This review just might be the longest, most unscientific review of a product ever undertaken. It wasn't that I felt like I HAD to do it this way, it's that after I first used Skratch Labs products, they exploded onto the market and were a hot topic, so I knew my review would be lost in the shuffle. However, I'm glad it went this route, because it just reaffirmed that my initial thoughts were correct.
So here's my timeline with Skratch Labs:
I first tried the new drink mixes from the young company via a package sent to me by former Evolv rep Jay Peery. At the time I was just beginning my own quest to find a nutrition protocol that was both simple and easy, and made sense to me. That's easier said than done. I'm a recovered Coke addict. Coca Cola, that is, which is essentially the taste of my childhood, and by comparison, nearly everything is healthier. I knew that being healthier than soda wasn't enough, but what was? Where should an athlete go to get the energy that I used to get from carbonation, caffeine, and copious amounts of sugar?
When I first tried Skratch Labs, I left it sitting in the bottle overnight like I regularly do with Gatorade (sometimes days!?), and it fermented. Fermented? Ok, it's real fruit. I should have expected that, I suppose.
I used Skratch Labs anytime I climbed. In the gym while training, at the crag, and I even hauled a bunch up to the Strawberry Roan in Wyoming. I wasn't completely sold. I knew I liked the stuff, but wondered if maybe water was just as good? Maybe Gatorade was similar, or even better?
Mid-season I switched to water. Just water. Plain old water. Honestly, it was harder than I expected. I found that when I didn't have the taste of Lemon Lime Skratch Labs to look forward to, I ended up less hydrated. Psychological for sure, but we can't overlook the role that psychology plays in sport.
I remained committed to water for most of the season, but eventually switched to Gatorade. I have a sweet tooth, so this suited me just fine. All in the name of science, right?
I found myself often watering down the overpoweringly sweet Gatorade, or even just skipping it altogether in favor of water. It left me feeling bloated, and just served to increase my sweet tooth, which is NOT a good thing when projecting hard routes. Because as my sweet tooth grew, so did my need for Gatorade.
I was complementing my Gatorade with candy bars every chance I got. Gatorade is the gateway drug to obesity, I'm convinced. Luckily, I had registered for 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, and Jay Peery was there with Skratch Labs. With a handful of packets of Skratch Labs, including the new flavor with caffeine, Matcha Green Tea with Lemon, I detoxed from the Gatorade and made it through the 24 hour event easily, making my 99th, 100th, and 104th route all 5.12's.
I took a fall at work and destroyed my rotator cuff, requiring an extensive surgery. Sitting still allowed my sweet tooth to catch up to me, and it was ice cream all day every day for a while. And the Gatorade. The gateway drug. Not only did my right side atrophy in a shocking way, but I was beginning to look like I belonged in my 40's. I used the injury as an excuse, and just let it happen.
On a drive from Lander, Wyoming to Estes Park, Colorado to see our friends Rannveig and Nathan, we stopped at a convenient store and I bought a Glacier Cherry flavored Gatorade (because they didn't have Blue Cherry, which was my new favorite flavor). After four or five sips, I realized that every time over the last two weeks that I had drank a Gatorade, I had ended up with a ferocious stomach ache. I'm the type to ignore most pain, so it hadn't really occurred to me that there was a connection.
Sugar addiction is real, and it's scary.
I haven't had a Gatorade since. I went all water for a few months. Recently, after a particularly hard week of physical therapy, I tried Skratch Labs again. The same Lemon Lime that remains my favorite - an understated flavor. I feel better. There's no bloating. My next week of PT was a banner week of improvement.
It's real fruit. It's real energy. It's real. Just real.
Now I'm sold.
What It Is: (besides just real)
Exercise Hydration Mix (**since renamed Sport Hydration Mix**)
Flavors I tried:
(in order of personal preference)
- Lemons + Limes (my overwhelming favorite)
- Pineapple (not a fan)
With less than half the calories of the same size serving of Gatorade, and containing no artificial flavors, coloring, or sweeteners, this mix is something akin to drinking water made more refreshing with just a splash of flavor. Occasionally I get a slight salty taste, which is exactly what I miss that Gatorade used to have back in the day, (I am over 40, so I can use that phrase). I actually water it down a little more than suggested, because climbing isn't an endurance sport, not even in the Madness Cave, and doesn't deplete you the same way. No need to replenish what you haven't lost.
Daily Electrolyte Drink Mix (**since renamed Anytime Hydration Drink Mix**)
I only tried the Lemons + Limes flavor.
Lighter than the Exercise mix, with half the carbs and nearly half the calories, this product is for those days when water just doesn't seem like enough. This is huge for me, because it satisfies my sweet tooth (when it's been conditioned to not need sugar constantly to survive). This mix actually works just as well for me during a normal climbing session. When I'm lifting, it doesn't seem like quite enough, but for a normal, short, mostly socializing, bouldering session, it's plenty.
Exercise Hydration Mix (**since renamed Sport Hydration Mix**) + Natural Caffeine from Green Tea
Matcha Green Tea + Lemon is the only available flavor that includes caffeine.
As mentioned, I first tried this product during 24HHH. Jay Peery handed it to me, and warned me not to go overboard. Bobbi Bensman told me it had her bouncing off the walls. Redbull and other energy drinks do almost nothing noticeable for me, so I wasn't buying into their stories. I tried one packet of this stuff, mixed with the recommended amount of water, and I was dead wrong. I got a noticeable energy boost, and don't remember anything similar to crashing. In fact, the Redbull in my bag, along with several bottles of 5 Hour Energy, remained unopened. With the same light, understated flavor as the Lemons + Limes that I love so much, this one is already in my bag for 24 HHH this year.
With several excellent cookbooks aimed at athletes, (seriously, check them out!) and now with fruit drops and cookie mixes in their lineup, Skratch Labs promises to keep making waves. I'm looking forward to seeing where they go. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that it hasn't caught on in the climbing gyms yet, but I still see Gatorade in the coolers. When it comes to nutrition, I expect you guys to be way ahead of me, but this time, you're not. I don't understand the science behind it, because honestly, it just doesn't matter that much to me. It makes me FEEL better, and for me, that's enough.
The Skratch Story
Rather than go into it myself, I'll let them tell you, via this great interview with Chalk Talk Podcast, in which they get into the philosophy behind their products, as well as a little bit of the science of how and why they work:
Click HERE for that Chalk Talk Podcast.
And just in the interest of transparency, I'll mention that Skratch Labs sent me the products that I reviewed at no cost to me.
(**At the time of this review I had no further affiliation with Skratch Labs, though four months later, I joined their Athlete Team.**)