The 2018 Fuel Up Awards
Our top picks for new sports nutrition products can fuel you from your training runs all the way past the finish line.
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You don’t even want to know how much sugar, protein and electrolytes our staff consumed during the testing for this year’s Fuel Up Awards! But it was all worth it so that we could bring you the best sports nutrition products—all released in the last 12 months—in the categories of sports drinks, energy gels, bars, energy chews and protein drinks. Whether you haven’t found the right sports nutrition for your body yet or you’re just looking to change up the flavors of your same ol’ products, you can use this as a starting point for discovering what’s new in fueling.
After a tough workout or race, it’s important to consume both protein (about 15 to 20 grams, in order to rebuild muscle fibers) and carbohydrates (to replenish depleted glycogen or energy stores) within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing. Protein drinks and powders are a convenient way to consume those nutrients, and they can typically be mixed with either cold water or your favorite milk product for a creamy, refreshing drink. Some have more neutral flavors, such as vanilla, which makes them easy to blend into your favorite smoothie. If you tend to sweat heavily or race in hotter conditions, look for higher electrolyte content to help you rehydrate.
Tailwind Rebuild Recovery Chocolate, $3.99 Per Stick Pack
The first recovery drink from this endurance athlete���owned company touts a “patent-pending perfectly complete protein,” meaning that the protein source features an adequate amount of all nine essential amino acids. The all-natural, vegan drink is rice protein and coconut milk–based, and also contains cocoa powder, giving it a creamy consistency, even mixed with just water. Each serving has 235 calories, 11 grams of protein, 43 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fat, plus iron and calcium.
Testing notes: This drink is best for hot-weather training and racing, as it’s high in electrolyte content, especially sodium (458 milligrams per serving). Some testers didn’t appreciate the somewhat salty flavor, while others didn’t mind the saltiness and instead loved its extremely clean finish and short ingredient list.
Aloha Vanilla Protein Powder, $30 For 15-Serving Tin
This plant-based protein powder uses peas, hemp seed and pumpkin seed as its protein sources, and the result is surprisingly tasty (even if the tan color is a little off-putting). In each two-scoop serving are 140 calories and 18 grams of protein, plus 360 milligrams of potassium, 270 milligrams of sodium and 35 percent of the recommended daily value of iron.
Testing notes: The drink is sweetened with coconut sugar and monk fruit extract, which leaves a stevia-like aftertaste, just not quite as strong. Because it’s lower in sugar and carbohydrates (9 grams of carbs per serving), you can easily blend this into a fruity smoothie to up your carb intake, or seek out carb-rich foods for your post-run recovery.
Designer Whey Vanilla Coconut, $15 For 11-Serving Canister
Coconut lovers will enjoy the coconut-y aftertaste in this whey protein–based drink, which is packed with amino acids, B vitamins (to boost energy) and probiotics. In each serving are 20 grams of protein, 110 calories and just 6 grams of carbs—make sure you pair the protein drink with extra carbs to replace your glycogen stores after a run.
Testing notes: Sweetened with both monk fruit and stevia leaf extract, this drink is quite sweet, so it tastes better mixed with milk than straight water.
Thanks to their gooey consistency, energy gels are perhaps the most intimidating type of sports nutrition to newbie runners. But don’t let their unusual flavors and syrupy texture scare you! They’re designed to be a concentrated form of nutrition—specifically carbs (mostly sugar), electrolytes and sometimes caffeine—that you’re able to easily eat while exercising. The reason they have a liquid-y texture is to make it as easy as possible to consume and get energy to your working muscles—no chewing while breathing hard, just swallow! The flavors can be intensely sweet (they are trying to pack in a ton of sugar, after all), so it tastes (and works) best to time your gel intake with an aid station so you can wash it down with some water. These are perfect pre-race and mid-race fuel (taken about every 45 to 60 minutes), and stash easily in a pocket or hydration belt.
Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel Apple Pear, $1.43
You might associate Gatorade with artificially sweet and flavored sports nutrition products, but the brand has made a solid effort in cleaning up its Endurance line of products with natural flavors and less processed ingredients—a reformulation that launched last year. This apple pear–flavored gel is one of our favorite products to come out of that relaunch, as it has a unique fruity flavor that’s surprisingly palatable before a run, and it’s made with recognizable ingredients such as brown rice syrup, sugar and salt. Each 1.3-ounce packet has 80 calories, 20 grams of carbs, 100 milligrams of sodium and 35 milligrams of potassium.
Testing notes: The consistency and flavor of this gel were likened to simple syrup in our testing, so a little bit more watery than regular syrup and easy to swallow without much water.
GU Birthday Cake Energy Gel, $1.50
The newest flavor of the original energy gel celebrates the company’s 25th birthday! The caffeine-free and naturally flavored birthday cake flavor is surprisingly accurate—just like Funfetti cake batter. In each 100-calorie gel packet are 22 grams of carbs and 60 milligrams of sodium.
Testing notes: Birthday Cake is exactly what you’d expect from GU—it’s the classic GU consistency, similar to honey or syrup, and very sweet. It’s thick enough that you don’t worry about it dripping out of the package as you try to eat it, and at only 1.1 ounces, it’s not too challenging to consume while breathing hard.
SiS GO Energy + Electrolyte Gel Lemon And Mint, $11 For Six-Pack
You’ll now find the gels from this United Kingdom–based brand on course at Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series races, but before that, the company gained traction in the sports of cycling and triathlon. This particular gel is higher in electrolytes—providing sodium, potassium and calcium—which is ideal for hotter races and heavier sweaters. The lemon and mint made for a surprisingly refreshing and unique flavor, a pleasant change from the sweetness of most sports nutrition. In each gel are 87 calories and 22 grams of carbs.
Testing notes: These gels have a very thin, almost watery consistency, making them very easy to swallow, but the 2 fluid ounces per gel is a little voluminous to drink in one swig. The unique taste could be a welcome change late into a long run.
Resembling chewy fruit snacks or gummy candy, energy chews came about as a convenient, relatively mess-free solution for eating important nutrition—specifically electrolytes and carbs (in the form of sugar)—while on the move. While they essentially have the same energy-boosting ingredients as energy gels, they’re easier to parcel out over a full training run or race (i.e., you can eat a few chews pre-race and a couple more about an hour into the run without opening a new package) and tend to be less messy. The chews here reflect the industry-wide trend of cleaner and shorter ingredient lists. Just pay attention to the electrolyte, carbohydrate and caffeine content of each to match your own training and racing needs.
Honey Stinger Strawberry Organic Energy Chews, $2.39
These fruity chews, which taste shockingly similar to kids’ fruit snacks, utilize four different carbohydrate sources to fuel your workouts, derived from organic ingredients such as honey and tapioca syrup. The gluten-free and naturally flavored chews offer up 160 calories per serving, 39 grams of carbs and 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.
Testing notes: Their natural ingredient list helps them digest easily, and they leave no stickiness on your fingers.
Kramp Krusher Salty Limón, $36 For 12 Packets
Testers thought these chews should be labeled as a “margarita” flavor, thanks to their wonderfully citrusy and salty taste. Made with three different electrolytes—calcium, sodium (from sea salt) and potassium—and the simple sugar dextrose, they provide both energy and hydration during workouts. Each serving of the vegan, gluten-free chews contains 70 calories, 19 grams of carbs and 160 milligrams of sodium.
Testing notes: While a teensy bit stickier than other chews, they aren’t difficult to take out of the two-serving package and have a smooth, easy-to-chew texture. We found the saltiness was a pleasant change from sweeter nutrition late into a run.
Clif Bloks Salted Watermelon Energy Chews, $2.79
Made with watermelon extract and sea salt, salted watermelon is one of the newest flavors of these OG chews. Each Blok is larger than an average chew, but the 30-calorie cubes aren’t difficult to eat on the move. We loved the clean, fruity-yet-salty flavor, which didn’t taste overwhelmingly salty, even though these chews have double the sodium of other Blok flavors.
Testing notes: Each sleeve comes with two servings (three cubes per serving), with 24 grams of carbs and 90 calories in each of those servings, so you don’t have to fumble with too much nutrition while running. Designed for sweatier runners, each serving contains 100 milligrams of sodium.
