Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Great Goo Review

(UPDATED EDIT : GU has revamped their formula and their products are NOW VEGAN! This is awesome and I’m glad they made the change. I believe the Roctane drink powder they create is still not vegan, but everything else is, so we can stop avoiding them on this basis. I have been given a package of new products to try and will be reviewing them on the blog soon. Respect to GU for changing their formula.)

(Edit : It was brought to my attention that Gu uses animal-derived amino acids and is actually not vegan. BAH! This little reveal has created quite a stir and discussion on Facebook. If you feel inclined, I would email GU and request they switch to non-animal ingredients for their gel. Until they change…cease buying and using GU)

I don’t know if I’m writing this post because I want to offer my observations on easy long run fueling or just because I really wanted to use that post title. Either way…

One of the most important aspects of my ultra training has been trying to figure out the easiest and most sufficient fueling for my longer runs (especially in this heat) and race preparations. With this in mind I’ve been trying out all the various energy gels available, hoping to find a solid fit for the type of running I’ve been doing and the following are my observations on the four following goos, all of which I’ve tested extensively.

Gooby dooby do!

First, let me clarify this. Regarding the nutritional content of these….there is really very minimal differences overall. I can’t imagine any of them being detrimental to a run in anyway, but there are some small things that separate one from the other, which I’ll touch on later. Mores so, I want to address some logistical differences between each brand, maybe giving you something to consider in your choice one way or another. So let’s look at the contender’s shall we?

Hammer Gel

First off is the often relied upon Hammer Gel in it’s clever hammer head die-cut logo packaging, boasting natural ingredients and offering the smallest sugar content (3g) of all the gels.

Clif Shot

Next up is Clif Shot with its eco-conscious “litter leash” packaging, natural and organic ingredients with comparable nutritional content as the rest.

PowerBar Energy

Sporting nothing clever in its packaging, the big name Power Bar steps in with a little power pack of hyped and trademarked ingredient names and scientifically dialed nutritional content.

Gu

Finally, the conveniently tiny package with the name that inspired this post, Gu steps up with it’s own sugary, energy packed concoction.

The Packaging

Like I said, I think the logistics of the gels are more important to me than the nutritional content (with one exception) as they are mostly comparable in that category anyways, so first I want to touch on the effectiveness of the packaging.

Hammer Gel – The die-cut hammer on top is a cute little attention grabber….but it’s also unnecessary plastic that has a very difficult time fitting into either the tiny pocket in my running shorts or the zip pocket on my water bottle. Of all the packages, this is the most cumbersome and I loath trying to fit more than one on my person, lest I pin them to the inside of my shorts. Hammer Gel fails in this category severely.

Clif Shot – That “litter leash” doo dad I mentioned earlier is brilliant. Not only is the packaging designed with a tiny slit for easy tearing, it’s also connected in one piece, that if you are gentle with, you can keep intact, therefore making it incredibly easy to roll up and stow for later disposal. There is nothing more annoying than either dropping the torn off top only to stop and pick up like the good trail steward you are or trying to hold onto the tiny thing while you stuff both it and the rest of the packaging away for later. On the downside, the packaging is a touch too wide for my tastes, and as I’ve discovered the hard way, when I try to squeeze out the last bits with my mouth I inevitably end up CUTTING the corners of my mouth. I actually emailed Clif about this and they suggested I try using their Clif Bloks instead. NOT helpful, but thanks. The litter leash really is great, but the size and viciousness of the rest of the packaging is a bit of a turn off.

PowerBar Energy – Although the same size as a Clif Shot package, which is to say just a TOUCH too big, the actual material feels thinner and seems a little less abrasive to my mouth when I try to get those precious morsels of liquid sugar from its insides. I don’t recall any abrasions from the PowerBar brand. On the other hand, the opening tab has no slit and is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get off sometimes. If you don’t get in deep with your teeth on the first tear, something happens to the packaging that makes it harder to get open then a bag of vaccummed packed potato chips. They REALLY need to work on that. I’ve actually resorted to cutting a small slit into the packaging myself in order to get it to function right.

Gu – The downside to the Gu package is it’s tiny little opening tab that separates from the rest of the package and must be held onto tightly before it flitters away down the trail. The upside and it’s strongest point is its size. This is perfect and I wish every gel would find a way to condense their sizes to Gu proportions as I can easily fit 3 of these suckers into my little shorts pocket and plenty in other pockets I may have on me at the time. Gu takes the slimy, sugary cake in this category.

Consistency

When you’ve been running for 15, 20, 25 miles, sometimes the last thing you want is more sugary mess hanging around your taste buds. Taking this stuff in is delicious initially, but soon you just want the energy and not the sweet taste…and the consistency becomes very important in this matter.

