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The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

The Performance Zone

The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

I took up cycling a little over thirteen years ago and am still embarrassed by how little I knew about sports nutrition at the time. I’m talking about the “cover your face and hide” type of embarrassment. I started cycling to lose weight and ignorantly thought the best way to do it would be to starve myself on a ride and drink only water. It was not just a bad idea—it was just plain stupid. After an hour ride I was worn out and it took me two days to recover. However, I used to take solace in the fact I had given myself a “good workout” (what a fool).

As I grew more accustomed to cycling my friends tell me I was “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” I didn’t know what either of these phrases meant at the time—but my well-meaning friends told me I just needed to eat a lot of carbs during a bike ride and everything would be fine. Without any guidance I began ingesting too many carbs and started gaining weight again—in spite of increasing my workout time! It was a really discouraging time in my life!

Somehow I eventually found and read The Performance Zone: Your Nutrition Action Plan for Greater Endurance & Sports Performance, by John Ivy and Robert Portman, and my cycling life changed forever! This book is a primer on how your muscles grow, work, get fuel and recover. The book explains how to calculate your hydration, carbohydrate and protein needs for numerous sports. I would call The Performance Zone a “must read” for anyone participating in endurance sports, such as cycling, hockey, swimming, football, etc. Over the past ten years I’ve bought at least a dozen copies of this book—some of the copies were given  to fellow athletes, other times I bought copies to replace ones I “loaned” to friends (some of my friends can’t add or subtract, but they are great “book keepers”).

In my situation, based upon cycling speed, weight and a few other factors, I was able to plot out a suitable course of action. I followed the instructions and started consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes and my performance vastly improved (I am close to being a Clydesdale, so your nutritional needs will vary). Not only did my speed and distance improve, but so did my recovery time. I quickly went from getting exhausted after an hour ride to riding for three or four hours before work and then doing it again the next morning. Eventually I worked my way up to doing Century rides before going to the office!

This paperback book is available from Amazon.com for under $10.00 (Basic Health Publications, Inc., 146 pages). While this book is a great introduction to sports nutrition, there are a few other books I would also recommend to serious cyclists, such as The Paleo Diet for Athletes, The Athletes Guide to Recovery, and Distance Cycling.

 
 

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Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Last a fall I was out on a long bike ride with a friend of mine when he asked me how much money I spent a month on the carbohydrate gels I use. It was a question I really hadn’t thought much about before, but after doing a few quick calculations in my head I was shocked. Most of the carbohydrate gels I use are organic (a word usually synonymous with expensive), and during most of the year I go through 30 packs a week which comes out to $180 a month (I am so glad my wife never looks at the American Express statements). After I got home I decided to see if I could find a way to cut my expenses by creating my own carb gels, and at the end of this article you will find a few recipes that I have used. However, before we get to the recipes I need to explain how to choose your ingredients (if you want to experiment on your own).

I am a distance cyclist and except for my winter rides in the snow I seldom take a ride of under two hours. On long rides I normally burn between 900 and 1,000 calories an hour (based on my weight and speed). As a result, I try to consume 300 calories an hour (including 60 grams of carbohydrates). I get 100 calories an hour from my sports hydration mix and the other 200 calories from carb gels (and bananas when available). Most commercial carb gels offer a mixture of both simple and complex carbs and have 100 calories, along with 20 to 30 grams of carbs, and cost anywhere from $1.20 to $3.00 per package. Store-bought energy gels also have about 45mg sodium and 35mg potassium per serving. Simple carbs give a quick shot of energy, while complex carbs provide a slower release of energy. If your gel is composed entirely of simple carbs you will feel a quick rush of energy, followed by a sinking feeling a few minutes later.

You can make your own carbohydrate gels with just a few inexpensive ingredients—and it will only cost you around .30¢ per serving! As a bonus, your gels will always be fresh and free from unwanted chemicals. Here is a quick breakdown of the main ingredients that I use in my gels…

Brown Rice Syrup has 65 calories per tablespoon (21g) and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Brown rice syrup has a Glycemic Index of 25 and is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. I buy Now Foods Organic Brown Rice Syrup from a local grocery store (it’s in their health food department) and it sells for under $5 for a 16-ounce container.

