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Whole Fuel: Energy For Endurance Athletes

We sample, test and rate different options for fueling during workouts.

We sample, test and rate different options for fueling during workouts.

There is another side to an athletic lifestyle once your daily food intake is sound enough to support the requirements of your sports nutrition plan. Beyond all of the foundational nutrition the body needs on a daily basis to build a platform for athletic performance, one must consider the nutritional requirements specific to training and racing.

Food is what you eat for your foundation. Fuel is what you eat for training and racing. Although the quality of those sources should be the most important, and the same for both, there are other factors to consider such as protein to carbohydrate ratio, convenience, digestibility, portability, packaging, taste, calories, and flavor.

Prior to the first Powerbar hitting the market over 20 years ago, native cultures had their own traditional energy bars known as pemmican, or wasna, that date back to the 1700s. A lot has been learned since that time, but there was a lot that was also already known. These “bars” were based upon anecdotal experience using locally available foods that supported energy for endurance, performance and a healthy life. Although the science did not exist, the same basic ingredients of protein, carbohydrates and fat did. Since processed foods were not available then we wanted to explore what whole foods fueling options were available on the market today.

Ultimately, it was a bit disappointing to see the limited availability to those seeking a better option to the myriad of highly processed and refined products that dominate the market. But, now that you’ve read the 2013 Spring Review of shoes, it’s time to get some miles on those new kicks so we put testers out into the field to see how some companies are starting to change the way people fuel.

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PocketFuel: 8 Flavors $2.75 (1.8oz) – $20.00 (20oz) Rating 4/5

Taste: With their nut butter base combined with assorted fruits, these packets have multiple flavor pairings for most any palate. By using organic cane sugar they do not have the artificial taste of other sweeteners and all were well balanced. They also contain small pieces of food that were nice to chew on. Favorites: Pineapple/Coconut & Chocolate Haze.

Output: The user interface of having to “squish and squeeze” before opening supports the whole food sources of this product, something that the body can relate to and easily digest. Their thickness makes them feel like the real food they are made of, but there was no GI heaviness or distress reported from any of our testers. They do require a bit more water to consume then standard gels, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given their electrolyte content. All testers reported getting good mileage.

Best Use: With an average ratio of 2:1 Carbohydrate to Protein, these were best suited for pre and during training. A good combo of complex and simple carbs gave both an instant bump as well as sustained energy. Good for medium and long distance events. Easy to carry.

ProBar: Fuel Bar 3 Flavors $2.00 1.7oz Rating 4/5 & Bolt Energy Chews 4 Flavors $2.50 2.1oz Rating 4/5

Taste: Both the Fuel Bar and the Bolt Chews were well liked by all testers. The flavors were true to their origins; mainly fruit, which comes from a majority of organic ingredients as well as non-GMO verified. Both the bars, which contain chia seeds and oats, and chews are also gluten free. Favorites: Strawberry Fuel Bar & Berry Blast Chews.

Output: All of our testers reported sustained energy with no GI distress. Although the Fuel Bars have oats their chewy texture kept them light and digested well. The bars are a bit heavy to carry for many miles, but the chews kept runners going.

Best Use: With their high carbohydrate count, the Fuel Bars were best suited for as a pre-training mini-meal around 2hrs before starting and as a long-distance energy source over 2.5hrs at medium intensity. Testers liked the ability to start out with the chews for shorter and middle distances and then get into the bars for longer ones. One tester was good for 1.5hrs at high intensity with one bar one hour before running and nothing else but a water bottle on the run. Chews were a little bulky for a runner but the bars are small.

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Pure Organic: Ancient Grains Bar 2 Flavors $2.19 1.23oz Rating 3/5

Taste: These bars made with quinoa, amaranth, flax, and hemp had good flavor but were a bit dry for most testers. Both flavors were not too sweet, even the chocolate, and tasted like the real food they are. Gluten free, organic, and vegan that are also non-GMO verified.

Output: These bars had mixed output amongst testers. Some felt the extra grains kept the bars sitting around the stomach a bit while others had no GI distress. The majority of testers did not feel quite ‘fueled’ for high intensity but more of a slow, slow burn for long distances.

Best Use: These bars have a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio that seemed most liked as a mini-meal or late afternoon snack prior to training. Under high intensity running most testers did not feel charged to keep going. However, for longer distances below VO2 max and other sports like mountain biking these bars could be a good choice.

Cliff: Kits Organic Fruit & Nut Bar 4 Flavors $1.75 1.62oz Rating 3/5

Taste: What you see is what you get, 3-4 whole food ingredients in each bar with date base. Some testers felt the bars were a little bland while others liked their wholesomeness. A couple bars were a little ‘datey’ tasting but overall were well-balanced with natural sweetness. Gluten, Soy, & Dairy Free. Favorite: Chocolate Almond Coconut

Output: From the company that makes CliffBars our testers did not feel “fueled” from a training and racing perspective, especially under high intensity. With a carbohydrate to protein ration that reached 9:1 (cashew) there was some experience of GI distress. Even on longer distances one needed to be extra vigilant about anything extra consumed and drinking the requisite amount of water.

Best Use: These are certainly a whole food option to be used for ultra distances, hiking, or as a mini-meal 3hrs before training. Cliff has some other products (gels, bars, chews) that are better fueling options.

Honey Stinger: Organic Gels 3 Flavors $1.25 1.3oz Rating 3/5

Taste: You gotta like honey to enjoy these gels. Some testers found them to be too sweet while others really liked the honey-ness of this product. The flavors were balanced well, but it really all comes down to honey.

Output: “Liquid fuel” as one tester referred to them as the quick jolt of energy received. Looking for an end of training / racing pick me up, these gave most testers a good boost. Multiple servings over increased mileage turned some testers palates off.

Best Use: Short distance with high intensity. Even those who enjoyed the honey sweetness had much better tolerance under high intensity then longer distances well below lactate threshold. Although not quite a whole foods option but still with quality ingredients their Waffles were well liked for longer distances and lower intensities. Easy to take on the run.

RELATED: Nutrition Lessons Learned On A Run

Body Symphony: Raw SuperFood Mix 10 Flavors / 5 Protein Bases $36.99 1.9lbs Rating 3/5 Favorite: Pumpkin Seed

Taste: This was the only thing that brought their rating down. Some testers did not like the stevia sweetness or just how whole and raw this product is. Not for the ice cream and pizza eater this product is as whole foods as it gets. However, with nine flavors to choose from and five different protein bases, all of which can be added to by the user, anyone on a whole foods diet should find this tasty.

Output: Under high intensity and short distances some testers found this product to be a bit dense as a fuel on the go. Although none reported any GI distress they did not feel quite charged. Under lower intensities and longer distances testers reported feeling their energy levels sustained.

Best Use: It took some creativity by our testers to find out how to use this product best to their advantage. Testers liked that aspect of having to really connect with the product and see how it best suited their needs. The higher protein content lent itself to post training recovery, especially for strength and weight training workouts. The flavors with higher carbohydrates were used best as a pre-training tool for smoothies or on yoghurt as morning intake. A little challenging to figure out how to carry it with you.