Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Product Review - PocketFuel

Sponsored post.  All opinions are my own.  FTC disclosure - free product was provided to blogger for the purpose of review.

Fueling and nutrition are a challenge for every endurance athlete.  Ask any set of triathletes, and you will get as many different strong opinions on what works best as there are people.  Everyone is different - there is no one-size-fits-all formula for proper nutrition.  On long workouts, say over an hour, it becomes even more critical.  The traditional wisdom is to consume a large meal with balanced carbs and protein a few hours before a race (or long workout), and a small easily digestible carbohydrate snack 30 minutes prior.  Then fuel every 45  to 60 minutes with more carbs.  Most sports products like GU gels, Huma Gels, Shot Bloks, and Gatorade offer a mix of electrolytes, naked sugar, and sometimes caffeine.

This is all well and good for people with normal blood sugar.  Bear with me - here comes the science (finally that Masters in Biology is good for something!).  Most people are familiar with insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas that moves sugar from the blood into cells where it can be utilized.  This is what diabetics are missing, so that sugar accumulates in their blood without reaching the target cells.

Chronic hypoglycemia is essentially the opposite problem.  The pancreas produces too much insulin, especially in reaction to intake of sugar.  I was saddled with this diagnosis as a child - I kept passing out in class.  Once I even fell off the top row of the choir risers.  I visited the school nurse on a daily basis for doses of granola bars.  Finally my wise mother took me to the doctor.  The test for hypoglycemia is brutal.  After 12 hours fasting, you drink one of those sugary orange soda beverages with a bolus of glucose.  They then collect urine and blood every 1/2 hour for five hours or until you pass out - whichever comes first.  I'll let you guess which I did.  I have distinct memories of playing endless rounds of gin rummy with mom (I was a disadvantaged child before IPads were invented), a gap, and then waking up on a stretcher.

In a normal person, when your blood sugar is low, you eat, and no matter you ate, your body produces the correct amount of insulin, which slowly returns your blood sugar to normal levels.

In a hypoglycemic, when you eat, especially if it is straight carbs, your pancreas completely freaks out and overcompensates by flooding your blood stream with insulin.  The result is a sugar high, followed by a monster crash.  You get dizzy, then cranky, and then turn into a completely scary hell beast with no ability for rational thought.  Even my four year old knows to get mommy a snack if I'm being crazy.  I have no doubt that all of my struggles with anxiety and depression are related to blood sugar.  The antidote to this phenomenon is to always pair carbs with protein.  Protein is digested more slowly, so serves to stabilize the blood sugar, avoiding the crash.  I am never with peanuts, granola bars, or something in my purse.  In my next life I'll be a squirrel.  

(Interesting aside - a paramedic recently told me that the current preferred rescue snack for people in hypoglycemic crisis is frosting.  The sugar and fat is the perfect balance.  So they carry tubes Wilton's in the their med kits.  Cool, huh?  Better health through buttercream....)

While there certainly is enough frosting in my house to serve as a workout fuel, I'm not quite ready to cross those worlds.  And I hate frosting.  But something different than the norm IS needed, because this is what happens to a hypoglycemic on a long workout fueling only with carbs:

For ever gel consumed, the sugar spike and crash comes faster, until you completely bonk and can't continue.  Clearly I'm not going to do 70.3 with only sugar in my tank.  I eat small meals every 3 hours and have been since I was eight years old.  No seven hour workouts here.  So what to do?  A fellow member of the SBM Army suggested I try PocketFuel, an almond-butter based fuel with a whopping 8 grams of protein per pouch.  Yes please!!

I wrote to the kind folks at Pocketfuel, and they very nicely agreed to let me try it out.  They shipped me all 8 flavors the next day.  Talk about service!!  The small packets are slightly larger than a typical GU pack, but still perfect size to fit in your bike jersey.  There is also a twist off lid that is resealable, so you can either chug the whole thing or sip at it slowly over the course of your workout.  Bonus, the packs are reusable - you can also order a giant vat of your favorite flavor (which I will be doing) and refill your pouches from there.

The Jedi and I decided to test drive Pocketfuel on our American Lung Association 2-day 100 mile ride.  And we were pretty excited - the flavors all sounded yummy!  Chocolate smackaroon, Vanilla Haze, and Chunky coconut cherry - these sounded like sundae flavors!

The first flavor up was Vanilla Haze - Jedi broke the top at the first SAG stop of Day 1 (lightweight).  His first reaction was "Oh my god you have to try this.  I want to put this in a cupcake!".  I tried it - he was right.  It was beyond delicious.  Nothing at all like choking down other energy gels.  I started to bonk about 25 miles into the ride and we stopped on the side of the road to refuel.  (Another trait of hypoglycemic - fine to crashing shaking wreck in 60 seconds.  You'd think I'd know better by now.)  I had the Chocolate Espresso in my jersey.  I tried it, and passed to Jedi for his taste.  In the time it took him to say, "Wow that is strong" I sucked down the entire sleeve.  What I loved was that it wasn't sweet.  Not really.  I have a love/hate relationship with sweet things - my body knows that they make me sick, so I always feel some level of queasy as soon as I eat a gel or other sugar.  Not so here.  The chocolate espresso was barely sweet - it tasted like pure fuel.  I didn't experience anything like a crash in the miles that followed - just a slow, strong burn.  I am 100% sure that with enough of this stuff, I could climb Everest.  Win Kona.  Clean my kids playroom and never yell at them while doing so. It is that good.

True, Pocketfuel does have a texture.  You need to massage the packets and mix them up before you consume them.  Just like natural peanut butter, they do separate.  And these are ALL NATURAL ingredients - nothing on the label I couldn't pronounce or wouldn't cook/bake with.  The other flavors we tried were the Chocolate Smackaroon (Jedi wants to put it on his toast) and Pinapple Coconut.  Those too, were not too sweet, and even a little crunchier than the first we tried.  Which I actually like.  I don't like the pudding feeling of most fuel products - with Pocketfuel I felt like I was actually eating something.  But quickly.  Which is great.  You can also add to to milk to make a smoothie - something I'm looking forward to trying with my remaining packets.

In short, Pocketfuel totally rocks. I have no doubt that when and if I make it to the starting line of the Patriot Half Ironman in June, that I'll have my pockets full of the stuff.  Hopefully in Chocolate Espresso.  I might even smear it on my foot to see if it will heal it faster.  I think it will....

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