Raw Honey is a 100% simple sugar and has a Glycemic Index of 58. Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 17 grams of carbohydrates. Simple sugars can elevate your blood sugar very quickly, so you don’t want to take too much at one time. By the way, make sure you buy raw honey and not the processed garbage that comes in the cute bear containers.

Light Agave Nectar has 60 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 16 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 11. Maple Syrup has 53 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 13 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 54. Blackstrap Molasses has 45 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 11g of carbohydrates, along with 15mg of sodium and 500mg of potassium. Blackstrap molasses has a Glycemic Index of 55. Since blackstrap molasses has a strong flavor you should probably start with just a bit of it and work your way up!

Now for the recipes—I wish I could take credit for all of these, but most of them are recipes that I’ve cobbled together from other cyclists. However, the first recipe is mostly mine and it is my favorite!

Blue Ribbon Butterscotch Candy

Mix 8 tablespoons brown rice syrup, 2 tablespoons light agave nectar, 1 tablespoon warm water, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/4 tablespoon Morton Lite Salt Mixture, and about 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt. This mixture provides about 100 calories per 1.5 tablespoon. A ¼ teaspoon of Morton Lite Salt Mixture has 290mg sodium and 350mg potassium (I use this as an easy way to get potassium into my gels). This is my favorite homemade gel—and as the name implies, it tastes like butterscotch candy (and is highly addictive).

Honey GOO Recipe

This recipe comes from HomeGOO, a company that sells incredibly low-priced flasks for carb gels. Mix 4 ounces of raw honey, one tablespoon organic blackstrap molasses, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. This recipe will approximately fill a 6-ounce flask.

Down And Dirty

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it is very easy to make and has a mild taste. Mix 3/4 cup of brown rice syrup, 1/2 cup of agave nectar, 1/2 cup of raw honey, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt.

Finding A Flask

HomeGOO sells two different reusable flasks. The five-ounce Goo Flask is a 5.5 inch tall BPA free plastic container with a leak proof, push-pull valve. The flexible six-ounce Goo Flask is made from ultra-lightweight BPA free plastic and collapses as you consume the gel. It also has a push/pull drink spout with removable cap, though the cap really isn’t necessary. These bottles are easy to wash by hand and are dishwasher safe.

HomeGOO Flexible Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO Flexible, Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO sells the five ounce flask for only .99¢, which means that if you only used in one time you still saved money over the cost of buying prepackaged gels. The six-ounce flask sells for $3 and should last a very long time. If you are into endurance sports you owe it to yourself to try these flasks!

 

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Picky Bars: All Natural Training Snacks (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)

Picky Bars All Natural Training Snacks

Picky Bars: All Natural Training Snacks

I am always on the lookout for new nutritional products that I can take with me on long bike rides. As a distance cyclist I often burn over 5,000 calories on a ride and I try to consume around 300 calories per hour while riding. There are a lot of great carb gels on the market, but after a couple of hours on the bike I crave real food—but I need food that is all-natural and easy to digest. A few months ago I reviewed BikeLoot, a subscription service that sends a box of five to seven cycling related products to your home every month. In a recent shipment of loot they included a sample of Picky Bars and just one bite was all it took for me to want more!

Picky Bars are made from all-natural ingredients, such as: organic dates, hazelnut butter, organic almonds, cranberries, organic sunflower butter, sunflower seeds, honey, organic apricots, organic cashews, organic walnuts, organic peanut butter, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and rice protein powder. These bars are fairly small (2″ x 3″ x 1/2″), but are packed with flavor! Each bar has 200 calories or less and has a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio (28g carbohydrate and 7g protein). These bars are also gluten and dairy free, and contain less than 1% soy content.

