Most sports drinks function by restoring energy through the replenishment of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients. VAAM, a sports drink invented by RIKEN Special Chief Scientist Dr. Takashi Abe, works in a different way. Rather than supplying nutrients, Dr. Abe's invention works by helping the body burn the energy reserves (i.e. body fat) it already has in storage. VAAM does this by reproducing synthetically the same Vespa amino acid mixture contained in hornet saliva.
Dr. Takashi Abe's invention was inspired by his studies of hornet venom at RIKEN, which he started in 1978. This led to his discovery of the power of the nutrient liquid produced by hornet larvae that adult hornets feed on. "The nutrient liquid is essential for the survival of adult hornets," Dr. Abe explains. "When they lose their hives, they starve to death because they cannot get the nutrient liquid."
As it turns out, Dr. Abe's studies revealed that the nutrient liquid, the hornet larval saliva, is rich in proline, glycine, and alanine. A mixture consisting of 17 of the 20 essential amino acids making up the raw material of proteins, the nutrient enables hornets to fly 80km a day, non-stop. "Amino acids have been linked to specific physiological activities, "Dr. Abe explains. "However, I was the first to show the concept that amino acid mixtures deliver new functions."
Interestingly, the amino acid mixture has a similar effect on humans as it does on hornets: subjects who drank VAAM 30 minutes before exercise were found to consistently out-perform all other competitors. This became an internationally recognized fact when Naoko Takahashi won the Sydney Olympic marathon and credited her success to VAAM. Running on VAAM-power, Takahashi went on to become the first woman to break the 2 hour 20 minute marathon record, and won six marathons in a row – most recently, at Berlin in 2002. VAAM has also been used by Japanese mountain climber Tamae Watanabe, who climbed mount Everest thanks in part to energy provided by the drink.