Nutrition bars have come a long way since the original PowerBars—they’re now made with more natural ingredients (utilizing tasty real-food ingredients such as figs, dates and nut butter), come in a variety of unique flavors and are packed with all the nutrients you need to fuel or recover from your workouts in a convenient package. For most runners, bars are difficult to eat mid-run, so they’re best categorized into either energy bars, which you can eat pre-workout or pre-race and are typically high in carbohydrates, or protein bars, which provide your body with carbs and protein to help you recover from a run.
Enduro Bites Cinnamon Blueberry Energy Bar, $2.99
We’re big fans of both the clean taste and soft texture of these all-natural, fig-based energy bars, which are handmade in Colorado. They’re easy to chew and have a blueberry muffin–esque flavor, thanks to real-food ingredients such as honey, dried blueberries and cinnamon extract. Each piece (two per package) contains 100 calories, 20 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein (from pea protein).
Testing notes: These bars come with two “bites,” or small bars, per package—at 100 calories each, they make it easy to fuel for your exact nutrition needs.
Bobo’s Original Chocolate Almond Stuff’d Bar, $2.99
This oat-based bar has a sweet, buttery flavor on the outside and a pocket of chocolate almond butter inside—the combo is practically dessert! We like this bar as a pre-run snack or as a post-run refuel, though you’ll need to pair it with some additional protein—each bar has 300 calories, 15 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein.
Testing notes: The oaty bar is best paired with a drink (like your morning coffee or some water), as it is slightly dry, though not at all crumbly.
Chocolate Chip RXBar, $2.49
RXBars are known for their incredibly short ingredient lists, and the new chocolate chip flavor is no exception—it contains just seven whole-food ingredients, including dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews and chocolate. We love this flavor for its chunks of chocolate (obvi), clean ingredients and sweet cookie-like taste—without being too sweet! Each bar contains 220 calories, 22 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat, making it an ideal recovery snack.
Testing notes: The stick-to-your-teeth chewy texture of these bars bothered some testers more than others, but they all agreed that the excellent flavor made it worth it.
Traditional sports drinks were designed to both fuel your workouts (through the form of carbs or sugar) and keep you hydrated (with fluid plus key electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and sometimes calcium and magnesium). They do all this while being quickly transported to your bloodstream without (hopefully) upsetting your gut while you’re running. These drink powders all do just that, and they can be customized depending on your flavor preferences.
Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder Cherry, $29 For 38-Serving Canister
Just like its line of energy gels for endurance athletes, Gatorade also cleaned up its ingredient list for its sports drinks, delivering that classic Gatorade flavor and reliable performance benefits to runners. In each serving of the cherry flavor are 90 calories, 22 grams of carbs, 300 milligrams of sodium and 140 milligrams of potassium.
Testing notes: Testers enjoyed the unique cherry taste while still maintaining the familiar Gatorade flavor. The sweetness was toned down in the reformulation, which made the drink pleasantly light on the palate.
Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier Acai Berry, $30 For 16 Stick Packs
When mixed with water, this clear drink powder utilizes proprietary technology to help you rehydrate quickly, so it works well for runs in hotter weather. It has a sweet berry-like taste but is lower in calories and carbs than other sports drinks, so make sure you find other sources of carbs mid-run. Each serving has 50 calories, 11 grams of carbs, 500 milligrams of sodium and 370 milligrams of potassium, plus B vitamins for an energy boost.
Testing notes: This drink is sweetened with stevia leaf extract, which lowers its carbohydrate content and also leaves an aftertaste, which some testers didn’t particularly enjoy.
Nuun Performance Orange Mango, $1.99 For Single-Serving Pouch
This powdered drink mix is the first product coming out of the popular hydration company that’s not a tablet! Nuun partnered with sports nutrition expert Stacy Sims to create this light-tasting sports drink, which has a very short ingredient list that includes cane sugar and dried fruit powder. Each serving contains 60 calories, 15 grams of carbs, 380 milligrams of sodium, 210 milligrams of potassium, plus magnesium, calcium and chloride.
Testing notes: Testers enjoyed the very clean and light citrusy taste, and have yet to experience any gastric issues when using it on runs.
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