I’m not sure when it finally happened, but sometime in the last 18 months, maybe less, I ate my last PowerBar. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just stopped buying them and at some point ate the last of my stock. Gradually, over several trips to the store, I realized that I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating another ounce of the textural equivalent to edible Play-Doh.
The only significant detail in this anecdote is that I seem to have lasted longer than most. A few weeks ago I asked around just to see who among my friends were still eating PowerBars and I couldn’t find a single devotee. Everyone I spoke to said it was a product that was part of their past, kinda like 8-speed drivetrains.
I have to admit, I spent the better part of 10 years with my head more or less down to new nutrition products. Most of what I ate and drank was confined to Clif Bars, the aforementioned PowerBars and Gatorade. The reasons were simple: All three products were/are readily available, are reasonably inexpensive as energy foods go and, not insignificantly, due to my familiarity with them, they were pretty easy to digest. This season that changed. Part of the change was a search for new options as my local Trader Joe’s carried fewer and fewer varieties of Clif Bar, and part of the change was the fact that any number of nutrition companies embraced RKP as never before, and sent me samples of products I’d never tried, some I’d never even thought to try.
The exception to this was the gradual trickle into my diet that gels made. Four or five years ago I noticed that during ultra-intense rides/events and at altitude I was having trouble digesting bars, particularly Clif Bars, so I began purchasing gels more frequently.
The upshot is that I’ve learned two things: 1) I’ve heard from a number of friends that as they have aged, their stomachs are a bit pickier about what they can eat during a really hard ride. 2) Whether you want to stick with rapidly digestible gels and chews or want something that has the taste and texture of actual food, the bike world is full of options now. The incredible diversity of options—and but a few are shown above—is a striking departure from where things were just over 20 years ago when your choices were either chocolate or malt-nut PowerBars.
The folks at Honey Stinger would love it for me to review their products. I’m not sure there’s much to actually review. I love their chews, especially the Lime flavor and while I like their waffles, they don’t travel well. For me the real point to the post is to note that we have so many more options available to us. Dude, I can remember walking into convenience stores and choosing between Pop Tarts and Little Debbie snack cakes. We’ve come a long way.
Further to my reluctance to engage in a review of products, there’s a lot of competing formulations out there. I’m not well-enough-versed in the science to make any determination about whose blend works best. I can say that when it comes to gels, the two that provide the best kick for me are Gu Roctane and Accelerade. My favorite chews are Clif’s Shot Bloks, but that has a bit to do with the packaging; they are simply easier to remove from the wrapper as I ride.
What’s most significant for me within the energy food market are lightning rods behind Clif and Gu, Gary Erickson and Brian Vaughn, respectively. To the degree that there’s a real story to chase in the future, it would be going for a ride with these guys. An interesting aside, both companies are based in the original earthy-crunchy Mecca—the Bay Area. Erickson of Clif has chased an ever more natural, more organic approach, while still offering cutting-edge calorie uptake options like the Clif Shots and Shot Bloks. Vaughn has chased a slightly different direction, pursuing what strikes me as an ultimate human performance approach. Nothing seems to make this guy happier than seeing someone like sponsored athlete Rebecca Rusch break a record at Leadville.
There’s something about True Believers, capital T, capital B, that I really dig. I don’t doubt that PowerBar employs folks who swear by their product, but Erickson and Vaughn seem to epitomize the very athletic lifestyle their products cater to. Objective correlative: Last year at the Sea Otter Classic gran fondo I rode much of the day with Erickson. I noticed three tubes of Shot Bloks protruding from his left pocket. The tops of the plastic on all three tubes had been cleanly snipped away with scissors—ready to go.
So this week’s question is a simple one: what are you eating on the bike these days? We’ll even take it a bit further: Have you sworn off any particular energy foods? And, is there anything that makes you think twice before experimenting?
The last day’s ride was from Mesquite, Nevada, to Boulder City to the Outdoor Demo. That is, for roughly 10 of the riders from our group, that was the plan. There were plenty of us who opted for something a bit shorter. By a bit shorter I mean an estimated 50 miles rather than an estimated 110 miles. In reality, we rode 58 miles while Chris D’Alusio’s entrourage rode more like 120 miles.
Western Spirit Cycling Adventures provided our food for the entire trip. I’ve traveled with a lot of tour companies and I’ve never traveled with one that provided all the food. Western Spirit not only made everything run on time, the food was stellar. Dinner was never less than exactly what a hungry cyclist needed. Their level of organization combined with their laid-back ease gave them the air of Zen masters running FedEx. It’s hard to be that chill and yet that on top of things.
Our transfer to the start of the final day’s ride kept us in the van for a bit and feeling some relief for not having to ride on I-15. That’s Rebecca Rusch at left and media guru Nic Sims in the center.
It’s been a long day and the Interwebs here at our Best Western are anemic, so I’m going to keep this short. Even though I didn’t finish today’s ride (more on that in a sec) it was an exceptionally hard day. One of the hardest I’ve had this year.
I’m not sure how many miles I spent in a paceline with the front group; it felt like hours. Initially organization was spotty, but we got the thing rolling nicely. Helping drive the pace were Ben Kapron of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (and former Specialized guy), road product manager for Specialized Chris D’Alusio and recent Leadville victor Rebecca Rusch. It was a very strong group.
We started the ride at roughly 4500 feet. By the time the sag van reached me high on Mt. Nebo, I was at 8200 and wondering what my name was; the altitude zapped me terribly. I did what I could to keep my heartrate down and what I didn’t know was when the van catches you in the afternoon, you get in. D’oh.