Picky Bars are available in five flavors and come in boxes of ten. I ordered 20 bars so I could try several of each flavor (they only had four flavors available when I placed my order). The four flavors I tried were: Lauren’s Mega Nuts, Need For Seed, All-In Almond, and Smooth Caffeinator. The first three flavors were absolutely fantastic, and Lauren’s Mega Nuts was my favorite. As the name implies, Smooth Caffeinator has caffeine—25mg to be exact (about as much as 1/3 of a cup of coffee). I am not a coffee drinker, so I would not order the Smooth Caffeinator again because it does have a mild coffee flavor. However, I gave a stack of the Smooth Caffeinator bars to a friend of mine who does like coffee and he said they were great! The folks at Picky Bars have recently introduced a new flavor, temporarily known as Runner’s High, but I have not had a chance to try these out yet.

While these bars are not 100% Paleo approved (due to the use of peanut butter), I have no trouble recommending them to any athlete. I do need to point out that when the temperature is in the 90’s (32 Celsius) these bars are a bit messy (mainly because of the fat from the nut butters).

Picky Bars retail for $23 for a box of ten and are available from the Picky Bars website or Amazon.com. The average cost for carbohydrate gel is over $1.50 a package, but they usually only offer 100 calories per package. Since Picky Bars provide 200 calories per package they actually are a better buy! I’ve only done this for three products over the past few years, but I have to put Picky Bars on the Highly Recommended List—if you are an athlete you really need to buy a box of these bars!

 
 

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Winter Cycling: Food and Drink

Note: This is the tenth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

You probably won’t be cycling as fast or as far in the heart of winter as you would during the summer, but riding through snow and ice can burn a lot of calories. My heart rate monitor and Cyclemeter iPhone app do a decent job of calculating how many calories I burn during normal rides, but I don’t think it is possible for even the best power meter to accurately reflect the calories you burn during the winter—there are just too many variables. Even if you don’t get very thirsty during winter rides you still need to drink a lot or you will get dehydrated; and if you are going to ride for more than 90 minutes you need to take in an appropriate amount of carbohydrates (based on your speed and weight). In this article I am not going to focus on what tho eat or drink as much as I am on how to keep those items from becoming solid blocks of ice during your ride.

Klean Kanteen Bottles With A Composite Cage

Klean Kanteen Bottles With A Composite Cage

The colder it gets outside the faster your water bottle is going to freeze. The problem is not confined to your water freezing—before that happens the valve on your water bottle is probably going to freeze shut, so even if you have 18 ounces of liquid in your bottle you still won’t be able to get a drink. One solution is to use a Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle instead of the water bottle you use during the warmer months. The Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle is a 100% food-grade stainless steel bottle with high performance vacuum insulation. The folks at Klean Kanteen claim this bottle with insulate hot beverages for up to six hours, and iced drinks up to twenty-four hours. The six-hour time frame for hot beverages is accurate if the bottle is stored at room temperature, but outside in near zero degree weather it is not going to last that long. However, if will keep you liquids drinkable for at least four hours. Since this is a wide mouth bottle you never have to worry about a small valve freezing shut in the winter. However, you will need to stop your bike in order take off the cap and get a drink (that’s not uncommon in winter cycling).

The Klean Kanteen bottle will fit in most bicycle water bottle cages. However, these bottles are a bit wider than normal bicycle water bottles, and if your water bottle cage is made of aluminum it will scratch the Klean Kanteen bottle to pieces in no time at all. To keep from scratching my bottles I replaced the aluminum bottle cages on my winter bikes with a flexible composite cage. Since most composite cages have a small “lip” to keep the water bottle in place, I took a Dremel rotary tool and removed the “lip” so the bottle would slide in easier. The 20-ounce Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Insulated Water Bottle retails for $28 and is available in several colors, including Black, White, Wild Raspberry, Blue, Gray and Brushed Stainless. This product comes with a lifetime warranty (see the Klean Kanteen Website for complete details).

Skratch Labs Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Hydration Mix

Now that you know how to keep your drinks from freezing during a ride, what drink is the best to use? I enjoy hydration mixes from both Skratch Labs and Osmo Hydration—most of the their drink mixes taste great either cold or at room temperature, but very few drink mixes taste good warm. Fortunately, Skratch Labs has recently introduced a new flavor that is designed for both winter and summer use, Apples and Cinnamon, and this mix tastes great when served cold and even better hot! When mixed with hot water the flavor reminds you of a cup of warm apple cider.

