Von Collins is an accomplished triathlete and endurance cyclist, and the author of four fitness and training books: Smarter Running, Your First Triathlon Guide, Fit Foods, and 30 Rut-Busting Workouts. He has been cited as a triathlon, cycling, and fitness expert by Healthline, CNET, Forbes, Eat This, Not That and other major outlets.
Getting your nutrition right is critical if you are doing longer runs or rides. In fact, in my experience, way more athletes bonk because of poor nutrition than because of undertraining.
There are many hydration mixes on the market, but there are 4 that we in our endurance training circles use and trust. They are Skratch Drink Mix, Hammer Perpetuem, Zym by Xterra, and Nuun. All are dissolvable powders or tablets that you mix with water to improve your performance while cycling, running, and other intense workouts. But which is better? I put these four popular products head-to-head to find out!
Skratch Drink Mixes
Skratch is a product developed by Dr. Allen Lim, who also helps develop the Skratch Labs line of drink mixes and bars. They contain simple sugars to help your body absorb and process nutrients more quickly. Skratch’s drink mixes also have electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium to help you maintain hydration levels as you sweat. Skratch uses real fruit for its flavors, and you can choose between lemon and lime, strawberry lemonade, oranges, hot apple cider, and more. In our cycling circles, Skratch is very popular as a water-bottle additive because it is easy on the stomach. In particular, it tends to be a favorite of road cyclists and long-course gravel bike riders.
Hammer Perpetuem is a product that has been around for quite some time and has a loyal following among endurance athletes. The founder is Brian Frank, who started Hammer Nutrition. Hammer Perpetuem contains maltodextrin and complex carbohydrates, proteins, auxiliary nutrients, and healthy fats to help you maintain energy levels as you exercise. It comes in four flavors, including caffe latte, chocolate, orange-vanilla, and strawberry-vanilla.
Zym is made by Xterra, the well-regarding maker of triathlon wetsuits and other tri gear. The folks at Xterra are endurance athletes themselves, and understand the finer points of in-workout nutrition needs. It includes the electrolytes that your body is going to lose while working out and perspiring, and also includes a number of vitamins which helps you recover and prevents your immunity from being depleted when endurance training. Zym comes in dissolvable tablets that are easy to carry in your bag or on a bike ride — we LOVE the tablet design because of its portability. And the handy plastic container keep the tablets clean in case they are right next to dirty clothes in your gear back or bike grease in the shop.
In the same category as the others, Nuun is on the market with a pre-workout, intra-workout, and recovery mix for athletes. Nuun’s best sellers tend to be portable tubes of dissolvable capsules which similar to Zym, can be put into a water bottle and mixed to create the recovery or workout drink you are looking for. Nuun is based in Seattle, and as a company focuses pretty directly on the workout nutrition market. By the way, in case you are wondering, it is pronounced “noon.”
What ingredients are in Skratch, Zym, Nuun, and Hammer Perpeteum?
Skratch Drink Mixes
Skratch has three different drink mixes, including their Superfuel, Hydration, and Recovery.
- Contains plenty of carbohydrates and sodium with little sugar, designed for athletes who don’t take in enough calories to perform well.
- Has a lot of magnesium, sodium, and sugar, designed to replace electrolytes that you lose while sweating.
- Contains a lot of sugars, protein, and calcium with some sodium, carbohydrates, saturated fats, and iron. As the name suggests, Recovery’s designed to help you refuel for the next day after a hard workout.
Protein note: Skratch’s Superfuel and Hydration don’t contain any protein. Only the Recovery drink mix contains protein – 8g per 50g serving.
Overall, Skratch focuses on replacing your electrolytes to provide you with extra energy to boost your performance during workouts. The company says that their intent is for Skratch blend to replenish minerals and hydration that you lose through sweating, which is why it is blended the way it is.
Hammer Perpeteum contains plenty of carbohydrates, protein, phosphorus, chromium, copper, zinc, and iron with some sodium, potassium, and fat. However, these vary depending on the flavors. Overall, Hammer Perpeteum focuses on providing you with key auxiliary nutrients with no added sugars to keep you at peak performance during your long workouts. Perpeteum is also gluten-free and contains 7g of protein per 69g serving.
That dose of protein is a BIG deal. Lots of sport drinks and mixes load you up on sugars and electrolytes. Having some protein in your mix means you will have a more balanced mix in your gut.
Zym focuses on electrolytes, something that athletes desperately need for performance as they perspire and deplete their energy reserves. The typical Zym Sport blend is going to have plenty of sodium (300mg) along with the all-important potassium (100mg) and magnesium (50mg). It does not contain protein, and it contains no sugar at all. We like the no-sugar approach, as too many sport drinks were sugar-laden in past years.
Nuun uses a sodium base for its Sport version of the product, which is the one we will focus on for this piece. Like Zym, Nuun uses 300mg of sodium, followed by a health dose of potassium. After that, Nuun emphasis chloride, magnesium, and calcium. It also contains a small amount of sugar. The other products (immunity, recovery, etc.) have different recipes, but we’re focused on the sport version.
