In these austere times cycling can start to become a burden on your finances – club runs at £25, the privilege of riding local roads with some red arrows painted on the ground for £28, or being persuaded by ‘helpful’ club mates to try latex inner tubes only for them to last half a race before puncturing (equating to about 70km for £8, or 8.75p per km). I suppose you could put this all down to inflation (4.4%!) but that would just be the makings of a poor inner tube related pun.

Fortunately there are many areas of cycling life where it’s possible to make savings – I’ve previously covered thrifty solutions to chamois cream, embrocation and recovery snacks. Now I turn my penny-pinching attention to energy drinks.

Some of you may have laboured under the illusion that water is a satisfactory source of hydration, but being a free and widely available commodity this is not something either myself, the cycling media or the cycling industry can endorse. If it hasn’t got a little picture of a man on a bicycle on the packaging and is exclusively available only from specialist suppliers, then I’m afraid it’s not suitable for the serious cyclist.

Fortunately there is a third way. Jim Ley, club run hero and previous contributor to this blog, has put together a recipe of powders that can be mixed together and then added to water – homebrew energy drinks if you will.

Think of it as like buying components for your bike, but rather than relying on the bike shop to do the mechanical work, you grapple with spanners and allen keys and sort it yourself. In addition to frugality, this approach allows you to customise your recipes, add specific ingredients, and then tell anyone who’ll listen about why off the shelf products aren’t suitable for a serious endurance athlete (such as yourself). In short, it’s yet another opportunity to indulge your racing cyclist’s superiority complex and to sneer at Sportivists still paying through the nose for overpriced drinks.

Both these recipes work out at under £5 for 1kg – which equates to about the third of the price of SiS, Torq, High5, Lucozade and various others.

The Recipes

The makings of a sports energy drink are really very simple, and even branded products are just a combination of widely available ingredients. A good place to find these are (if you’re a new customer then use referral code MP1017371 to get 5% off and to earn Jim some points) – the website is full of scary sounding products such as ‘Pulse’, ‘Zoned’ and ‘Alpha Men’ but try to ignore the feeling that you’re joining the ranks of bodybuilders and rugby players pushing the boundaries of doping regulations and nutritional chemistry. Simple flavourings or sweeteners can be found in your local supermarket.

Basic Electrolyte Sports Drink Mix

This has a very neutral taste, ever so slightly sweet, but basically just bland. For flavour you can use squash (look for one with no added flavourings/sweeteners, etc) which will add some fructose to the drink – not a bad thing as it’s commonly found in many sports drinks. The exact amount of squash to use will really depend on how strongly flavoured you want it, slightly less than you would have in a regular drink is probably a good starting place. Do a taste test when out exercising as what you like when at home and when you’re sitting on a bike for hours is often different.

Endurance Sports Drink Mix

Research has shown that for longer activities, some protein increases performance, so this mix (inspired by Hammer’s Perpetuem but without the fat) taps into this. It also adds caffeine and choline to the mix. You need to be careful with the caffeine as the amount required is very small – very accurate scales are needed.

In his review of the caffeine product from MyProtein, one poor chap recounts his unfortunate experiences after confusing the caffeine packet with another less potent powder: “Last week, I very nearly died after mistakenly mixing in about 12 grams of caffeine (about 12000mg) by mistake with my 5g of creatine – I had intended to take 12g of amino acids with the creatine. Simply put, the caffeine content was the equivalent of downing about 60 straight cans of red bull all at once, and along with a powerful transporter of sorts in creatine monohydrate. As a result, according to the doctors that treated me: I narrowly avoided death – I narrowly avoided extreme damage to my heart – I narrowly avoided brain damage – I narrowly avoided heavy kidney damage – The lining in my stomach has been destroyed…” You have been warned!

Various other amino acids and micro-nutrients can also be added to the drink, and I would encourage everyone to experiment (though perhaps not with the caffeine!). The choline may be a complete placebo for me, but I have had my best results in races when using it, and it’s the only time I’ve felt strong in the sprint.

The science behind different ratios and amounts of carbohydrates/protein and the micro-nutrients is not very conclusive, and is likely to vary among individuals anyway. Testing products for yourself is the only way to see what works for you.