Another one of my favorite winter drinks on the bike is hot tea with honey. I always use decaffeinated tea because tea has a diuretic effect and that effect is compounded with caffeine (and when the temperature is well below zero you don’t want to stop to answer the call of nature any more than is absolutely necessary). This is one time when you don’t have to be shy about how much honey you add to the tea—you need the carbs!

Honey Stinger Chocolate Waffle, Certified Kosher and Organic

Honey Stinger Organic Chocolate Waffle

For several years I’ve taken Honey Stinger Waffles with me on nearly every bike ride and can’t imagine cycling without them. If you have not tasted a Stinger Waffle your life is sad and lacking. Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, these are the best tasting items you will ever consume on a bike! Each waffle has 160 calories, offers 21 grams of carbohydrates, are all organic and certified Kosher. Two packages of waffles take up about the same amount of room in your jersey pocket as a single Clif Bar. As the outside temperature drops these waffles become brittle. The best way to keep the waffles soft is to put them in a jersey pocket under your cycling jacket. When the temperature drops to below 20 degrees (which is most of the time in the winter) I put these waffles in my jacket pocket along with a chemical hand warmer. These waffles taste great at room temperature, but when you are riding on a snowy day and pull one out of your jacket that has been warmed up, well, you have a treat fit for a king!

Hammer Gel 26-Serving Jug and Flask

Hammer Gel 26-Serving Jug and 5-Ounce Flask

I don’t normally like using carb gels in the winter because they are too hard to open with gloves or mitts on—and I hate taking off my gloves before I get home from the ride. However, Hammer Gel not only sells their product in individual packages, but also a 26-serving jug of gel for $20 (this comes out to just .77¢ per serving). You can use the gel from the jug to fill your own flask—but the Hammer Gel 5-Ounce Flask is your best bet—it is made of high-density polyethylene and has molded finger tip groves. This flask is incredibly easy to use while on the bike—I can get the gel out faster from the flask than I ever could with a single-serving package. In addition, small packages usually spill a few drops of sticky gel into my jerseys, but the flask seals lock-tight and you won’t spill a drop! I have been carrying this flask in the vest pocket on my jacket—when it gets colder I’ll add a chemical hand warmer to the pocket.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Sports Nutrition, Winter Cycling

 

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First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement

If you are an endurance athlete you are probably already aware of the thirty-minute glycogen window that occurs immediately after strenuous exercise. This window of opportunity is when your insulin sensitivity is highest and your well-worked muscles will soak up nutrients like a sponge. If you consume a quality recovery drink within 30 minutes after a strenuous exercise your muscles will recover faster, you will build more muscle and shave off more fat during training. For several years I used chocolate milk as my recovery drink. However, after some medical problems earlier this year I decided to give up most dairy products which meant I had to find a new recovery drink. A few weeks ago I ordered six different name-brand recovery drinks and will be reviewing each of them over the next few months. The first recovery drink I tried was Ultragen Recovery Supplement by First Endurance.

First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement

First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement

First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement has 320 calories per 12-ounce serving. Each serving provides 20 grams of protein and 60 grams of carbohydrates. In addition to essential vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, Ultragen also contains Branch Chain Amino Acid (BCAAs), the building blocks of the human body, and L-Glutamine for muscle tissue repair. See the Supplement Facts on the label below for complete details.

First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement

Nutritional Information For First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Supplement

As you can see from the label, Ultragen uses whey protein isolate instead of soy protein isolate. For the life of me can’t figure out why any man would want to consume soy protein isolate since the isoflavones found in it promote estrogenic activity.

I was highly impressed by how well the Ultragen powder dissolved in water! Some recovery drinks just clump together at the bottom of the glass, but this powder completely dissolved into the water in just a few moments. in addition, this product has a mild taste and is easy to drink (I bought the Tropical Punch flavor). Better yet, it does not have an aftertaste like most other recovery drinks.

Ultragen Recovery Supplement retails for $45 for a 3-pound container (15 servings). I bought mine from Amazon.com for $37, so this works out to just under $2.50 per serving. OK, so this is not the cheapest recovery drink on the market—but it tastes great and works well!

