Not that long ago, fueling a longer ride seemed to be all about things like gummy chews, sticky goos, and sickly sweet drinks colored by chemical dyes that, after an extended ride, could actually end up upsetting your stomach. Sure, some of us went the banana/fig newton/water route, but let’s face it — a lot of us downed stuff with colors, tastes, and “energy” provided by a long list of artificial ingredients.
But just like fast-food restaurants have suddenly started to pare down their ingredient lists to simpler, real-food choices, athletic foods and drinks have begun to blaze their own natural path.
Probably the biggest proponents of natural foods in recent years have been Dr. Allen Lim and chef Biju Thomas of Skratch Labs. Lim had extensive history working with high-profile pro teams, and famously switched riders over to a homemade drink mix that avoided chemicals and artificial flavors and colors in favor of minimal, natural ingredients. Example? Guzzle some Skratch and that raspberry or orange you taste is the result of freeze-dried fruit powder, not some sketchy flavoring. (Want sketchy? Google “castoreum.”) When it came to food, the pair elected not to produce a packaged product, but instead write a cookbook, teaching riders how to make goodies like homemade sushi rice cakes. I’ve tried several recipes, as has contributor Don Blount (https://bikenoob.com/2012/07/19/sushi-rice-cakes). They’re pretty easy to make, and allow you to include things like eggs, bacon, soy sauce or liquid aminos to satisfy salty cravings, or go a sweet route with berries and chocolate chips. When Skratch ultimately did come out with their first packaged food product this year it was actually a cookie mix. Add an egg and a stick of butter, toss in chocolate chips or your favorite fruit, and you could actually power your ride not with a gel or goo, but with cookies. Turns out with the right ingredients they’re not all that different from energy bars, and with fewer ingredients, easier to digest.
Even pure maple syrup has become a contender. Pro cyclist Ted King touts its combination of electrolytes, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins — and yes, carbs — as the perfect natural energy source in his gel alternative, Untapped Maple.
The food giants haven’t been immune to the trend. Clif recently released an “organic energy food” made from natural ingredients. Flavors include savory/salty mixes like Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato with Sea Salt, or sweet choices like Banana Beet with Ginger and Banana Mango with Coconut. The consistency is kind of like baby food or apple sauce. But many people will note that, like Lim’s savory rice cakes, the salty choices actually hit the spot quite well on a long ride. And who isn’t occasionally interested in something sweet?
One reason to go the organic route, whether homemade or packaged, is that the results typically have a much higher moisture content. Your body will more quickly absorb energy, as water won’t be robbed from your body for digestion. By their very nature, real-food products are also easier to digest.
An interesting note? As companies like Clif have embraced organic offerings, Skratch just recently released its first pre-packaged product — a gummy fruit drop that takes aim at products like Clif’s Shot Bloks or Honey Stinger’s Energy Chews. Skratch avoids the carnauba wax that companies like Clif use in their gummy blocks, and the flavor, like the drink, is provided by actual fruit. Still, it’s a notable departure.
How about you, are you still guzzling Gatorade and eating Crayola-color gummies, or do you fuel yourself with “real” drink and food choices? Have some experiences, or even recipes to share? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.
Here are some of the healthier options mentioned in this post.
100% natural, pure organic Vermont Maple Syrup packed and ready to roll on any adventure.
For anyone who’s had a crazing for savory/salty food during an epic day in the saddle, Clif Organic Energy Food has just the vittles you desire.