By Trina Ortega
Because woman cannot live on dark chocolate and red wine alone, Osmo Nutrition has created hydration and recovery drink mixes for the female athlete. Osmo co-founder and chief research officer Stacy Sims developed Osmo Active Hydration for Women, Acute Recovery for Women, and PreLoad Hydration for Women to improve power output and endurance, optimize training and maximize performance for women, whose cyclical fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone directly affect athletic performance and recovery.
“Female athletes often blame their fitness for poor performance, but it is really their physiology,” says Sims, who has spent most of her adult life researching the physiological differences between male and female athletes. Before launching Osmo in May 2012, Sims served as an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist at Stanford University from 2007-2012, where she specialized in recovery and nutritional adaptations for health, body composition, and maximizing performance. Around the time she began her PhD, she was racing Ironman and suffered from hyponatremia. In talking to some of the other female Ironman athletes, she discovered that those in a high hormone phase had similar experiences, compared to those in a low hormone phase.
“We all raced together, trained together, did very similar things. It was really interesting to me,” she said.
It launched her deeper into osmotic pressure and fluid balance at a cellular level (hence the company name Osmo). Her doctoral studies examined how estrogen and progesterone affect fluid balance at the kidney level, recovery, and the differences between men and women.
“Most people think estrogen and progesterone are just reproductive hormones but it’s systemic; it affects so many different aspects of the body,” Sims says. “People say, ‘Oh, she’s just PMS’ing.’ You can’t say that unless you experience it. And you can’t blame yourself for having premenstrual symptoms, because it is estrogen and progesterone exerting such a powerful effect on things, such as the central nervous system, the way we recover, the way we perceive temperature.”
For example, Sims says estrogen decreases plasma volume by 8 percent, which can ultimately open the door to hyponatremia. Progesterone increases core temperature by 5 degrees Celsius and changes all of the thresholds for sweating. It increases sweat sodium losses and total body sodium losses. It affects the central nervous system, inducing fatigue. Progesterone breaks down muscle tissue at rest, making recovery and restoration more difficult.
“All these things where women are like, ‘I don’t understand why I had such a poor performance. I’ve been training well. It must be my mental capacity; I just didn’t push hard enough.’ But it’s not. It’s physiology.”
Sims has been mixing and using hydration drinks for as long as she’s been racing, which includes her time as a collegiate crew athlete at Purdue University, a Cat 1 road cyclist, and an elite XTerra triathlete. This is also in conjunction with more than 10 years of work as an environmental physiologist and nutrition specialist for the Garmin/Slipstream Pro Cycling Team, USA Cycling Olympic Team (BMX and women’s track cycling), Team Tibco, Flying Lizard Motorsports, and Team Leopard-Trek, among other athletes in different sports.
“I’ve been racing a long time and racing with [female] teammates who’ve had the same problem,” Sims said.
In fact, when she co-founded Osmo, she wanted to launch with a women’s drink mix but knew it would be too overwhelming for prime time to introduce a new low-carb pocket food for athletes and simultaneously explain a special product that attempted to balance out the physiological effects that the menstrual cycle has on a female athlete.
Osmo officially introduced the women’s drink mixes this fall. The names speak for themselves: PreLoad; Active Hydration; and Acute Recovery and have all of the high-quality, non-GMO ingredients as the original Osmo drink mixes. Sims took her accumulated knowledge to change up the women’s products and added or increased ingredients to help support the female body as it deals with the complex spikes in estrogen and progesterone.
The PreLoad mix has branched chain amino acids added to help reduce the effect of central nervous system fatigue, altering receptors that mentally tell you to give up. Those amino acids also expand total body water to help mitigate the drop in plasma volume and fluid changes. Those amino acids circulating in your body also help jump start the recovery process when you’re done exercising.
The Active mix has increased sodium and potassium (key for fluid balance), as well as a change in the ratio of glucose to sucrose. Added glucose in the Active is important for water transport and absorption in the small intestines. The small increase also boosts the blood sugar level, so the body can tap into carbohydrates that are otherwise “protected” by estrogen, which is naturally trying to maximize fat storage in preparation for pregnancy. (During the high hormone phase, estrogen reduces the availability of carbohydrate and increases the amount of fat used for fuel, causing a woman to have problems hitting intensities.)
The Acute Recovery mix has more magnesium, a bigger hit of protein (amount is based on body weight), and slightly more glucose for the aforementioned benefits. This mix is geared toward boosting muscle repair and glycogen restoration (since progesterone and estrogen inhibit both of those important recovery processes).
“It’s all about taking small stresses away from the body,” Sims says. “You reduce all those stress hormones because your body doesn’t have to work as hard because you’re supporting the mechanisms that are happening. Then everything’s just a little bit easier, you feel better, you recover faster, you don’t feel so tired and run down. Then your next session’s better, and you get more out of each session. It’s progressive.”
The PreLoad mix comes in pineapple margarita in a 9.7-ounce container; the Active powdered mix comes in mango flavor in a 14.9-ounce container (or single serve packets); and the Acute Recovery comes in honey and spice (12.6 ounces). The active hydration mix has a light taste and is gentle enough on the belly that it can be consumed daily as a supplement, according to Sims. It might even soon replace my wine and chocolate diet, especially now that I have Osmo’s protein drink recommendation: mix it with rice milk and a shot of chilled espresso. Bam! Now who’s PMS’ing, boys?
Osmo Drink Mixes for Women
PreLoad ($25); Active ($20); Acute Recovery ($35)