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Dispatches : Science

Stacy Sims's War on Sports Drinks

YOUR HYDRATION drink may be dehydrating you. So says Sims, a 40-year-old exercise physiologist at the Stanford School of Medicine who is pushing for a new paradigm in sports nutrition.

"We have this fixation with not bonking, so the industry pumps drinks full of carbohydrates," Sims explains. "But these sugary drinks force your body to move water into the GI tract to facilitate digestion—and out of your blood and muscles. In other words: dehydration."

The fix, according to Sims, is simple. And it harks back to a commonsense approach used by most athletes in the sixties, before the rise of products like Gatorade. "Separating hydration from fueling—liquid from calories—is the most effective way to address each," she explains. According to Sims, athletes should get their calories from solid foods and use liquids only to meet their hydration needs.

Sims's research stems from her own difficulties with gastrointestinal distress while competing as an Ironman triathlete and elite road racer. She soon began experimenting with formulas containing small amounts of carbohydrates like glucose, along with sodium for absorption, unlike those used to make heavily carb-laden, mass-market sports drinks. In 2009, Sims developed a hydration formula for the Garmin-Slipstream cycling team at the invitation of its sports scientist, Allen Lim. The low-carb product went on to become Secret Drink Mix, sold by Lim's company, Skratch Labs. Lim and Sims later clashed on how to evolve the product and parted ways under less than amicable terms brokered by a lawyer. As Skratch has succeeded, others, including Nuun and SOS, have pushed a similar low--concentration approach to hydration. Last year, Sims launched her own hydration line, Osmo Nutrition.

So should Gatorade be worried? Sims thinks so. "All the companies say, 'Use our stuff. It works better,'" she says. "But I have peer-reviewed science to back me up."

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Can Antoine Vayer Crack the Doping Code?

On the eve of this year's Tour de France, Vayer, a journalist and former trainer for the Festina cycling team, published an electronic report and subsequent book, Not Normal?, that all but accused some of the biggest names in cycling of doping. In the publication, Vayer, 51, compared the power outputs of active riders with those of 21 Tour de France winners since 1982, including known dopers Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich. Vayer's theory: if a rider passes a certain threshold of power on a given section of the Tour, chances are he's cheating. Those he implicated include retired riders who have never been caught, such as five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain (Vayer described his 1995 win as "mutant"), as well as supposedly clean active racers like Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador, and Chris Froome, who went on to win the 2013 Tour. In a tight-lipped sport that traditionally protects its own, this was akin to passing out scarlet D's.

Once Vayer's report spread everywhere from ESPN to The New York Times, the cycling world reacted with predictable defensiveness. David Brailsford, manager of Froome's Team Sky, called Vayer's work "pseudoscience." During the Tour, Froome, who has never tested positive, declared himself "100 percent" clean.

But here's the thing: many studies support Vayer's data, which is based on a complicated model that takes into account moving time, speed, grade, mass, drag, rolling resistance, wind, and other meteorological conditions to estimate how much power a rider produced on a given segment. The question is whether Vayer's interpretations are accurate.

"Vayer does himself a disservice by being overly bullish, but it doesn't mean he is wrong," says Michael Puchowicz, a former college racer and sports-medicine doctor at Arizona State University. "The best performances achieved during the doping era by Pantani, Riis, Ullrich, and Armstrong are incredibly unlikely to be achieved by a clean athlete." But Froome appeared to do exactly that at this year's Tour, clobbering the Ax 3 Domaines climb in Stage 8 with the third-fastest time in history. The performance
qualified as "miraculous" in Vayer's rating scheme.

So is he recklessly throwing arrows or leading cycling toward a more transparent future? It's hard to tell, but this much is sure: at a time when cycling's governing body, the UCI, is being maligned for years of negligence, the French trainer has emerged as the loudest crusader to clean up the Tour. "If we keep pretending that nothing is going on," Vayer says, "we'll wake up in another twenty years and all the cheats will still be running the sport."

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One Mean Motherfracker

Steingraber is hardly a newcomer to the environmental scene: people have been comparing the former biology professor to Rachel Carson since 1997, when she published Living Downstream. The book examines how illness is linked to pollution, and it grew out of Steingraber's experiences battling a form of bladder cancer that may have been caused by industrial runoff.

But over the past three years, Steingraber, 54, has emerged as one of the country's top experts on the hot-button issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And here's the really surprising thing: at a time when everyone from big green groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to President Obama is touting America's newfound natural-gas glut as a bridge to energy independence, Steingraber has prevailed in her efforts to keep the process out of her home state.

