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Gear Review: GU Roctane

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You may have recently noticed GU Roctane ($2.50) at your local outdoor retailer. You may also have noticed that this energy gel costs 50 to 100 percent more than its competitors.

What you can’t learn from reading the label, or the price tag, is that both Roctane flavors — Blueberry Pomegranate and Vanilla Orange — have a taste that’s worth the hefty price.

The tart and not-too-sweet taste makes them a welcome break from the overly sweet taste of many other energy gels. True to its name, Blueberry Pomegranate tastes like you just poured a glass of POM juice. Neither the blueberry nor the pomegranate taste is overly dominant, while the not-too-sweet, not-too-tart finish has a hint of earthiness to it. The Vanilla Orange tastes like an orange creamsicle and that’s all I have to say about that.

GU Roctane packs

On the nutrition side, Roctane is a mix of simple (fructose) and complex (maltodextrine) carbohydrates to provide both fast and slow energy. In addition to containing electrolytes, sodium and potassium, Roctane adds 35 mg of caffeine per packet. (Energy gels typically have from 0 mg to 50 mg of caffeine.) All pretty standard energy gel stuff there.

Things get more interesting when you notice Roctane contains 1.2 grams of amino acids per packet. GU’s literature explains that the amino acid histidine ‘act[s] as a buffer and slow[s] the energy-sapping lactic acid build-up in muscles.’ Further: ‘the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, valine and isoleucine serve as another fuel source, aid in recovery and help maintain mental focus and reduce fatigue by limiting the central nervous system’s production of serotonin.’

Supposedly, the citrates also found in Roctane help convert carbohydrates to energy and reduce lactic acid build-up. Finally, GU throws an organo-gastronomic mouthful — Ornithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate — into Roctane. Though a polysyllabic train wreck, OKG is supposed to limit muscle breakdown, which, in theory, helps extend ultra-length performances and speed up recovery.

A lot there to, er, digest for sure. And that’s all from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. But in my longest event to date in which I used Roctane as a primary fuel source, the Iroquois Trail 100, I had plenty of energy through eight and a half hours when I withdrew for other reasons. Although this is inconclusive anecdotal evidence, I intend to keep Roctane in my energy gel mix, particularly during long endurance efforts that are just as easily measured on a sundial as a wristwatch.

One warning: It has been reported that Roctane causes upset stomachs with some runners, be it the flavor or the dense nutritional lineup. I have had no stomach issues at all. Then again, I could probably eat rusty iron shards during a run and be fine.

That said, I only plan to use Roctane in combination with other energy gels. Alternating Roctane with other gels brings down the overall cost of nutrition products for a given event. Plus, it’s easy to get sick of any flavor when you rely on it exclusively. Embrace variety and run far.

—Contributor Bryon Powell is an ultramarathon coach. He publishes iRunFar.com, a website for trail runners and ultramarathoners.

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