Sunday, July 26, 2015

DIY Energy Drinks and Gels

Caution: This blog post discusses the use of pure caffeine, a substance that can be hazardous if misused.  Please do not take anything I say as proven fact, or rely on the few links I have provided: Do your own research, and verify everything before proceeding on your own.

Why is it that adding caffeine to something cause its price to multiply?

A case of 12-oz sodas costs about $0.25/can, yet a case of 16-oz energy drinks costs $1.25/can.  If we allow for the fact that the energy drink is a third larger, a 16-oz soda would cost about $0.33 each.

So the extra cost for adding about 100mg of caffeine is $0.92.  Really?

Caffeine powder is available from reputable online vendors for about $3.00 for 50g (50,000mg), meaning the cost for 100mg is $0.006.  That's six tenths of a cent.

Clearly, energy drink makers don't see soda as their competition, but other caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, which is a buck at McDonald's (who has surprisingly good drip coffee).  So energy drinks are priced not by the cost of adding caffeine, but relative to the competition.

Lately I've been trying to better manage my budget, and had largely replaced energy drinks with coffee and tea (especially green tea).  But this doesn't work so well during a summer day, and my teeth aren't as white as they used to be (my whitening toothpaste isn't keeping up).

Another consideration is that energy drinks don't provide what I'm looking for in a sports beverage.  I'd like to have caffeinated versions of the electrolyte and calorie beverages I use for training and racing.

So I decided to look into making my own caffeinated drinks and gels.  Which means using raw caffeine.

First, caffeine can be nasty stuff.  It is rapidly absorbed by the body.  It can stop the heart if taken in massive doses.  It should be treated as the drug that it is, and not as "just another supplement".  I would treat raw caffeine the same as I would treat a gun or hazardous chemicals: To be locked up at all times except when actually in use.  And to be kept far, far away from children.

Assuming you are able to keep your caffeine safe from misuse, there are other things to consider before purchasing caffeine.

First, what kinds of caffeine are available?  Three kinds are most common: Anyhdrous Caffeine, Dicaffeine Malate, and Caffeine Citrate.

Anhydrous Caffeine consists of only caffeine molecules.  It the "rawest" form of caffeine, and is the type most commonly used as an additive.  But anhydrous caffeine can also be the harshest on your digestive system, especially the stomach: This form of caffeine is one of the most sour substances known. I'd call it "violently" sour.

Dicaffeine Malate binds two caffeine molecules to a malate molecule, where the malate buffers the the caffeine.  Buffering blocks absorption by the stomach, meaning it will be absorbed by the small intestine, which is a slower process.  However,  dicaffeine malate does break down a bit in the stomach, meaning its effects are felt less suddenly than anhydrous caffeine, but more quickly than caffeine citrate.

Caffeine Citrate is the most buffered form of caffeine, and may work best for folks who get mild stomach upset from other forms of caffeine.  It is important to note that due to the large size of the citrate molecule (about the same size as the caffeine molecule itself), this form of caffeine has half the caffeine per gram compared to the other two forms, though it tends to cost about the same.

For my initial tests I followed the Goldilocks Selection Method ("pick the middle one") and chose to purchase dicaffeine malate from Powder City.  I chose Powder City for several reasons: 1) They have lots of useful information on their site.  2) They provide a tiny 50 mg scoop (1/4" in diameter) with every package purchased.  3) They have a great reputation in the market, and appear to be in this for the long term.  4) They were the only reputable vendor offering all three forms of caffeine.  Other vendors tend to offer only anhydrous caffeine, though that is slowly changing.

I ordered five 50g pouches, far more than I'll ever need, because their shipping rates, while reasonable, were combined with a free shipping limit that, for a given cost, meant they essentially gave me free product in exchange for free shipping.  So I have lots extra, if anyone local is interested in a pouch of their own.

My first test was to see how dicaffeine malate affected me, and how it changed the taste of what it is added to.  So I poured two 8oz glasses of orange juice, and added half a scoop (about 25 mg) to one of them.  After stirring thoroughly, I tasted a sip of each.  The difference in sweetness was very noticeable, but not objectionable.  The caffeinated OJ still tasted plenty sweet.

I finished the caffeinated OJ over the next couple of minutes.  I felt no caffeine "rush" like I do after gulping a cup of coffee:  Over the following minutes I gradually felt more energized.  About like I would after drinking half an energy drink.  I added a half scoop to the other class of OJ and drank that as well.  As expected, I wound up feeling about the same as if I had just finished a Monster or other energy drink.