Hammer Gel – Nothing stands out with Hammer Gel in this category and seems to hit a relative middle ground among the other options. It’s not watery by any means, but it’s also not like doing shots of molasses either. It’s simply sufficient.

Clif Shot – I really don’t mind the consistency of Clif Shots even if they are on the thicker side of the spectrum as I’ve found a tiny swig of water liquifies it quickly and gets it down your throat in a hurry. I have noticed that if you don’t get it down quick enough, you’ll have a film of sugary mess on the roof of your mouth that you may have to scrape off and down with another swig of water…or you could just keep it up there and save it for a little more energy later on.

PowerBar Energy – And here we have our winner. These gels are so liquidy that you could accidently pour it down your chin if you weren’t being careful taking it in. You can feel how thin and watery it is in the package alone, and as expected it goes in and down as quick as you can run. Nothing beats PowerBar Energy in this category.

Gu – There is a reason they call it Gu…it’s gooey. I started out on Gu’s as energy gels and so didn’t know any better, but after trying all the others this stuff has the thickness of state fair taffy. Even a swig of water takes some time to dilute it to a swallowable substance. This has become my least favorite gel to take in as a significant portion gets left on the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat. They need to reconfigure this pronto.

Taste

I first considered doing an espresso flavored goo taste rundown (maybe another post), but this is probably more relevant to you….

Hammer Gel – Meh. Hammer Gel continues to be the lackluster gel in this rundown and the flavor is no different. It’s nothing terrible, but nothing great either. The flavors aren’t overwhelmingly awesome and just don’t leave me with much to talk about. Sorry.

Clif Shot – I have yet to come across a Clif Shot flavor I don’t like. They are a touch on the too sweet side due to their brown rice syrup base (some of them anyways – this one is cane juice), but I can tolerate them all. I have yet to find a more authentic espresso flavor than their offering.

PowerBar Energy – Again, taking the lead in this category is PowerBar. There is a considerable sweetness to their flavors, but I think that is to overpower the heightened Sodium content, and the consistency brings the flavor down quick so you aren’t overwhelmed by the sweetness. It hits you hard and fast and then is gone. These are just fantastic.

Gu – I’ve got nothing bad to say about Gu flavors. They are realistic and not too fake tasting, sufficiently sweet and not too bland. I just wish they didn’t stick around for so long.

Sugar, Stuff, Sugar, Stuff, Sugar.

Nutrition

How different can a goo be really? They are quick bursts of sugary energy in a small package. No matter how far or fast you are running, they are essentially going to do the same things. You can’t creative massive gap between products this small…but somehow one of these did, which I’ll explain below.

Hammer Gel – Maybe it’s marketing, but I’m surprised Hammer Gel is most often used as the aid station gel at most races. It ranks lowest among these for calorie content (90 calories), lowest in sodium (35mg) and lowest in carbs (22g). The only benefit it has is having the lowest sugar content (3g), but considering the nature and context of its usage, I don’t necessarily think that is a good thing either. I doubt it would be bonk inducing, but it doesn’t stand out either.

Clif Shot – Offering the standard 100 calories and 24 g carbs, Clif Shots only stand out in potassium levels, which I don’t think matter all that much for endurance training/racing…in the moment anyways. Clif Shot is simply sufficient and on par with the rest of the energy gel field.

PowerBar Energy – I guess all their nutritional science has given them the edge as they came through with another superior product in this category. Offering 110 calories in calories, they lead the pack on this one. The also own in carbs topping out at 27 g. The selling point for me though, and why I ultimately switched to PowerBar Energy gels over all the rest is the Sodium content, coming in at a whopping 200 mg where everyone else peaks at twice as less, Clif Shot coming the closest at 90 mg. If you’ve been running in this heat wave, you know how important it is keeping your sodium levels stable through all this excessive sweating. This is, among other fueling, the best bonk prevention you are going to get and sold me on PowerBar Energy for good.

Gu – Again, remaining entirely sufficient for fueling needs, but offering nothing standout, Gu comes in at 100 calories, 50mg sodium and 25g carbs.

Conclusion

If I could create a voltron of Goos, it would look like this. It would be the size of of a Gu package, it would have the “litter leash” of a Clif Shot, it would the flavor of a PowerBar Energy (unless it was espresso, then we would revert back to Clif Shots), it would have the consistency of a PowerBar Energy as well as the nutritional content of a PowerBar Energy. And we would rule the universe with sugary goodness.

So, although PowerBar Energy scores the most points and is now the energy gel I seek out far and wide, all the other gels have their own special characteristics I envy too…well…except for Hammer Gel. What good is that stuff really, unless maybe you need to pound down a dangerous twig protruding from the trail…then you could use that clevery cut hammer packaging for something of use.

