A few weeks ago, my twitter account brought this small start-up company, Achiva Energy, to my attention. Achiva currently makes two products: a Chia-Chai Coconut Water Drink Mix, and Chia Seed Energy Drops. The first they market as a “pre-exercise” drink mix, the later as “during exercise” fuel. They sent me free samples of both, and this Friday I took the packet of energy drops along on my 12 mile run to work.
If you aren’t a runner, the entire “running fuel” thing can be a weird and confusing morass, but the concept is simple. When you run, you burn off you body’s stored sugars and fats, and you’ve got about 70 minutes of fuel stored in your body. If you are running for more than 70 minutes, you’ve got to add more fuel (mainly in the forms of sugars and carbs) or else you crash. There is a massive industry cranking out a now dizzying array of fuel choices in a variety of forms and flavors, the most common being gels (though “viscous fluid” would be a more accurate, if less appetizing, description), liquids (think souped-up Gatorade), chews (giant gummi-bears for athletes) and the infamous bars (if you haven’t had a Powerbar in years, they’re much tastier than they used to be).
I’ve tried a number of them over the years, and I tend to like gels, with an occasional chew thrown in for varieties sake (3 hours into a marathon, you are truly sick of sucking down syrupy-sweet anything). The two brands I generally stick with are GU and Hammer, with the latter being my favorite because they use more natural ingredients and also come in bulk bottles, which saves money.
So how does Achiva’s product stack up? Comparing their nutritional information to a GU pack, they hold their own. Both have 100 calories per package. Achiva has 3, 105g of sodium and 55mg of potassium to GU’s 45g and 35g, and since I prefer a higher sodium and potassium content on long runs, that’s a plus for Achiva. GU does have more carbs, 25 to Achiva’s 18, but over all the two products are nutritionally very similar.
Achiva’s real selling point to me, however, is their ingredient list. GU, Hammer, and the other big name gels are all highly processed products, and a few months ago I spent forever trying to track down a recipe for homemade energy gel so I could fuel with something more natural on my runs. I eventually found Brendan Brazier’s Thrive book, which had some great vegan recipes and which I highly recommend, but the running gel recipe created a mess I found to be entirely unpalatable. I eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and I’d just stick with GU and Hammer, for convenience and taste’s sake.
Achiva’s products, on the other hand, are all organic, vegan, and gluten-free, and have a very simple ingredient list. For a comparison, here’s the ingredients in a GU pack:
maltodextrin (glucose polymers), filtered water, fructose, gu amino blend (leucine, valine, histidine, isoleucine), natural berry flavor, potassium and sodium citrate, GU antioxidant blend (natural vitamin E and vitamin C) citric acid, calcium carbonate, sea salt, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, fumaric acid, malic acid, GU herbal blend (chamomile, cola nut, ginger, pectin).
Here’s the ingredients in the Activia Energy Drops:
chia seeds, sugar, pomegranite juice concentrate, water
I just like the fact I can count the ingredients on one hand, and not only know what they all are, but I have 4 of the 5 in my kitchen right now. How were they on the run? Since I was running too long to fuel on just them alone, I did eat two servings of Hammer gel along as well, so I can’t compare an all Achiva run to anything, but I certainly felt as good as I did during any other run. I can’t say the chia seeds made me super-fast or fly or anything else (I like chia seeds and put them in my pre-run smoothies, but there is a bit of a “super-food cult” built up around them), but they did the job. I also really liked their flavor and texture — very mild, very natural, more date-like than gummi, and not very sweet. That is a huge plus if I’m going have to eat a lot of anything, and if nothing else makes for a great textural and flavor break on a run.
Achiva doesn’t have a web-site up yet (when I say “recent start-up,” I mean it!), but you can check them out on Facebook if you’re interested. I will definitely buy some more of their product; I’d like to see how a long run fueled just by their energy drops goes, and if nothing else I like some all-natural variety to mix in with my other gels.