Now, when I said "scoop" above, that's a level scoop of the powder, not packed down.  A half scoop is about half of that.  A heaping scoop would be closer to 100 mg.

Some folks use a calibrated scale and careful techniques to precisely measure their caffeine.  But the cheapest "good" scale I found that was accurate to at least a milligram cost over $50, and I didn't really trust it.  Getting a feel for the "buzz per scoop" has worked well enough for me.

There are two fundamental ways of taking anything into your body: A bunch all at once, or gradually over time.  It is important to take this into account when making quantities of caffeinated beverages in advance, for future use.

I know from my own experience that it takes about 100 mg of caffeine to get me started in the morning.  On cooler mornings this is taken all at once, typically as coffee gulped to minimize the time I spend in a morning fog.  Most mornings, I typically add a heaping scoop to a large glass of OJ.

During long continuous moderate exercise (riding the bike or jogging for an hour or longer) I feel best when taking no more than 100 mg of caffeine per hour (generally less).

When I make APX per the manufacturer's recipe (one APX scoop in 20 oz water) I add one level scoop of caffeine.  This is my standard "between workouts" beverage, when I'm recovering from one workout and getting ready for another one.

But for prolonged activity, I make my APX more concentrated (2 scoops in 24 oz) and add a heaping scoop of caffeine (100 mg), and I also carry water with me.  When I feel good, I drink more water. When I'm feeling spent, I drink more APX.  For these longer activities, I generally try to stay in the zone of "slightly uncomfortable".

I next tried making caffeinated honey. I started out by putting 50 mg (a level scoop) into about 2 fluid ounces of JJ's honey (about as much as a large gel).  The honey was too thick to mix evenly, so I added a bit of water (10-15 drops).  The result was better than I expected:  I couldn't taste the caffeine at all.

There is one important thing to keep in mind when making your own caffeinated products: Labeling!  I put a rubber band around the neck of any bottle containing caffeine.  My caffeinated honey goes in either my SoftFlask or Gel-Bot. (both from Hydrapac, and bought from TCSD Sponsors).

While it may sound like making your own caffeinated beverages is easy, I want to reiterate that there are hazards that require close attention.  There are several general principles that apply to using hazardous things in general, and specifically to hazardous food additives:
  1. Work from recipes.  This encourages you to plan in advance, it permits you to double-check what you are doing, and it greatly reduces the risk of silly mistakes.  A recipe helps ensure you get consistent and repeatable results every time.
  2. Take notes!  I have written down everything I've tried, and recorded what went right and wrong.
  3. Consistently do all work in a single place.  I use one end of my kitchen counter, the same place every time. Build good habits when using caffeine.
  4. Clean the work area before and after using powdered caffeine.
  5. Wash your hands both before and after using powdered caffeine.  It takes only a moment, and will make a huge difference if you happen to wipe your eye.  This stuff can be harsh!
  6. Avoid using caffeine directly from the pouch it is shipped in.  It is too easy to spill, and the pouch can puff caffeine into the air when opened and closed.  Transfer some of the caffeine to a smaller wide-mouthed screw-lid container that is easier to open and close.  Powder City sells containers that are ideal for this, but I find a small baby food jar works very well.
  7. Close nearby windows and turn off fans before opening the caffeine container.  You really do not want this stuff to get around.
  8. Store caffeine away from where anyone (adult, child or pet) could reach it accidentally.
I know the above rules may seem overly cautious, but they are really just common sense.  I do pretty much the same for my Sriracha sauce.

UPDATE:  I've simplified my work area by using a red roll-up silicone baking sheet for my work area.  All cleanup is done at the sink, and any spilled caffeine powder shows up well on the red surface.  Much easier in all respects.  My counter is white, and I was very concerned about spills I couldn't see.  No longer an issue.

Now that I've been making my own caffeinated drinks and gels for a couple months, I must say the results are "nothing special".  That is, my homemade products have replaced the manufactured ones with no unpleasant surprises.  But the pleasant surprises of reduced cost, plus getting caffeinated versions of what I want, are well worth the minor amount of hassle.

Again, these are my own personal experiences.  You may have different reactions to caffeine, so be sure to start out slow, and take your time.

I'm not trying to change the world.  Just trying to save a buck and gain greater control over my workout and race nutrition.

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