Endurance and Recovery Products, Tested and Reviewed
On a recent mountain biking trip to Arizona and Colorado, we biked 7 days in a row at one point in Arizona, took a couple of days off to sight-see around the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, and then biked 6 more days in a row in Colorado. Summer heat. Rocky, technical terrain. Elevation. We knew we were going to need to take extra care of our bodies to be able to keep riding day after day, especially in those—sometimes, rather extreme--conditions. So we took along several different endurance and recovery products to use for ourselves to test and review.
We only used these products for ourselves, and sometimes only a couple of times, so this is by no means an exhaustive—and in no way clinical—review. This is just a quick rundown of our experiences.
Skratch Labs Fruit Drops
Jay: It's pretty simple to make an energy drink, gel, or chew taste good, since they are almost all carbs. But Skratch has taken taste to a whole new level of great with their Fruit Drops. Sometimes when I have the munchies, I have to keep myself from digging into my hydration pack when it's sitting in the closet at the house.
James: Why should these little drops be added to your “almost” essential packing list? One word: TASTY! These fruit drops are scrumdiddlyumptious, all the while still providing you with a burst of energy. Skratch is a little more expensive than some other brands, but the taste is one of a kind. As a former psychology student, I know that having a reward that you can really look forward to will boost your morale and encourage you to push a little harder. Skratch Labs Fruit Drops do just that. They provide you with encouragement to bike faster and then give you a boost of energy to continue onward.
Jay: To be honest, I'm not really a big fan of gel products. No disrespect to Gu, which more or less came up with the concept, but the texture of gel products just doesn't sit well with me. I did use them quite a bit back in the day when I was racing some, but for everyday long rides the past few years I've generally used other products. So, when I say that I'm not a big fan of Gu gel products, I hope that you'll understand the context. That said, the Gu gel that I used on these long, grueling rides, did really help. They really did give a nice burst of energy when I needed it. In fact, I should have taken more of them than I did. I would often wait too long until I was about to bonk before grabbing one of these small packets. So, while I'm not a fan of the gooey texture, they are simple and convenient energy supplements that do what they say they will do.
James: Okay, okay... I'll admit that these are not necessarily the best tasting things in the world, but they do provide all of the essential ingredients that one needs while mountain biking (besides water of course). Tried and tested true over the years, these gel packs have stood the test of time and are still kicking. Being honest though, the reason I might pack these in my bag over something else is the price and unique experience. By unique experience, I meant that these gel packs make you feel like a kid again; it's almost like discovering the twist-off plastic bottle tops again.
Clif Shot Blocks
Jay: For years I've carried around a pack or two of Clif Shot Blocks in my hydration pack for those times I feel like I'm about to bonk. I've liked them for their convenience and taste. I mean, it's basically just simple carbs so it should taste great, right? A quick burst of energy definitely follows. They are more chewy than Skratch Labs Fruit Drops, which have become my go-to favorite for quick energy. Clif Shot Blocks are now a close second.
James: These blocks are about the only other snack I would put on the same taste level as the Skratch Labs Fruit Drops. Blocks is the name, and that's just about what they look, like little cubes of utter yumminess. As far as gummies go, Clif Shot Blocks are a little tougher to chew, not like beef jerky or anything, but it feels like you are chewing something a bit more substantial than a gummy.
Jay: This was my first time trying any product from EFS (Electrolyte Fuel System). On the package, the EFS gel is a more complete energy and endurance nutrition. The texture of EFS certainly seems like it's full and loaded. I mean, this is thick stuff. Thick as in hard to swallow, pasty, with a taste that's as strong as it is thick. You're going to feel like you'll want to chug a liter of water to get this stuff down. We carried along the vanilla flavor and some sort of berry. To be honest, we never got past the vanilla. Bottom line is, if you want to try EFS you've got to keep in mind that this is more than a simple carb and electrolite mix.
