Published October 9, 2009
By Mae Lee Sun
Regional Correspondent, TNAZ
Regional Correspondent, TNAZ
When two driven medical students met, they might have foreseen becoming well respected cardiologists. But even given their shared commitment to endurance sports like competitive cycling and triathlon, for Tucson-based physicians Sal Tirrito and Lou Lancero, it was unlikely that they could have foreseen the success of what together they would create, XOOD, a sports endurance drink. But once they started, their intense competitive spirits wanted to blow any other product out of the water.
“Being in the sport (of triathlon) I’ve tried all the endurance drink products out there. As physicians, Lou and I looked at the ingredients and said we could do better. It didn’t have to be artificially neon blue or orange. We wanted to make a product that was pure and not full of empty calories,” says Tirrito, who took the lead in developing XOOD.
According to Tirrito, manufacturers, attempting to keep their costs and resale prices down, add inexpensive and largely ineffective ingredients like artificial preservatives and emulsifying agents. Even when some so-called ‘natural’ ingredients are added like stevia, sourced from a South American herb and used as a sugar substitute for its sweetness, the nutritional value is up for question.
However, including certain kinds of proteins and carbohydrates and finding the right ratio of protein to carbs was what Tirrito was shooting for in his formulation of XOOD. While supplying nutrition, Tirrito sought to make a drink that would convert efficiently to useable energy. Like any good scientist, he conducted his own experiment, followed by a field test to establish the validity of his claims.
” I went shopping at GNC and bought all the raw ingredients of what I thought would benefit athletes the most in their performance — vitamins, minerals, herbs, flavors, carbs and specific kind of proteins. For six months I tested the basic formula out on my friends who were athletes and got feedback. I started asking myself what if it also had health benefits in addition to performance?” he recalled. Tirrito then took the rough product to a nutritional chemist to refine the mix that would become XOOD.
At the Asheville, NC, half marathon in September 2009, Marcus Hille, 36, placed 6th at 1:28. He credits XOOD for his kick performances.
Credit: Marcus Hille
Credit: Marcus Hille
In his first attempts at marketing the product, Tirrito met with resistance. Manufacturers suggested he add certain chemicals, preservatives, colors and artificial sweeteners. They didn’t seem to understand why he’d want to use ingredients that were more costly than what was common in more standard energy drinks.
Tirrito found success in refining the mix when Arthur Winegrad became involved. Winegrad is a chemist and vice-president for research and development with Arizona Nutritional Supplements in Chandler. Winegrad was able to deliver the ingredients and end product Tirrito had envisioned.
“I’ve worked in this field for 13 years and with a lot of sports drink clients,” says Winegrad. “Dr Tirrito’s formula was really different. He wanted the product to be easy on the stomach, water soluble and have a specific carb-to-protein ratio along with very specific amounts of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals per serving. Anytime you have an all natural formula, you’re going to pay more. Right down to the flavors, there’s no synthetics in XOOD which is very different from what’s on the market,” says Winegrad. If synthetics were used, it would reduce the retail cost of XOOD by one half to two thirds.
The real role Winegrad says he played was helping Tirrito get the active ingredients and amounts right. There are no FDC colors or flavors. Instead, the three different flavors that XOOD comes in — Pomegranate, Mangosteen and Green Tea with Lemon — are actually sourced from those ingredients. The subtle, pink color of the powdered mix comes from beet root and not a synthetic dye. When the final product was ready, Tirrito launched it at sporting events like marathons and triathlons, which attracted athletes like 36-year-old Marcus Hille, at six-foot eight inches tall, a competitive distance runner from Sedona.
“It is important to me as an endurance athlete to know that what I am putting into my body is going to provide me with the energy I need to sustain the intensity I desire, and that it’s also good for me with no extra junk that may be harmful in the long term. I will often slam a Green Tea XOOD before hitting the road to give me an energy boost and Pomegranate is good for long runs of up to three hours or more,” says Hille.
In addition to sponsoring both pro and amateur athletes and launching a XOOD cycling and triathlon team, Tirrito and Lancero have headed back to the labs to work on yet another new product – a readymade drink in the XOOD line geared toward the health club market.