Unleashing the Killer B's

Editor's Note: This article is another in our Slowtwitch Recovery Series. Brands participating in the Recovery Series make contributions financially to Slowtwitch. AltRed is one of the participants in this series.

I don’t know if Dan recalls the conversation he and I had five weeks ago? I called him after a maiden voyage gone awry on a Slowtwitch led group ride session on Zwift.

“I joined Hilly Vanilli last night, only made it 16 minutes with the Killer B’s, was hanging on for dear life, until I got spit out the back”, I told him, referring to the weekly chase formatted ride.

“Yeah, that’s a tough one,” chirped Dan. “My favorite,” he continued. “There is no easing in. It’s full gas.”

A virtual game of hunter versus the hunted, Hilly Vanilli takes place every Thursday 6pm CST. Riders self-select their group classification based on the watts-per-kilo level they can sustain and are sent off in five minute intervals. D group gets a five minute head start on the C group which gets five minutes advantage on B group. Riders within each group are motivated to work together with the overarching goal to finish together as one big group when time expires.

Indeed it was an eye-opening introduction to the group riding and racing world on Zwift where holes in fitness - and to a lesser degree knowledge of the game- are nearly instantly exposed. However, I’m also a glutton for punishment and vowed I would return the next week, committed to making it a bit further before likely being dropped again.

‘Finishing with the B group pack, lasting the entire hour, no way in hell,’ I thought.

See, when you’re on the ropes, every second seems to last an eternity, so conjuring up an extra 40 minutes in the saddle in that virtual peloton seemed an improbable ask.

I was determined to spend more time in the saddle to build up fitness and also get to know the course routes better. Additionally I started turning over stones and found AltRed, a supplement containing betalains, a phytonutrient found in red beets. I’d seen it in Kona at the Ironman expo and knew it was used by a few top athletes like Rudy Von Berg and Mirinda Carfrae, and with claims to improve performance while also speeding up recovery, I felt it was worth trying out.

I have long heard of endurance athletes touting the virtues of taking beet products and had dabbled a bit myself with beet juices and powders. But when it comes to beets, AltRed’s claim is that not all beets are created equal.

What Jeff Van Drunen’s FutureCeuticals company found in red beets was a betalain concentrate 1000x’s more likely to be absorbed by the body once nitrates and sugars were removed. And claims of being 200x’s more concentrated than natural beets.

Van Drunen, who’s family farming business manufactures in Illinois with everything grown and made in the US, is himself a serious cyclist who also enjoys to run. He vetted the betalain extract during his own training and also enlisted his training friends, and they found they were able to do a lot more with a lower perceived effort. Based on this feedback, Van Drunen and FutureCeuticals formed a new company, Sur PhytoPerformance, focused solely on this new product, AltRed, with endurance athletes one of the groups most likely to find it useful.

In speaking with Van Drunen and his team - which includes Kona-qualified athlete Jacki Cronin - they hadn’t heard of any negative side effects from taking AltRed. Unless, that is, you consider reddish tinted urine - the color from the betalain pigments - to be a show stopper?

That downside seemed insignificant when compared to the potential upside of being able to push harder than usual in addition to faster recovery between workouts. I was hopeful this would allow me to stack hard training sessions on top of one another to gain fitness.

During the five day stretch after placing my order and receiving the two bottles of AltRed, I rode three more times banking some miles and getting some efforts into the legs in anticipation of Hilli Vanilli. I don’t know why, or what I was expecting, but I was surprised with how tiny each AltRed capsule was, only slightly larger than a TicTac. I followed the directions on the bottle and took two of these mini red capsules two hours prior to hopping on the bike. Timing is important as Van Drunen suggested it would take up to two hours for betalain levels in the blood to peak, lasting three to four hours, before starting to wear off. I’m not doing any rides or runs longer than an hour but someone training for a longer distance event would want to take an additional capsule every one-and-a-half to two hours.

On April 2nd, I logged into Hilly Vanilli for my second attempt in as many weeks, hoping for a better effort. It was a much smaller B group than the previous week and I figured that would mean fewer people to hide behind and a greater likelihood of being exposed. Yet, while it was a stiff pace in the flats, I managed to stay with the group on the climbs up Box, Fox and Keith Hills. I had to dig really deep throughout the entire hour but it was satisfying to not get dropped.

It was difficult to determine what should be attributed to the daily use of AltRed but I couldn’t deny I was able to backup consecutive days of hard training efforts more easily than I thought was possible. And pushing through those hard efforts in the virtual London countryside? Van Drunnen suggested to me the two biggest misconceptions with AltRed were that despite being a recovery product, you have to take it before exercise not after, and that it is some kind of stimulant that you take and feel right away. He extolled the benefits of AltRed aren’t felt until you really push yourself.

I decided after seeing solid improvements on the bike while taking AltRed for two weeks, I would go a full week without taking it, and complete a cycling FTP test as well as run a 5k time trial loop. Then go back to taking the same AltRed dosage the following week and compare the results.

Using Sufferfest’s Full Frontal 4DP test, designed to show riders which areas they are strongest and weakest, I put forth the following efforts after a week without taking AltRed.

Friday, April 17th:
5 seconds - 777 watts
5 minutes - 400 watts
20 minutes - 348 watts
1 minute - 496 watts

I also wanted to get an idea how running efforts could be affected with and without AltRed use so I time-trialled a flat 5k loop in my neighborhood. Conditions were pretty ideal for springtime in Texas with temperatures in the mid 70’s with a light drizzle.

Sunday, April 19th:
5k - 17:40

One week later, after a full week of again taking two AltRed capsules per day I tested again on the Full Frontal 4DP test and showed improvements in all the important metrics (I’ve always known sprinting wasn’t my forte. I’m a Slowtwitcher, duh):

Friday, April 24th:
5 seconds - 770 watts (-7)
5 minutes - 419 watts (+19)
20 minutes - 352 watts (+4)
1 minute - 517 watts (+21)

Six days after the first run test I hit the same 5k loop after taking two AltRed capsules. Having completed the Full Frontal 4DP test the previous day and 40 miles of riding earlier in the day, I managed to better my time. Additionally, the effort felt easier than it had the previous week despite nearly identical conditions.

Saturday, April 25th:
5k - 17:03

While it is impossible to say AltRed was soley responsible for taking me from getting dropped from the killer B’s on the weekly Hilly Vanilli shootout to being able to hang in four of the last five rides, I have noticed being able to push harder followed by a strong and fast recovery. Both of which will come in handy in Thursday’s Hilly Vanilli.

For more on AltRed, visit their website here.

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Photos #4, #5 and #8 by @DigitalKnightProductions
Photo #1 and #3 by @createdbyaaronp