t consume it the same day. Simple.
Why do we need electrolytes? I’m going to refer you to Runners Connect on this one. In short: having low levels of electrolytes contributes to cramping in your legs/stomach, increases fatigue, and inhibits recovery, among other negative effects.
If you run, you will sweat. Sweat is salty, right? These are electrolytes leaving your body. If you only drink water, those electrolytes are not getting replaced. That’s a bad thing and that’s the reason people fidget around with salt pills during their runs… or use something like Tailwind in their hydration. Cramps suck. If you are not sure how much you are sweating because you want a more data driven approach to hydration and your electrolyte balance: Determine your sweat rate.
I want to give you some basic tools and numbers which will help to put calorie consumption and burn rate in perspective. If you want personalized, in-depth testing to gain an understanding of how all of this applies to you, I’d recommend you visit Richard Diaz in Camarillo, CA, or one of his clinics. His podcast is always worth checking out as well!
Calories burned at rest
Your body burns calories over the course of a day, even if you are just binge watching Game of Thrones and don’t leave your couch at all. (Elevated heart rate due to your favorite character brutally meeting his end on-screen doesn’t count as exercise.) The amount of calories this inactivity “costs” is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). You will always burn this amount of calories every day at a minimum. You can get an estimate of your BMR using this calculator, which correctly points out, that mandatory movement, like going to the restroom etc. will increase your calorie burn above your BMR every day.
Fun fact: basically all weight-loss programs rely on consuming fewer calories over the course of a day than you burn. “A calorie is not a calorie” though, so this whole topic gets confusing and downright religious pretty quickly, so I’m not going to elaborate on that.
Calories burned & consumption on the run
Alright, you’re not reading this because you want to know how much you need to eat so you don’t die while doing absolutely no activity. This is about running so hard or so long that your lungs burn and your muscles scream. On to the calories burned while enjoying that kind of fun and, how much should you eat?
I’m not getting into carb loading and glycogen storage, since that’s a whole different topic. Very generally speaking, your glycogen stores will be depleted after running for about 90 minutes. So you might get through a Tough(er) Mudder or a Spartan Super or shorter races without eating, but a Toughest Mudder or Spartan Ultra Beast will crush you if you don’t consume calories.
Of course there is a calculator for this, as well. However, there is one very important thing, which this calculator casually omits and which every runner should understand:
No matter how hard or easy you run, your body can only process 200-300 calories per hour. Does that mean you should pump 300 calories in your body per hour? Maybe. The lesson is, you will always run on a calorie deficit and therefore, you are fighting a battle of attrition. Ultra-distance running is almost as much of an eating competition as it is a running race.
Reality does not always play nicely with planning. While you can condition your body to a certain extent to get better at the way it burns fuel sources (fat VS glycogen) and how efficient it is at digesting fuel, there are limits. Also, not every athlete has the patience and dedication to work through the trial and error of finding personal breaking points or adapting their entire life style (intermittent fasting, keto, vegetarianism, etc.) without a promise of improvement.
The reason is often, that your metabolism might have a limit of 300 or 350 calories per hour, but your gastro-intestinal (GI) aka digestive system has a “mind” of its own. You might be perfectly fine with eating a gel every 20 minutes for 3 hours, while your running buddy next to you would rather eat some road kill than squeeze more sugar paste in his/her mouth. Or maybe you feel like your muscles have rocket fuel in them and you could soar beyond the clouds – but your stomach tells you that you better soar straight to the next restroom, ASAP. People have lost 100 milers due to nutrition/digestion issues.
Keep in mind too, intense exercise moves blood away from your GI system, which is probably why you’ve experienced a “weird feeling” in your stomach after running; that’s the result of blood returning to your digestive tract. While you’re running, your stomach cannot work as efficiently as it would at a low heart rate.
To make things more complicated, when you’re consuming calories as a gel or chew or bar, your stomach still needs liquid to actually make a “soup” out of it (yummy!), so the calories can find their way into your blood stream. If there is no water available, your stomach pulls that water out of your body. That sucks, because your performance and hydration levels suffer AND it will take longer to feel the effects of your fuel. Tailwind is already liquid and comes with water, so no issues there.
No matter what you consume to get calories, my recommendation is to begin with the dosage and frequency recommended by the manufacturer. Then, on training runs with similar length/intensity/temperature/humidity/timing/etc., begin to dial in what feels right for you. Take notes, keep track, and find your own personal “sweet spot”. The simpler your system is, the more idiot proof it becomes; therefore, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid! … At least for me, I definitely depend on that.
Tailwind contains 100 calories per scoop, and due to the electrolyte contents, you don’t need to worry about salt pills ever again. The official guideline is 200-300 calories/24oz of water/hour for 2+ hour workouts, and 100-200 calories/24oz of water/hour for activities less than 2 hours.
I deviate from that as necessary, based on the event and the expected temperature and duration of the activity, as I will explain later in this post. By the way, if you do the math on the number of gels you need for a marathon versus the number of scoops Tailwind you would need, you will quickly find out, that your wallet will also prefer the powder over the gels.
