We usually prefer real things over fake things. That’s why we cover so many steel bikes, if you take our meaning. And that includes food. Getting outside shouldn’t be a chemistry experiment. Travis Engel feels the same way, but makes an exception for his Tailwind Endurance Fuel. Read why it’s not like other drink mixes.
I’m the last person who should be reviewing nutritional products. I’ve got too many bad habits. My lowest point of 2022 was when I thought Trader Joe’s had discontinued Coated Chocolate Dunkers. And I only stopped dusting off a 6-ounce flask on every ride when I realized how much all that Bulleit Rye was costing me, even at $22.99 from TJ’s. The worst part is, at least for now, my body doesn’t seem to care. I’ve never sensed any negative or positive tangible effects of sugar, grease, or, even aspirin or ibuprofen. The only thing I really monitor is salt intake, so I carry high-sodium energy chews (or Nuun tablets, or Hammer or Scratch or whatever). IDGAF. But when a trusted colleague started praising Tailwind Endurance Fuel, I decided to give it a try. And, well, here we are.
Tailwind first won me over on a four-day bikepacking trip in Europe. I gave myself a limited window to reach my destination (another bad habit), leaving me with some lofty daily mileage goals. About five hours into what ended up being a 13-hour day, I mixed up a 54-gram serving and drank it over the following hour or so. Almost immediately, I was transported back into those magic moments early in every ride, when you’re properly limbered up but still feel fresh. I even ticked up my wattage because I didn’t feel the need to be in survival mode. Another hour later, I started to fade again, dropped in another pack, and the same thing happened. To be clear, it’s not as though I was pain free. All the little spots of soreness were present, reminding me I had been on my bike since 7 AM. But there wasn’t that clawing fatigue every time I hit a climb. So, like, what the hell?
That’s what I asked Tailwind co-founder, Jeff Vierling. Not because I want this to turn into a brand backstory or anything. I just couldn’t figure out why Tailwind would be any better than the other stuff I’d tried. And although Vierling gave me a pretty clear explanation, we quickly reached the edge of my capacity for understanding the human gut. There is no clever analogy to sports or commerce or mass transit that can successfully third-grade-ize all the chemicals and processes involved in digestion. Thankfully, the important part is simple. Literally.
The energy in Tailwind comes from simple sugars glucose and fructose, the latter being one half of the compound that makes up sucrose, which is essentially table sugar. These are easy and fast for the body to turn into energy. “Easy to digest” is at the top of a lot of brands’ bullet points, but Tailwind goes a little further. For one thing, there’s the sheer quantity of energy per serving. One 54-gram packet—or two scoops—contain 200 calories. And it includes staples like sodium, potassium and magnesium. There’s really a lot in there, which is partly why a serving of Tailwind is relatively bulky, especially compared to something like a Nuun electrolyte tablet. Electrolyte supplements don’t have to be bulky. There may be less than a gram of sodium in a liter of sweat. At least the Tailwind packets are long, narrow, and easy to cram into a corner. But they’re also expensive at $2.50, even by the twelve-pack. The bulk bags are 33% cheaper, so I just pour a ride’s worth into a reusable ziplock-style bag (the one shown below maxes out at 20 scoops / 10 servings), so it’ll shrink as the day goes on.
The Endurance Fuel’s catchphrase is “All you need. Really.,” which tracks with the whole “simple” mantra and stands in contrast to the common strategy of combining a whole matrix of products. That approach “adds a lot of stress to the whole situation,” Vierling believes. But I personally know a few riders who love that part of it. Powders and gels and bars are the tint and exposure and contrast sliders on their body’s Lightroom.
“There are some historical reasons for that,” Vierling hypothesizes. “Where a given business has been around longer, and they’ve hung their hat on this approach.” There’s a lot of brand loyalty in the endurance nutrition world. Although popular ingredients like maltodextrin and super starches aren’t as easy to digest, they’ve become a part of many peoples’ regimens, so they stick around.
So much of this industry caters to nerdy pursuits like racing or training, where nutrition is just a variable in a results-based equation. In that setting, the whole “All you need” thing makes a lot of sense. That’s even reflected in the taste, which I didn’t find nearly as sweet as most drink mixes. It wasn’t overwhelming on days I relied on it exclusively. Unsurprisingly, Tailwind recommends this will yield the best results for most people.
“One of the aspects of what we’re trying to do is keep your energy levels steady, so you’re not feeling big swings,” Vierling explains. “But you’re also not feeling like you’re steadily running out.” This is why, when I know a ride will go long, I put myself on a steady drip of this stuff. I find it keeps things more predictable than relying only on food. “You’re not really absorbing any fuel from your stomach,” Vierling told me. “Its job is kinda just to make soup out of whatever you’re taking in, and then it can pass into the small intestine where you can absorb your energy. So, liquid is the most efficient way of getting that because it’s already soup.”
So yeah, nerdy talk. But Vierling made a point to say there’s no problem with using Tailwind as just one component of your fueling plan. Every gut is different, and although some guts will take as long as three hours to turn a turkey sandwich into usable energy, a turkey sandwich is a really nice thing to have on a ride. It got me thinking about one of the many moments in the Lord of the Rings books that will resonate with any adventure cyclist. It’s Sam’s reluctant critique of the Elves’ seemingly magical lembas bread: “This waybread keeps you on your legs in a wonderful way, though it doesn’t satisfy the innards proper, as you might say: not to my feeling anyhow, meaning no disrespect to them as made it.”
That’s why I’m not about to stop bringing the bottom half of my morning breakfast burrito on a big ride. And I’ll still pack a bag of those high-sodium energy chews, which also means toting some regular water. But now, they are luxuries, not necessities. Ways to break up the monotony, and save me from a purely utilitarian approach to fueling up. And when I know the day will stretch beyond five hours, I bring my Tailwind. It keeps you on your legs in a wonderful way.
See more at Tailwind.