Important note for serious athletes: According to the First Endurance website, all of their “supplements are legal to use in any sporting event governed by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), the US anti-doping association (USADA) and by the UCI (Union Cycliste International). One or more of the aforementioned governing bodies govern all US Cycling, International Cycling, US Triathlon and International Triathlon.”

 
 

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Kosher Food For Jewish Athletes

When I review carbohydrate gels, protein bars or other energy products for athletes I try to give as much information as possible about the food sensitivities of various groups. While I would make a horrible vegan, I still mention whether a food product is “vegan-friendly” or not. Recently I started following the Paleo Diet, but even when I didn’t I mentioned when foods were “gluten-free.” Even though I am not Jewish I try to point out what foods are Kosher. I am a frequent traveler to the Middle East and the only country where I ever feel safe eating the food is Israel because kosher foods are sanitary. However, for Jewish people kosher food is more than just sanitary—for them it is food that conforms to the dietary laws as described in the Torah. Recently a visitor to this website said that he thought there were only two companies that made Kosher energy products. However, I’ve written a lot of product reviews for energy products over the past few years and was certain there were other kosher energy products on the market. Therefore, I decided to put together a quick list of kosher energy products for the benefit of Jewish athletes.

Honey Stinger Energy Bars

Honey Stinger Energy Bars

My favorite manufacturer of energy products is Honey Stinger. According to their website, all Honey Stinger “protein and energy bars are Kosher certified” (OU-D). This includes the Honey Stinger Waffle (this stuff is great!) and the Honey Stinger Energy Bars.

Jelly Belly Sport Beans

Jelly Belly Sport Beans

A few years ago Jelly Belly, the world-famous manufacturer of jelly beans, came out with Jelly Belly Sport Beans, a nutritional product for athletes. Each one-ounce package of Jelly Belly Sport Beans has 100 calories. Every serving also provides 25 grams of carbohydrates, 80mg of sodium, 40mg of potassium, along with a small dose of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C. Their website says, “Both regular Sport Beans and Extreme Sport Beans® have received the respected certification of the Orthodox Union. Look for the OU Kosher symbol on our Sport Beans bags.”

Clif Bar Seasonal Flavors

Clif Bar Seasonal Flavors

I have been an avid consumer of Clif Bars for over ten years. Clif Bars are made with 70% organic ingredients, but without high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or artificial flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. I don’t know if all of their products are kosher, but their website has Pick & Choose ‘Em page where you can see a complete list of their kosher products (and it is a long list).

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix was developed by Allen Lim, PhD, a sport scientist and coach for a professional cycling team. He created this product “from scratch” because he thought he could improve on the usual pre-packaged hydration products that were already on the market. A 16-ounce serving of this mix has 80 calories and provides 20 grams of carbohydrates, along with 60mg of calcium, 45mg of magnesium, 310mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium. According to their website, “The food plant in which Skratch is processed is Kosher approved by The Scroll K—Vaad Hakashurs of Denver.”

Hammer Gel

Hammer Gel

As carbohydrate gels go, Hammer Gel is one of the least expensive gels on the market. The primary ingredient in Hammer Gel is maltodextrin, a long-chain complex carbohydrate—this provides for a steady release of carbs without the “sugar rush” found in some gels. According to their website, the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) has kosher-certified the following Hammer Nutrition products: Hammer Gel, HEED Perpetuem, Hammer Soy, and Sustained Energy. In addition, two of their products are Kosher Dairy Certified: Recoverite Hammer, and Whey Protein.

Pacific Health Laboratories has a complete line of sports drinks, energy gels and recovery products. According to their website the following products have OUD kosher certification: Accelerade, Accelearde Hydro and Endurox R4. However, Accel Gel, Endurox Excel, 2nd Surge, and Accel Recover are not kosher.

I’ve not written a review for this product yet, but Picky Bars are a wonderful new product for athletes! These energy bars are gluten-free and dairy-free. They have a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and are great on long bike rides! According to their website, these bars are “made in a facility that is dedicated gluten and dairy free—plus Kosher certified.”