…so, what’s in it?
First off, all Tailwind flavors are gluten free, vegan, contain no soy, and no dairy.
Tailwind comes in caffeinated and caffeine-free flavors, which are easy to differentiate. Everything with a “buzz” in its name is caffeinated. Here are the ingredient labels of both types of Tailwind:
The only difference in terms of usage is, that Tailwind recommends “to limiting continuous use to 6 hours or less to avoid building up a high concentration”. For reference, a can of Red Bull contains 77mg, a Starbucks Espresso shot has 75mg of caffeine. So two scoops of caffeinated Tailwind per hour gets you almost on the level of one of those.
If you ever pull an all-nighter while sitting in front of a computer, it is not healthy to drink a can of Red Bull per hour for the entire night. If you tried it, you know your heart will begin to race weirdly, you break out in sweats, you lose focus, and you begin to experience other unpleasant side effects. Imagine having to deal with all that while running on trails, maybe even at night. It’s an injury waiting to happen. Respect your body and its limits.
Okay, I’m done lecturing you on the risks of caffeine; be good to your body and it will be good to you.
All of the flavors are light enough so that you will not get overwhelmed when running for multiple hours.
Caffeine free/Normal: Mandarin Orange, Berry, Lemon, and Naked Unflavored
Caffeinated/Buzzy (35mg of caffeine): Raspberry Buzz, Green Tea Buzz, and Tropical Buzz
If you are not sure which flavor will appeal to you the most, there is an easy fix: They offer a Stick Pack Bundle with all the different flavors. If you see that we’ll both be attending the same race, feel free to reach out on Facebook or Instagram and I can bring you a stick pack to try!
I have observed, that the flavor in higher concentrations (e.g. 3 scoops instead of 2 scoops in the same amount of water) can get pretty strong in higher temperatures. Be sure to try out what works best for you in your race conditions and plan accordingly by lowering the dosage, carrying extra water, carrying soft flasks with different flavors, etc.
How do I use it?
You can take a look at my previous race reports to find out how I’m using Tailwind during races:
- BattleFrog Xtreme in February 2016, 1st place
- Lake Tahoe Ultra Beast in October 2016, 9th place
- World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 (Part 1, Part 2), 75 miles
Usually I begin by calculating how much water and how many calories I will need to consume during the race. Then, I take note of the number of water stations on the course, or the distance between drop boxes/pit stops. Based on my best guess, I map out how long it will take me to get to those water stations or drop boxes/pit stops.
With all this information, I can determine how much Tailwind I need to take with me out on the course in my soft flasks, how much I need to bring with me as dry powder, and how much I can prepare in my drop box or at my pit stop.
Based on this, I write down what I’m going to consume at which point in time. Finally, I add a contingency plan: What if a soft flasks gets pierced or lost at a water obstacle or barbed wire crawl? What if the water station on the course is out of water? What if somebody takes the water out of your drop box? Better athletes than me might be able to simply “suck it up” without suffering as a result, or they are more comfortable with planning with a sharp razor which leaves no room for error or deviation.
I’m not depending on race winnings or sponsors; my main competition is with myself. A failure to properly prepare is unacceptable in that equation. Plus, if you are well prepared, it will make race day so much more enjoyable!
For shorter races (below 90min) I pre-fuel by having breakfast (oats, yogurt) around 2 hours before the start, then on the way to the start line I sip on a mild mix of Tailwind, and don’t take anything on the course. That has worked out well for me so far, but as always, I am tweaking and tuning details to find out if my system can be improved upon.
Again, here is what Tailwind recommends, and generally speaking it’s a safe mix:
- 150-200 calories (1.5-2 scoops) per 24oz per hour for <2 hrs
- 200-300 calories (2-3 scoops) per 24oz per hour for 2+ hrs
If you go for a higher concentration, I would strongly recommend having water stations somewhere along the way. If you recall, electrolytes are salty and calories require liquid to be absorbed, right? That means, if your concentration of Tailwind is much higher than recommended, your body will still need appropriate liquids to work through it.
Not every body is identical, so – as always – make sure to experiment how far you can push it, and keep in mind that your body responds very differently based on intensity. Running a 6-minute/mile pace in 90 degree weather for a 5k in summer is worlds removed from a 12-minute/mile in 60 degree weather for an ultra-distance event in the desert at night (looking at you, WTM!).
In summary, Tailwind is easy to digest, contains calories and electrolytes, doesn’t contain weird chemicals, causes no trash, leaves more space in your hydration vest/pack/belt, frees you from needing to juggle multiple products while running, and it is more cost efficient at the same time.
I’m always happy to respond to any questions you might have via social media, or the contact form on this blog, or if we run into each other at any event. Remember, I’m not getting paid for this and I was a fan long before I became an ambassador. I’m no different than any other amateur athlete out there, working hard, fighting the same battle.
I’m looking forward to meeting you out on the course, and if you let me know ahead of time, I’m more than hahppy to share some Tailwind-goodness with you!