So there you have it…the Great Goo Review. But don’t take my word for it, talk to someone who gets paid to promote the stuff.

 

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Credit where credit is due.

Is veganism the secret to superior athletic performance?

I’ve noticed a new trend sweeping through both the vegan and athletic communities that inadvertently poses this line of questioning and has left me quite confused, because the answer seems obvious.

No…it’s not.

Whatever individual benefits an athlete gets from changing their diet, whether that is in a way of eating that is more in tune with their biological processes (gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, etc.) or just switching from energy sapping junk food to energy giving health food, the evidence that an herbivorous diet will bring about massive athletic accomplishments is simply unfounded, or marginal at best. The evidence lies in the record books at least. Search through all the record holders in every running distance and tell me which ones are vegans. The fact that mind-blowing paces can be set at distances from 5000 meters to ultramarathons by athletes eating animal products disproves that, as some are trying to posit, omnivorous eating is detrimental to ones health. This is simply not true. One can eat animal products and succeed in both health and athletics. For most, this is kind of a “duh” statement, so why would I even bring this up?

I bring this seemingly obvious statement up because I continue to come across vegan advocates that are relying on the success of vegan athletes to promote herbivorous eating from an exaggerated and illogical standpoint. They either point to the accomplishments of other vegan athletes (or those who have made the change recently) or to themselves as examples of how superior veganism is to other diets, when the same tactic could be used to convince people to eat animal products. It’s an incredibly short-sighted persuasive tactic that I fear does 2 things to the promotion of veganism.

1. I fear it sets people up for failure, in that if they DON’T see athletic progress after switching to a vegan diet, even if they follow it appropriately and get all the nutrients they need, then they’ll bail on the effort all together….and become less willing to consider trying it again in the future. Ultimately, the animals suffer.

2. This new promotion of veganism as an athletic booster, although slyly benefitting the lives of animals, continues to keep the whole ethical discussion of the treatment of animals out of the picture almost entirely, and puts the focus of veganism’s benefits on much shakier ground.

Let’s address both of these points more in depth. Regarding number 1, specifically distance running, veganism will not make you fast. Period. Does eating a diet more focused on athletic pursuits make you a better athlete? Of course it does, and often this involves eating close, closer or entirely to a vegan diet, but that does not mean veganism is a magical dietary bullet that will shave minutes off your mile paces…because it won’t. Your diet is an asset to your athletics, not the foundation. Do you want to know how to get faster as a runner?

Hard, consistent training….and good genetics. That’s it.

I’m telling you this from the standpoint of a long time vegan (almost 17 years), an athlete with enough accomplishment to garner some credibility on the matter (sucker), and a vegan that puts the consideration of the lives of animals over everything else. I COULD try to pave a path to saving animals lives by telling you I run fast because I’m vegan….but here’s the thing, I trust you. I know you’re not an idiot and can see right through that. The reason I’m a fast runner is because my parents passed on some good genes that have primed my body to do things other people’s bodies can’t….and then I honed and shaped that talent. Through consistent running with high intensity workouts and a good deal of guidance, I’ve been able to transform my body into a more powerful running machine that goes longer and faster. Veganism did not do that. It had a PART in supporting my training, but I don’t run fast because I’m vegan. I run fast because I train hard.

So, I’m not going to sell you on some “magical diet” devoid of any ethical considerations, or convince you to try the latest concoction of Udo’s oil, or devise a new energy bar that will promise you maximum athletic gains or any snake oil junk like that. I’m going to give it to you straight….run consistently, run hard, eat well. That’s it. THAT’s how you get better. If you continuously come across runners/athletes promoting vegan diets due to their personal magical transformations, check to see if they are either selling you something directly, are sponsored by a number of vegan companies or have made a number of other changes to their athletic focus while switching to veganism.

Now, don’t get me wrong, veganism is one of the most important decisions you can make in your life and I’m not trying to DISSUADE anyone from going vegan…that would be the LAST thing I would ever do, but the decision is so important to the lives of animals the world over that I want the consideration to be made on solid logical grounding, based on factual and ethical considerations (among others) that has true staying power and doesn’t get mired in pop culture dieting trends or rests on one’s ability to continue to run PR’s till the day they die. The animals deserve better than that.

So to be succinct, I’m not going to sell you the idea that veganism will make you a better athlete. I won’t sell you any supplements or energy bars to make you run faster. I won’t sell you any extreme “clean diet” or anything of the like. If you read my blog (sucker) to gain anything about running faster, the only thing I will sell you is this….

Personal Best Training – That’s the site for my coach who had a huge part in developing my running. He gave me consistent and hard training that developed my abilities. THAT got me running much faster than I had before.

