Trial by Muesli Bar!

My friend was drowned in a bowl of muesli – He was pulled in by a strong currant! (Sorry, bad dad joke!)

So why would an Endurance athlete be doing a post on Museli bars? No I’m not being sponsored! (at least not yet 🙂 )

It’s just I had some interesting anecdotes (well at least I think they are interesting, lol) that came out of my recent MdS nutrition trial.

For those of you that read my previous post MdS Nutrition Trial – Success, but don’t light a match!, you’ll know that I’ve been trialling different nutrition strategies for next years Marathon Des Sables.

One of the issues I’ve had in long distance training and long distance events is that things such as gels, energy drinks etc don’t sit well with me after a few hours of exercise. GI discomfort and to be frank feeling downright off had become a bit of a bugbear of mine, so I’d started looking for alternatives.

Interestingly I shouldn’t be that surprised that Gels don’t work, my Genetic Profile would suggest that I’m in a high risk group for Carbohydrate sensitivity and should stay away from refined sugars. (Yes that is an unreserved plug for the Genetic testing for Athletes company I run DNAeX. 🙂 ) So over time I’ve moved away from sports supplements when training/racing and moved to more natural foods such as Bananas, Dates, Nuts etc.

Of course for MdS taking perishable food isn’t really an option when running 250km+ through the Sahara desert, so I’ve been trialling Muesli bars in conjunction with some other dehydrated foods (As a sidenote I’ve found a great local supplier of Beef Jerky, but more on that another day)

Anyway, finding the right Muesli bar for my trial actually turned into a bit of a trial in it’s own right. At the supermarket there are so many different brands, different flavours and sizes that looking at the nutrition labels on the boxes wasn’t really an option. So Janette (my lovely wife) simply bought a box of each type of bar on offer. I have to admire her courage, turning up to the counter with a dozen boxes with around 60 odd bars in them not only looked strange but also put a significant dent in the family food budget for the week.

So, in my bag of goodies I got quite a few different types of bars, from different manufacturers and for a week I lived on these bars during the day and when training. Not what I would recommend for a long term healthy nutritional program, but hey, there is nothing normal about running across the Sahara mid summer.

For me there were a a couple of criteria that I need to fulfil in choosing the right bar.

  1. kJ/Gram is important. I need to cram in as many calories as possible for the lowest possible weight as I have to carry a weeks worth of food on my back whilst running.
  2. The bar has to be filling. I definitely don’t want to eat something then be starving hungry a few minutes later
  3. It should hold together well in high temperatures (Luckily I had quite a few 35C training days on the week I trialled this)
  4. It has to taste good, or at the very least, palatable

And as you can see from the list below, I trialled quite a few options.

Manufacturer Name Weight (g) Energy (kJ) Energy (kJ)/Gram Notes
Be Natural Nut Delight 40 890 22.25
Go Natural Nut Delight Original 35 741 21.17
Carmens Roasted Nut 37 753 20.35
Thankyou Nut & Chia Bar 35 711 20.31
Thankyou Sea Salt & Caramel 40 812 20.30
Runners Kitchen Amaze Energy Bar 50 840 16.80
Uncle Tobys Choc Chip 31.3 510 16.29
Uncle Tobys Apricot 31.3 480 15.34
Goodness Superfoods Cranberry & Vanilla 35 532 15.20
Goodness Superfoods Apple & Honey 35 506 14.46

What became immediately apparent was that there were two pretty distinct groups in the Energy/Gram competition. Those around 20-22kJ/g and those in the 14-16.8g range.

If I start with those in the lower group, (Uncle Tobys and Goodness Superfoods) it was immediately apparent when running that they simply didn’t cut the mustard (or the oat bar). Neither were particularly satisfying and I still felt hungry after having one. The Uncle Tobys bars (as a sidetone UT use the marketing slogan, Ironman food) also simply fell apart in the heat. There is nothing worse than being ravenous and seeing half your bar drop on the floor as it collapsed on the way from my hand to my mouth. (and I have a big mouth). In fact by the time I was half way into my run, the cardboard box they came in looked particularly tempting.

The real surprise (in a negative way) in this group was the Runners Kitchen – Amaze Energy Bar, this is a bar that is marketed to runners as an alternative to Gels, but for some reason, they simply didn’t agree with me. Instant indigestion, when eating them and running. This was a real shame as Runners Kitchen is a local company that really prides itself on using wholesome ingredients. I also know that quite a few runners love them. But for me they didn’t sit well and the energy/g was pretty low.

Which then brings me to the top bars in the group. ‘Be Natural’, ‘Go Natural’, ‘Carmens’ & ‘Thankyou’, all have a good energy rating and all were pretty good to run with. If I was to get really picky, the Go Natural nuts were chopped a bit too fine for my liking and I didn’t really find them as satisfying as some of the competition. The ‘Be Natural’ bars on the other hand have full nuts and lots of them. I’ve run on them quite a bit over the past couple of years and found them to be both satisfying and they seem to give lots of energy. Sometimes they do get a bit chewy and hard to eat, but hey you can’t have it all.

But the real surprise of the group was the Thankyou bars. I’d never heard of this company before doing this trial and they are definitely a new player on the block who donate part of their earnings to food aid around the world. I certainly applaud the philanthropy, but it was the quality of their bar that also blew me away. They held together well, were easy to eat, tasted really good, but most important of all the energy boost seemed to go on for ages after having one AND I simply didn’t feel hungry or unsatisfied at all.

So what does this mean for MdS next year? Obviously I’m not going to run just on Muesli Bars and they are only going to form part of my nutrition plan, but I’m now pretty settled on taking a number of my favourites.

Number 1 on the list will be the ‘Thankyou – Nut & Chia’ bars

Number 2 ‘Be Natural’ – Deluxe Nut Bar

Number 3 ‘Carmens’ – Roasted Nut

Next step – Beef Jerky! Wish me luck……..