Which Activities are Skratch, Perpeteum, Zym, or Nuun for?
Superfuel isn’t designed for a certain type of activity. It’s for athletes who work so hard that they’re having a hard time taking in enough calories. Therefore, they’re unable to perform at their best. Superfuel is suited for those who are training for long and intense athletic events such as hardcore cycling and running but can’t always eat or pack real food. It’s perfect because it digests easily and won’t cause gastrointestinal distress. In other words, it is easy on the stomach after riding hard for a few hours.
Hydration can be taken during your daily workout since its primary goal is to replace your lost electrolytes, keeping you well-hydrated. This will give you more energy without upsetting your palate or stomach.
Recovery was designed to take after a long and hard workout to strengthen, rebuild, refuel, and rehydrate your body. It’ll get your blood sugar back up fast, causing your hormone insulin to spike. If you’re a serious cyclist or runner, Recovery’s just what you need after you cross the finish line.
Although Hammer Perpetuem isn’t designed for a specific activity, it’s ideal for those who do extensive workouts longer than three hours, due to the inclusion of protein. There are sufficient nutrients to supply your body when you’re working out for extended periods, like long hours of intense cycling and running. I know several Ironman triathletes who swore by Perpetuem during their big race.
We like Zym as a pre-or-intra workout additive to our water, because it has a simple, clean mix. The sodium, potassium, and magnesium focus provide pure electrolytes, something that can be a big help on a hot day or during heavy exertion when sweat is depleting the nutrient base. For long activities like a multi-hour bike ride, we suggest combining Zym with a protein-bar. The tablets are easy to carry in a pocket or bike bag.
Nuun is heavy on the electrolytes as well, so we like to use it in a similar way that we use Zym. It is a good mix for when you are out on the course, and need to jolt without stopping for a long time. The tablet-based nutrition has a high degree of convenience for activities when you are on the move, such as running and cycling.
How each of these nutritional supplements taste is an important factor to consider. It’s never enjoyable or fun to take supplements that taste like chalk or have a bad aftertaste. Most of the time, you’re shoving powder down your throat instead of actually enjoying a nice drink. So how do Skratch and Hammer’s flavors compare?
Skratch’s flavors are all quite light and refreshing as they use real fruit. They’re designed to make you feel like you’re hydrating with a healthy sports drink. The three different drink mixes have different flavors, but they’re all quite palatable and easy to drink. None of them are overly sweet or flavored, and they don’t burn your tongue like other sports electrolyte drink mixes.
You’ll find Recovery to be sweet like chocolate milk. The real fruity flavors make you feel as though you put a bunch of fruit into a blender and started drinking. Skratch often tells their customers to drink when they’re thirsty, and don’t when they’re not. In other words, drink naturally.
On the other hand, Hammer’s Perpeteum flavors are not favorable to many people, especially when it warms up. The taste is similar to what you’d expect from a performance supplement, sort of bland and unsavory.
If you’ve been taking powdered supplements for a while, you’ll find the taste to be tolerable. Of course, flavors won’t be the same from person to person – you may find this one is right up your alley. However, most people will overlook the taste as the value from the performance boost is exceptional. As a recommendation, you could add a natural sweetener to your bottle to help with the flavor.
Zym has some good, refreshing flavors. Kind of “bright” actually. They are heavy on fruit flavors, with everything from mango to pineapple to citrus to lemon-line (and more). We like this kind of flavor choice to be a good approach, because when you are ready to guzzle down a sport drink in the heat of the day, a fruity flavor is generally agreeable. The flavors are light and refreshing, not “syrup like” or heavy. Our favorite Zym flavor is the lemon-lime, which we have become somewhat addicted to. We are fans.
Nuun also focuses on the fruit and citrus approach with lots of flavors like cherry, strawberry, and blueberry. Flavors are good, and generally mild so they don’t overpower the drink.
Overall, we are probably biggest fans of the Zym and Nuun flavors.
What About Caffeine in your Mix?
Some products come with caffeine on the ingredient list. These can be highly-effective at certain points of an endurance race. The jolt you get from a caffeinated hit of an energy product is noticeable — especially if it is being done on an empty stomach or well into the race.
You don’t want all your drinks to have caffeine. It actually works better if intaking some caffeine is the exception rather than the rule.
With all that said, we generally prefer our race day caffeine from gel packs versus our energy drinks.
Which is Better?
It depends on what you are using it for! They each have their own pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide which is best for your active lifestyle.
In all honesty, it can be pretty hard to do a control experiment with these hydration drink mixes. There are so many variables for why a workout feels good or not good. What kind of workout are you doing? Where are you in your training plan? How hot is it? Did you drink the night before? What else did you eat that day?
With that said, we tested these four because we have found them to be the best for us over a sustained period of time. It all boils down to your activity, taste preference, and dietary needs. For taste alone, though, we recommend Skratch over Hammer Perpeteum.
Best for pre-mixing before a workout: Skratch
Best for portable, on-the-go electrolyte additive: Zym
Most reliable flavors: Nuun, Zym
Best for long endurance work (multi-hour): Hammer Perpetuem