Gear Patrol • 2/25/15
By Matthew Ankeny
If your pantry looks like mine, the garlic, onions and bananas fight for space among the blocks, gels and bars. It’s a stark contrast of produce and produced, the former with their natural irregularities of size and form, the latter boxed in brightly colored cardboard, rigid and uniform. Most all of the time, I prefer to eat natural, whole foods— calories that haven’t mingled with additives and preservatives. And when I’m at home, I stick to that. But when I’m out training and in need of fuel for longer journeys, I begin to place higher value on portable food that offers higher-density calories, items I can carry easily and that will give me an energy boost when my calorie stores run low.
If you remember the time when Tiger Milk was your best energy/nutrition/protein bar option, you appreciate the variety we now enjoy. Clif and the spinoffs they’ve spawned have done wonders in providing more thoughtfully produced options for athletes and adventurers. (My father, who worked for Mars Inc., once brought home a box of VO2 Max bars, which tasted like bricks of soggy chalk, and tried to force feed them to the family.) Today, the bar woes of the past are all but forgotten, as bars have continually improved through better ingredients and the demands of an increasingly discerning and healthful consumer.
And so, we now live in a time where the shelves are stocked with good options, and the bar people have turned to innovative ways to distinguish themselves from the rest of their do-gooder competition. Some differentiation comes from ingredients (Chapul, insects; Epic, bison), or flaunting comprehensive organic and non-GMO ingredients (like ProBar). R.e.d.d. ($30, box of 14), a new bar to hit the market, offers 10 grams of protein, 23 multivitamins and 50 milligrams of caffeine, all compressed into a small brownie bite.
The caffeine, in particular, piqued my interest. The perk-up of a good shot of caffeine is one element of my “runner’s/cyclist’s high”, and the thought that solid food, rather than gels, can offer that increase in energy gave R.e.d.d. a sporting chance at making it into my jersey pocket come Sunday ride. Or, since it’s mid-winter in New York, my gym bag.
So for the past few weeks, I made R.e.d.d. a part of my pre-workout routine. I consumed a bar 10 to 15 minutes before starting my workout, then rode out the high of the caffeine and enjoyed the stomach-settling of the bar’s protein bulk (the effects of this in an hour-long workout, I’ll concede, are almost entirely mental, but there’s still something that strikes me as more filling when eating a bar rather than a gel).
The formula of a bar followed by a workout worked wonders, and in a quick, high-intensity workout (I’d volley between treadmill sprints and quick spins on the stationary bike), R.e.d.d. gave me plenty of energy that burned clean. I didn’t feel weighed down, but I had enough fuel for 45 minutes of cardio and 15 minutes of stretching. Ideally, testing would have included an extended endurance event, but in 45 minutes of exercise I covered two miles running and nine miles on the bike — something of a mini-duathlon. I also went into each workout on a near-empty stomach, at the end of the work day and five hours after my last meal.
The R.e.d.d. consumption progression is a quick spike in energy that slowly tapers off, alongside a sustained stability in the stomach. Post workout, I was ready for more substantial whole foods, but I didn’t feel any lingering effects of eating the bar.
As for the flavor and consistency, chocolate brownie (the only flavor at time of writing) had the density of a compact brownie, unsurprisingly. The outside of the bar is wrapped in small quinoa crisps that give a nice alternative texture, and the flavor is more than palatable. I usually ate the bar on the way to the gym, pre-workout and with lots of water. But, when I consumed a R.e.d.d. bar during my workout, the bar become a touch gamey, taking on the more characteristic nutritional bar texture (not that, mid-workout, I was worried too much about it — and a small swig of water washed down any problems).
In comparison to the better bars on the market (Clif, ProBar, LÄRABAR) that offer reliable energy, R.e.d.d. fits in well, setting itself apart with the bonus boost of the half-shot of caffeine. If I’m home and heading to a workout, I still prefer an espresso shot and whole wheat toast with almond butter, banana, and raw honey. But the pantry will now share space with some new portable nutrition, and I’ve cleared space for a new box of bars that’s gray, white and R.e.d.d. all over.