 
12 Comments

Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Sports Nutrition

 

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Hüma Chia Energy Gel

Every time I travel out-of-town I try to stop at a bike shop or two just to see what they have in their display room. Most of the time I don’t find anything new, but occasionally I find a few hidden gems. A few weeks ago I stopped at a small bike shop in southern Indiana—they had all the usual items on display that you would expect to see in a small shop. However, just before I walked out the door I noticed that they had a few packages of an energy gel I’d never seen before, so I bought half a dozen packages to try. You probably have never heard of them before, but Hüma Chia Energy Gels are now one of my favorite carbohydrate gels for distance cycling.

Huma Chia Energy Gel

Hüma Chia Energy Gel

There are two things you need to know about Hüma Chia Energy Gels: First, they taste great, and second, they are all-natural. I love carbohydrate gels that have simple ingredients and are easy on the stomach—and Hüma Chia Energy Gels fit the bill perfectly! They start with fruit puree (either apple or strawberry), then add a bit of evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup for a nice glucose/fructose carbohydrate mix, and a bit of filtered water to smooth things out. They also have one ingredient I’ve never seen in an energy gel before—ground chia seeds. The chia seeds add a bit of fiber to the gel (2g per package), but more importantly they provide all nine essential amino acids in an easily digestible form. In addition, Hüma also adds a small amount of sea salt and citric acid to every gel.

One 43-gram package of Strawberry Hüma Chia Energy Gel will give you 100 calories with 110mg of sodium, 30mg of potassium, 1g of protein, and 21g of carbs. The Apples & Cinnamon Hüma Chia Energy Gel will provide you with 100 calories, 100mg of sodium, 20mg of potassium, 1g of protein, and 20g of carbs. In addition, both flavors will give you 895mg of Omega-3 fatty acids.

I already mentioned that these gels have a great taste, but I need to talk about their texture for a moment. Overall, the gel is very smooth. However, because of the ground chia seeds the gel is slightly gritty—about like you would expect if you ate fresh strawberry jam.

You probably won’t find Hüma Chia Energy Gels at your local bike shop (yet), but you can order them from the Hüma online store. A box of 24 gels retails for $54, plus $3 shipping for one box, or free shipping when you order two boxes or more. I realize that at $2.25 per package these gels are more expensive than most of the other gels on the market—I think this is a case of getting what you pay for. After I went through the six packs I bought in Indiana I bought a box of 24 and am certain I will be ordering more in the future as well.

 
 

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Convenience Store Cuisine For Cyclists

As a distance cyclist I burn over 1,000 calories an hour while riding and some of my rides last up to seven or eight hours. I normally try to consume 300 calories an hour while riding, so on some rides I consume around 2,500 calories. Most carbohydrate gels provide 80 to 100 calories per package and there is no way I want to carry 20 or more gel packs in my jersey pockets—even if I used a top-tube bag to store some of the packages. In addition, I normally drink 16 to 20 ounces of a hydration mix per hour and carrying seven bottles with me would definitely slow me down! Therefore, I try to plan some of my routes so I can pass by a convenience store or two along the way so I don’t have to carry everything with me (but this is not always possible). So, considering the limited choice of foods available at most convenience stores, what products make the most sense for cyclists?

My friend Randy with two popular products for cyclists!

My friend Randy with two popular products for cyclists!

Bananas. My first choice of food at a convenience store is a simple banana! An average sized banana has 105 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrates, and 422 mg of potassium. In addition, bananas are very easy to digest. Unfortunately, very few of the convenience stores in my area sell bananas!

Fig Newton Bars. A single 2-ounce package of Nabisco Fig Newton Bars has 200 calories with 40 grams of carbohydrates. They also provide 220 mg of sodium, 115 mg of sodium and 2 grams of protein. Under normal circumstances I would never eat a Nabisco Fig Newton Bar since they also have white flour and high fructose corn syrup. However, when it comes to convenience store cuisine they are probably the best thing you can find in the store!

