Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ClifBar Organic Energy Food - A Product Review

Sucking down a Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
at the Oil Creek 100
I've posted very few product reviews here, I guess it's not really my thing; I write this blog mostly to share my experiences. A few things have come my way though and I've felt it necessary to talk about them. The Organic Energy series from ClifBar is definitely worthy.

First I need to state that all of the Organic Energy Food products I use are given to me by ClifBar. At the same time though, they provided them to support my adventures and never required me or even asked me to do this. I thank them enormously as often as I can. So in a way, this post is just me saying one more time, "thanks ClifBar, you're the coolest company on the planet!".

ClifBar Company has a whole host of products, most widely known are their signature ClifBar. Last year they introduced me to their Organic Energy Food. I took to them immediately, they're an excellent alternative to the common trail running fair of gels and chews that can get tiresome after eating them for many hours. I first used them on an attempt to thru-run the 140+ mile Horse-Shoe Trail (May 2015).

The Organic Energy Food packs are much like eating a mini meal. The four original flavors were Pizza Margherita(160 calories) and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt(200 calories) making up the Savory/Salty category along with Banana Mango With Coconut(100 calories) and Banana Beet With Ginger(110 calories) as the Refreshing Fruit Flavor options. Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt come in a larger 120 gram packet while the Banana Mango With Coconut and Banana Beet With Ginger come in a smaller sized 90 gram packet. This past year I've wrestled with which one is my favorite and right now I believe it's the Banana Beet With Ginger. 
They're a bit larger than the typical gel or chew package so carrying them can be a challenge. I can however see them fitting fine in the pocket of a cycling jersey. At the ultras I've run this year, I've mainly been putting them in drop bags or Janice hands them up to me as an extra special refueling treat. I do however carry them on long training runs in the mountains as I'm usually wearing a more substantial hydration pack that can accommodate them easily. Those who followed Scott Jurek's 2015 record setting Appalachian Trail run may have noticed him enjoying these meals while taking breaks with his wife Jenny along the way.

The ClifBar site says this about them: "The next generation of sports nutrition. Inspired by the home recipes of Team ClifBar athletes, each recipe is designed to provide endurance athletes with energy from real food ingredients like those they could find in their own kitchens, satisfying cravings for either real fruit or salty comfort food."

Pizza Margherita is based on Scott Jurek's Long Run Pizza Bread Recipe. Sweet Potato With Sea Salt comes from Stephanie Howe's Sweet Potato Bowl Recipe. Their actual recipes are available linked off the ClifBar site and they look extremely yummy.

They list these "Flavor Notes" for them as well:
  • For long distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Satisfying Savory/Salty Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
Refreshing Fruit Flavors in the smaller 90g package.

Banana Mango With Coconut uses Troy Wells' Banana Bread With Coconut recipe as a guide while Banana Beet With Ginger looks to Scott Jurek again with his Banana Beet Ginger Recovery Smoothie recipe. Those two recipes are also available on the company web site along with these "Flavor Notes":
  • For any distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Refreshing Fruit Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
So those are the original flavors. In case you hadn't heard of them, now you're up to speed. What I really want to talk about are the two newest flavors just introduced this year. a spring time delivery of ClifBar goodness arrived on our doorstep and these two new items jumped right out at me. I didn't recognize the packaging from before and then I noticed they were labeled "New". They're Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and Banana Cinnamon Oatmeal, each packed with 140 quality calories and they've become my main pre-race go-to breakfast items.

The larger 120g packages.

The morning of an event, I'm usually up a few hours before the start time. I like to have a couple cups of coffee, maybe eat a banana and most recently I was eating a toasted English Muffin with some kind of nut butter on it. Good energy stuff to wake up the body long before you hear "GO!". In April and May I ran a 100 miler and a 50 miler and for those events, I ditched the muffin with nut butter for these new Organic Energy Food flavors and they became permanent part of my pre-race breakfast formula for the rest of 2016. (and yes, I eat one of each)

Like the "Savory/Salty" flavors, these two also come in the larger size pouch. The fact that they require no preparation is a huge plus. If you're waking up in a hotel room, a tent or your Jeep, all you need to do is unscrew the cap and you have breakfast. Growing up during the era of the Apollo Missions, I could definitely have envisioned Neil Armstrong having these for breakfast before his "one giant step". It doesn't matter where you are or what type of facilities you have available, you can have breakfast.

Scott Jurek gets credit for both of these versions of oatmeal and there's a fun interview with him linked off the product page. The interview includes some pretty cool insight from him, I recommend reading it.
  • I recommend the breakfast recipes 2-3 hours before an event and eat the others during your adventure.
  • I like to gobble one of the fruit packets when I know a big climb is approaching. We all know how eating during a tough climb can be a big mistake. They're a good dose of energy when and where you need it and they seem to carry a bit further than a gel or chew. That of course is all completely anecdotal and my opinion.
  • When I know I've got a long runnable stretch coming up where I want to extend and not have to think about eating I go for the savory/salty flavors.
  • All three categories of these Organic Energy meals are smooth energy food and a welcome alternative to gels and chews.
When running ultra marathons it's important to find things that will make the endurance and suffering more tolerable. Alternatives and variety in nutrition that work can prove to be that extra edge that gets you to the finish line. You're always looking for a new arrow for your quiver. Just like gear; your shoes, clothing, pack; your nutrition selections need to be precise and correct. Sure I still eat tons of ClifBar gels and chews and I still gobble PB&J, watermelon, bananas, etc. at aid stations. Running for hours and eating the same stuff continually can turn into an ugly gag-fest. Sometimes you just get sick of choking down the same thing over and over, especially the sweet stuff. At the same time though, if you're used to eating something that doesn't upset your gut or make you barf, you've got to stick with it. Changing something or adding something new can be a risk. Puking your guts up can easily end your day early. ClifBar Organic Energy has become a welcome addition to the things I already eat. One more arrow in my nutrition quiver; additional yummy fuel packed with quality calories that agree with my gut.

Just find our orange Jeep aka the rolling ClifBar aid station ;-)

Find them at a store near you or find me at a race (next up is the Stone Mill 50). I recommend you give them a try. If you have questions, please post a comment; I'm happy to reply.