James: Oooohhhhh boy! This stuff will determine if you really need the extra boost or not. This is the stuff you take when you need nutrients. The taste is not anywhere near my favorite, and the texture reminds me of Pepto Bismo. It is a thick, pasty texture that leaves a taste in your mouth for the next five miles or so. However, that being said, EFS gel is what you use when you are spent, and you still have a ways to go. Compared to other endurance/recovery products, EFS gel has to be near the tip top for everything it packs into that gel. Nutriton, nutrition, nutrition.
Jay: The standard, default, on the go nutrition. Tons of flavors to choose from. Great tasting long lasting carbs. Probably not the best, though, for that quick shot while on the trail. Use a gel for that. But if you're stopping for a few minutes for a more substantial snack, Cliff Bars should be at the top of your list.
James: For some, these will be a deliverance sent straight from god, and for others, you may have to acquire the taste. Overall, Clif Bars are a lighter, not really filling, grab and go food supplement. They are relatively soft (I could eat them with braces just fine), and put enough in your stomach to hold you over to your next meal.
ProBar Fuel Bar
Jay: ProBar Fuel Bar is a great alternative to Cliff Bar for a more substantial snack on the go or for a pre ride snack. They are loaded with fruit chunks and are softer to chew than Cliff Bars. I haven't used these enough to sort through the different flavors, but the blueberry ones I got were great. I'll definitely be trying more of these soon.
James: These bars have a unique texture because of their composition. They taste okay and are basically a Cliff Bar replacement.
Skratch Labs Recovery Drink Mix
Jay: For anyone who says that they don't like the taste or texture of protein drinks, they should give Skratch Labs Recovery Drink a try. It's hard to imagine anything with powdered protein in it tasting better. Of course, it also has a lot of carbs for post ride recovery, and I always took this right after a long ride, so that certainly helps account for the fact that I absolutely loved drinking it. It comes in a soft pouch rather than a giant tub, so you could try it out for yourself without making a huge investment, and I would highly recommend that you do try this after a hard ride or training session.
James: The best tasting recovery drink ever, no doubt. As sexy as a vanilla milkshake. You'll want it again and again. But remember, it is packed with protein and a bunch of other stuff that is good for you if you take it when you need it... keyword: need. You cannot drink this all the time, for every meal, unless you are working out and pushing yourself like crazy.
Jay: You need quick digesting nutrients after a hard ride, and chocolate milk is a viable choice. In fact, there are actually several studies that suggest that chocolate milk after a hard training session is about as good for you as an expensive protein/carb supplement.
James: It isn't quite as good for you as a protein shake, but it will still get you there. This is a cheaper alternative to protein shakes that we all know and love already.
Met-Rx Big 100 Colossal Super Cookie Crunch Protein Bar
Jay: The Met-Rx Big 100 Bar is really a meal replacement with several hundred calories and 32 grams of protein. We used these in between meals to help ensure that we were getting enough protein with all the hard miles we were putting in. As far as protein bars go, I'd say these are easily the best tasting.
James: This is basically a brownie packed with protein that can replace a meal for you. With 32 grams of protein, Met-Rx Big 100 Colossal Super Cookie Crunch Protein Bar is no joke. It is quite filling, unless you are starving (like after biking 20+ miles). Otherwise, this bar will keep you over until your next meal pretty easily.
Core Power Protein Shake
Jay: The Core Power Protein Shake has a light texture and mild taste, very close to milk itself. I would drink these occasionally in between meals for the protein boost, and they're pretty easy to find in convenience stores.
Muscle Milk Original Protein Shake
Jay: Not my favorite at all, and I generally like protein drinks. Muscle Milk is pretty thick, and I've never warmed up to the taste.
James: Not the best taste in the world by far, but it is available at almost every convenience store.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
Jay: The classic PB & J sandwich is actually a great for post exercise recovery. It combines a good ratio of protein, carbs, and healthy fats. It also works well as a pre-workout meal. Just give yourself enough time for digestion to get started before hitting the trail. We made PB & J's a staple of our pre-ride meals most days. Simple, inexpensive, and effective.
James: The quick and easy, gotta go, but want somewhat real food solution. Everyone grew up on these. Healthier, leaner peanut butter is available, as well as less sugary jelly.