How an energy drink has fuelled epic victories on the world stage
Chris Froome credits his famous 80km solo ride on stage 19 of the 2018 Giro D’Italia as his greatest feat on a bike. It’s unsurprising. Many inside the cycling world consider it one of the most sensational days in Grand Tour history.
James Morton remembers it well. And so he should. He is one of the people responsible for fuelling Froome’s heroics. Science in Sport now benefits from his expertise but at the time he was Head of Nutrition at Team Sky, and the story behind it is so impactful it can almost be categorised as divine intervention.
Froome was 3 minutes, 22 seconds behind Simon Yates in the pursuit of the Maglia Rosa leading up to stage 19. The Colle delle Finestre, a brutal 18.5km climb, sat in the middle of the stage and represented the only realistic option to attack the leaders with two stages to go.
If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’ll know that the Giro is typically associated with cold weather. You’ll also probably know that the cold increases carbohydrate metabolism. In other words, the colder it is, the more carbs you need, and because of this the challenge for Team Sky in fuelling its riders became more about strategy.
“We knew the race was going to have some pretty big back-to-back mountain stages such as stages 17-20,” Morton recalls, “which would all be reliant on carbohydrate as a fuel and would amount to between 4000-6000 kcal days.”
It’s one of the greatest challenges in any sport; how to quickly, conveniently and adequately fuel athletes in the throes of competition to maintain optimum performance levels. On a bike, the challenge is incomparably magnified.
“We wanted a fuelling strategy that was easy to take practically, as opposed to unwrapping food when the race was going to be pretty intense. Consuming more carbohydrates from fluids would be a more practical solution during really high-intensity days.”
The idea, Morton continued, was to provide a strategy where 500 ml of fluid was equivalent to the same amount of carbohydrate as four rice cakes (approximately 80-100g). The impracticality of munching on rice cakes while riding is obvious, and for endurance athletes this level of carb intake is required every hour, hence why it becomes more important to find convenient ways to quickly take-in carbs as opposed to eating them.
Many energy supplements promise big, deliver little and come with temporary but distracting side effects, which can be all-consuming for a cyclist in the saddle. Whatever Morton and his team conceived, it had to be isotonic with a neutral pH to increase the ability to digest it and absorb the carbohydrate with minimal feelings of gastrointestinal discomfort.
It was some task, but around February of 2018 Beta Fuel was created and trialled at warm-up races and training camps in readiness for use by Team Sky riders at that year’s Giro.
It was imperative for riders to get used to consuming such a concentrated carbohydrate source – the drink contains 18g per 100ml, which means an 18% carbohydrate solution. For context, most sports drinks are 4-8% solutions and contain only 4-8g of carbohydrate per 100ml.
Since its appearance on the world stage Beta Fuel has been refined, further separating it from the pack and cementing its leading position as the most scientifically superior sports fuel on the market.
Relaunched in June of 2021, it now has a brand new optimised 1:0.8 ratio of maltodextrin to fructose, that when compared to traditional 2:1 ratio, is proven to enhance power output, increase carbohydrate oxidation efficiency, and limits gastrointestinal discomfort.
The new range is already a favourite of INEOS Grenadiers, the team has been instrumental in testing and developing the new formula since 2020, fuelling Tao Geoghegan Hart to his first Grand Tour victory in the Giro that year.
Beta Fuel has evolved into a world-leading whole fuelling strategy for endurance athletes of all levels. It now includes the Dual Source Energy Drink, Dual Source Energy Gel, Dual Source Energy Gel + Nootropics, and Dual Source Energy Chew. Explore more here.