Ok, moving on. Regarding number 2. I’m actually quite ecstatic to see veganism hitting the spotlight more and more, even when relegated to the athletic community, because that tired old defense of killing animals, “Veganism makes you scrawny and weak”, is as old as it is absurd. Although athletes have been disproving this for centuries, having higher-profile, high performing athletes to reference makes getting past that dumb accusation that much easier, so we can move onto more relevant topics. I truly enjoy seeing vegan athletes being touted in the media, but at times I’m left scratching my head when an entire article doesn’t even once mention the emotional or physical lives of animals in relation to someone choosing the diet. The terms “meat” and “fish” are thrown around in these articles in a manner that completely objectifies the animals and deprives them of any acknowledgement beyond “products”. Of course, this is another “duh” statement. This is how individuals and culture rationalizes the treatment of animals anyways, by completely objectifying them and making them unrecognizable “products” not “beings” with extensive emotional, intellectual and physical lives. I know this, but it seems so odd that someone would go out of their way to unnecessarily restrict their eating options if they really don’t have to or couldn’t care less about benefitting the lives of animals in anyway. The discussion around veganism lately has evolved (devolved?), at times, almost completely away from what eating animals does to the actual animals and more about what it, selfishly, does to/for athletic performance. As I alluded to in my points about number 1…who frickin’ cares? Veganism is not an athletic experiment…it’s a consideration of other beings we share the earth with and how to make the existence for both of us as rewarding and devoid of suffering as best we can.

“But, does it really matter the motives behind why people eat vegan or not? Isn’t the end result that animals don’t get eaten?”

Yes…absolutely true. In the end, if someone is vegan because they do it for spiritual reasons, athletic reasons, or just because they are completely bored…even if any of those reasons have ABSOLUTELY NO ethical consideration at all…the animals still benefit. This is all that matters….but the problem is that our behaviors and decisions are not static, but continuously adapting to context, and without highly convincing motivations behind our actions, our behaviors, mannerisms (dietary habits) are subject to easily changing and the last thing I want to see is veganism fall into the pop culture pit of trending, where it gains support for a few months and then becomes laughable from there on out. Granted, I think veganism has much more staying power than that, but I still worry about stripping veganism of its ultimate ethical value and the long term consequences of that dynamic. Take Carl Lewis for instance.

The vegan community continues to post the video where Carl Lewis talks about how veganism made him a better athlete during his gold medal winning days, but to my knowledge, he is no longer vegan because his athletic days are over. Veganism no longer serves his selfish purposes. He can now move on. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s just vegetarian now).

And most recently we have Dave Zubriskie on top of the athletic vegan totem pole, who by all basic definitions is NOT vegan. He eats fish, because he’s still worried about his iron levels. His decision to eat vegan has nothing to do with ethics and when the diet no longer serves his purpose, the animals pay the ultimate price. The list goes on with Bill Clinton eating a NON-VEGAN plant-based diet and so on, though everyone falls all over themselves to label these celebrities vegan when they really aren’t. Am I being nitpicking here? I don’t think so.

My great concern in all this is, again, that the ethical components that were the very foundation for veganism get so diluted and watered down that the term itself no longer conjures up the idea that animals have lives worthy of consideration.

So how do we address this diversion from ethics?

Primarily, we need to be very clear that no matter what cultural trend attaches itself to veganism, that our roots are ethical, that the well being of other animals is always the reasoning behind our actions. Whether we are athletes, religious leaders, nutritionists, celebrities, we need to always reinforce that veganism is about ethics in order to keep that association at its very core, so when other people that eat vegan without the ethical considerations grab the limelight, they are at least forced to address the issue. It doesn’t have to be chastizing or brutish or ugly, but the relationship we have with animals used as food must always be made part of the conversation. Bill Clinton should have been made to at least acknowledge farm animals in his interview. Dave Zabriskie should be constantly challenged for using the term “vegan” at all. I’m not trying to be unnecessarily harsh. I’m trying to keep the focus where it should be, which is on the treatment of animals used as food.

Finally, we need to stop using veganism as the debating trump card whether that is in a discussion about health or athletics. It’s not. Veganism will not make you faster or stronger or more spiritual or disease ridden. It can help, yes, but it is not inherent. We need to be honest in our discussions and in our approach, that way we can see the inadequacies in both our viewpoints and tactics. The worst that could come from looking at veganism as NOT the answer to all the world’s problems is that we end up relying on more inarguable points and honing our approach and tactics to become more convincing…in the end, continuously making the lives of animals more visible and moving them off our plate, out of the factory farms and back into the wild where they belong.

Go vegan.

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With the idea that we should always hold an ethical basis to our promotion of veganism I want to plug a couple books…..Eating Animals and Vegan For Life. Both books deserve their own dedicated post, so I’ll commit to writing something about them soon…pinky promise.