Raisins. A handful of raisins is packed with vitamins, electrolytes, anti-oxidants, and minerals—and they are a great source of energy! A one-ounce box of raisins has 84 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrates. They also will give you 210 mg of potassium.

Beef Jerky. Anna, a young lady ride with during the summer, convinced me to start eating beef jerky a couple of years ago on a really long, hot ride. I was hesitant at first, mainly because I thought beef jerky wouldn’t digest as easily as the food I normally eat on a ride. However, a one-ounce package of Jack Link’s Peppered Beef Steak Jerky has 130 calories, along with 26 grams of protein and 1470 mg of sodium. Since there are only 1.5 grams of fat in a package of beef jerky it does not negatively impact digestion while cycling. By the way, I normally try to start consuming a bit of protein about two hours into any bike ride anyway.

Gatorade. When I leave home for a bike ride my water bottles are filled with Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, a drink mix developed by Allen Lim, PhD, a sport scientist and former coach for a professional cycling team. I try to take enough packages of the Skratch powder with me so I can fill all the water bottles I need on a ride—all I need is a couple of bottles of plain water at the store. However, if you don’t use Skratch then you might want to try Gatorade. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 130 calories and 34 grams of carbohydrates. Each bottle also has 270 mg of sodium and 80 mg of potassium.

Natural String Cheese. Here is another product that Anna convinced me try during a long bike ride. Personally, I really didn’t like it, but for those of you on a high-protein diet it might be a good choice. A one-ounce stick of Kraft Natural Mozzarella String Cheese has 80 calories and 7 grams of protein.

A shelf full of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals

A shelf full of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals

Whatever convenience store cuisine you decide to buy you need to look at the label first and see if the product is in agreement with your overall health plan. Some of the “healthy looking” bars are simply garbage—they are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and more chemicals than you’ll find in a high school chemistry class!

What’s your favorite package of convenience store cuisine?

 

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Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Protein Bars

At the moment I have over 40 boxes of carbohydrate gels, chews, blocks and bars in the kitchen cabinet (out of the goodness of her heart my wife gave me one cabinet to call my own). You can save a lot of money by buying in bulk and I usually order six or more boxes at a time—and since I use 30 to 40 packs a week they don’t have time to expire. While I use several different brands of carbohydrate gels, the majority of the boxes in my cabinet are from Honey Stinger—I take some of their products with me on every single ride I take! A few weeks ago the folks at Honey Stinger were kind enough to send me a few samples of two of their new flavors and I thought this would be a perfect time to tell you about some of their products.

Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Protein Bars

Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Protein Bars

One of the new flavors they’ve introduced is the Cherry Cola Honey Stinger Energy Chews. At first, I was a bit hesitant to try this flavor because the Cherry Cola flavor is hard to achieve—several companies have tried cola flavors but most of them have been rather disappointing. However, Honey Stinger hit the mark with this one. Even if you were blindfolded, just one bite and you would know what the flavor was supposed to be. The individual  “chews” are fairly small (about the size of a stack of three nickles) and are 95% to 100% organic. There are ten pieces per package and one package has 160 calorie and has 39 grams of carbohydrates, 100% of the RDA of vitamin C, and a small dose of electrolytes. These chews are gluten-free, dairy free and contain no trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Honey Stinger sells these energy chews in several other flavors, including Cherry Blossom (my favorite), Orange Blossom, Fruit Smoothie, and Pomegranate Passion Fruit, and Lime-Ade. The Cherry Cola and the Lime-Ade flavors have 30mg of caffeine per serving.

While I keep several brands of carbohydrate products on my shelves, you will only find one brand of protein bars there for after a ride—Honey Stinger Protein Bars! Cyclists often eat protein bars immediately after a ride to aid in muscle recovery. The problem is that most protein bars are simply dreadful! However, the Honey Stinger Protein Bars are so delicious you will find yourself craving them—and they contain 10g of whey protein per bar. When I am running late in the morning I eat these bars for breakfast, and they are my favorite snack at the movies. One warning: the chocolate layer on the outside of these bars has a low melting point, so don’t leave them in a hot car or the chocolate will melt (it will still taste good though).