In 2011, she received a $100,000 Heinz Award for her human-rights approach to the environmental crisis. At the time, it appeared that New York governor Andrew Cuomo was moments away from lifting a moratorium on fracking, so Steingraber used her prize money to help start the nonprofit New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition that includes thousands of members, from farmers to mothers to actor Mark Ruffalo. In 2012, she starred in the antifracking film Dear Governor Cuomo, which raised pressure on the state government. In March, she was jailed for blocking the entrance to a gas compressor station. A month later she published Raising Elijah, about how environmental issues like gas development will affect future generations. Meanwhile, the push to frack New York remains stalled. Cuomo has yet to lift the moratorium, and companies like Chesapeake Energy have started pulling out of the state.

There may be bigger names in the fracking debate—Josh Fox and Ruffalo come to mind—but none of them are as uncompromising or informed. "The data is showing us that we're killing our planet and killing our children," she says. "And scientists have a moral position to make sure that the data makes a difference."

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Lucy Walker Will Change Winter Sports

The list of recent documentaries that have fundamentally altered public attitudes about an important issue is short: The Cove, Super Size Me, Chasing Ice. Add to it Walker's The Crash Reel, which opens in theaters across the country this month. The film, a feature about snowboarder Kevin Pearce's recovery from a traumatic brain injury, makes an unassailable case that action sports are as dangerous as the NFL—and promises to change the way we see the X Games, super-pipes, and the very concept of big air.

"It's like we were breaking a story," says Walker. "There were a lot of things that we realized nobody had talked about before." Among them: an almost willful ignorance about the symptoms of head injuries and their prevalence in the action-sports community, the woeful lack of health insurance among athletes, and the complicity of the industry in pushing people like Pearce to risky heights.

The Crash Reel introduces us to Pearce when he's a fun-loving star primed to rival Shaun White as the world's greatest snowboarder. Then he suffers a brain injury on a Park City, Utah, halfpipe while training for the Vancouver Olympics, and everything about him, from his mental capacity to his disposition, changes. Walker spares us nothing, showing the accident over and over, going inside Pearce's Vermont home as his family helps him recover, and following him as he attempts to snowboard again. (His agent, Lowell Taub, gives Pearce detailed instructions on what to wear during his ceremonial return: "Nike gets a three-inch sticker on your helmet.") Walker also tackles the death of freeskier Sarah Burke, whose family faced a six-figure medical bill after she hit her head on the same Park City halfpipe where Pearce fell. The effect is brutal, which is the point.

"How come action-sports athletes aren't insured?" Walker asks. "I mean, how is that possible?"

Most important, Walker turns the clichéd sports comeback story on its head, making a convincing case that the most heroic thing you can do after a serious brain injury isn't to return to competition. Rather, it's to be selfless enough to walk away for the sake of your family.

Since finding this story, Walker has taken an active role in the issue of brain injuries, starting a nonprofit campaign called Love Your Brain together with the Pearce Family. (She also turned us on to the issue and helped spark our investigative report "After the Crash," which appears on page 68.) Walker has been nominated for two Oscars for her previous work (Waste Land and "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"). If there's any justice in Hollywood, she'll be thanking the Pearce family from the podium in March.

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Championing Renewable Energy for Everyone

"The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is one of the biggest wealth-creation opportunities of our time," says 32-year-old Solar Mosaic cofounder Billy Parish, "and we all should be part of it." Does that sound like a hard sell? Or a Pollyannaish one? Consider that since Parish officially launched Mosaic in January, the company, which acts as a bank to vet and back solar projects, has attracted $5 million in capital from more than 2,000 investors. Those who wish to do good and turn a profit can just go to Mosaic's website, sign up, and commit increments of $25 to projects as small as a 645-kilowatt bee farm in California and as large as a 55,000-panel solar installment on a military housing development in New Jersey. The investments are illiquid, meaning you can't pull your funds out for a fixed period of time, and projected returns are in the 4 percent to 7 percent range—competitive with many mutual funds. Best of all? You get to visit the projects you invest in.

"There's a big gap between 'Click the link to send an e-mail to your congressman' and 'Chain yourself to the White House,' " says Parish, who dropped out of Yale and later founded the Energy Action Coalition, an activist group. "We're doing something nobody has been able to do before," says Parish, "allowing people to invest directly in clean-energy projects."

Parish and a partner, Dan Rosen, ran the company with seed money from their parents before attracting angel investors and a Department of Energy grant. Mosaic negotiates the complex regulatory processes for investors and vets solar projects pitched by developers, just as a bank would. Then it makes a crowd-funded loan and skims 1 percent of the profits for itself. Despite public hand-wringing over solar tied to the failure of Solyndra, experts say Mosaic is arriving at a good time: solar-module prices have dropped by 80 percent in the past four years, so it's easier than ever to fund projects.

"There's no one else like Mosaic, so people in the industry are really intrigued," says Jigar Shah, a consultant and investor who was CEO of the solar utility Sun Edison for five years. "No one is sure if
it's for real or not—they haven't even deployed $10 million yet—but the opportunity is there. It's all about whether or not they execute."

Parish isn't concerned about that. "Solar will outcompete other technologies," he says. "It's happening so fast, I don't see any fossil fuels being able to compete anytime soon."

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