The Honey Stinger Protein Bars are available in five flavors: Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond, Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond, Dark Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Coated Peanut Butta, and their newest flavor, a caffeinated Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry. I am not a coffee drinker so the Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry didn’t really appeal to me—I tried it and it has a mild coffee flavor that would not be my first choice. I gave a bar to two coffee drinkers and they both loved it. So, if you are not a coffee drinker, try the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond bar—it is simply awesome (and the only flavor I buy anymore).

The ingredients for each of these protein bars varies slightly, so I will just give the ingredients list for the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond: Semisweet Dark Chocolate [Evaporated Cane Juice, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Soya Lecithin, and Vanilla]; Organic Honey; Whey Protein Isolate; Almond Butter; Dried Sour Cherries (Cherries, Apple Juice, Sunflower Oil); Almonds; Vitamins & Minerals [Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (Vit C), Alpha-tocopherol Acetate (Vit E), Biotin, Zinc Oxide, Niacin, Ferrous Fumarate (Iron), Molybdenum Glycinate, Calcium Pantothenate, Copper, Manganese, Beta Carotene (Vit A), Selenium, Pyridoxine (B6), Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Chromium, Cyanocobolamin (B12), Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide]; and Natural Flavor.

Honey Stinger also makes two of my other favorite cycling products, the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels (I love the Acai & Pomegranate flavor) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffles (chocolate is my favorite here). I am not a tofu-eating vegetarian. However, when given a choice, I will choose organic food every time. This is especially true when it comes to the food I eat while cycling. I’ve found that natural ingredients are easily digested and quickly absorbed into the body. Energy gels that contain a lot of chemicals make me feel uncomfortable while cycling.

Honey Stinger products are available in many sporting good stores, such as R.E.I., Dick’s Sporting Goods and The Sports Authority and from the Honey Stinger website. I’ve also purchased them at several grocery stores, but they often do not carry all the flavors. Bon appetit.

 

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2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gel

Hopefully you’ve gotten the word by now that on long bike rides you need to consume protein in addition to carbohydrates if you want to avoid muscle and brain fatigue (better known to cyclists as bonking or hitting the wall). To paraphrase a familiar verse of the Bible, “Cyclists do not live by carbohydrates alone.” One of the easiest ways to get the needed protein is to buy a carbohydrate gel with protein already in it. Unfortunately, most energy gels that include protein taste rather dreadful. A couple of years ago PacificHealth Laboratories (the creators of Accelerade) introduced 2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gel and it not only tastes great, but has carbohydrates, electrolytes, proteins, caffeine and antioxidants.

2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gel

2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gel

I always carry a few packages of 2nd Surge with me on longer rides. The truth is that I was hooked with the first package I tried! The chocolate gel is very smooth and has a rich chocolate flavor. Most (but not all) of the other chocolate gels I’ve tried over the years tasted like artificial chocolate, but 2nd Surge is the real deal. Each package of 2nd Surge has 90 calories and includes 18g of carbohydrate, 3g of protein and 100mg of caffeine.

2nd Surge is an all-natural energy gel. I hate giving a long list of ingredients in a product review, but the ingredient list in 2nd Surge is rather impressive. The ingredients include: Agave Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Evaporated Cane Sugar, Water, Whey Protein Isolate, Glycerin, Pea Protein Isolate, Cocoa, Natural Flavors, Green Tea Extract, d-alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Salt, Grape, Pomegranate, Mangosteen, Goji Berry, Blueberry, Chokeberry, Cranberry, Apple and Bilberry Extracts.

At the moment this product is only available in two flavors: Chocolate and Double Expresso. I love the chocolate gel and the local bike shop always keeps it in stock for me. For the record, I did not try the Double Expresso, mainly because I have never been a fan of any food product that has the word expresso (or espresso) in the title. I hope PacificHealth Laboratories adds a few new flavors before long.

A box of eight packages of 2nd Surge retails for $16 and is available on the PacificHealth Laboratories Website. On the other hand, you could just have your local bike shop order it for you—you will pay the same price but will save the cost of shipping. In addition, your local bike shop might be willing to keep this product in stock for you as well!

 

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