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Nii Bar Product Review

IMG_2089This is an unsolicited product review. I did not receive this product directly from the manufacturer or any PR firm. In fact, I snagged these from the volunteer goodie bags at the race.

I managed to get a few bars that were provided as samples at the Hansen Dam Triathlon: Berry Cashew, Peanut Butter, Cherry Coconut, and Almond Chocolate Chip. I had mixed reviews among the four I tasted, preferring the Berry Cashew and Cherry Coconut. Listed below are my remarks regarding the flavor and digestibility of each flavor:

IMG_2072Berry Cashew – The bar has a distinct cashew and walnut taste. (Note that walnuts are used in all of their bars, but for some reason is most evident in this flavor pairing.) The berry flavor is subtle and is masked by the stronger nut flavor (cashew butter and walnuts), which I actually like. The package I ate was stored inside a backpack I normally use during my bike commutes to and from work. The bar itself was very limp and oily from the heat that had built up inside the bag, which made it undesirable to look at, but tasted good. It had been squished by some of the stuff I keep inside the bag, so it didn’t hold its shape well and made for a challenge in handling it while on the move. I liked this flavor best because of its distinct nuttiness and mild berry flavor.

Cherry Coconut – This is my second favorite. I love coconuts and cherries, so this all made sense to me. There’s a definite coconut flavor which is derived from coconut nectar (whatever that is) and shredded coconuts in the bar. There are little bits and pieces of dried cherries with every bite, which gives just enough tartness to counter the sweetness from the dates and what I’m guessing to be the coconut nectar. This bar, along with the Peanut Butter and Almond Chocolate chip was stored in a refrigerator (I learned after my first experience to do this to avoid an oily and misshapen bar). Take note new food developers: Cherries and Coconut IN EVERYTHING!

Peanut Butter – By far the most intriguing bar of the bunch and not in a good way. It says peanut butter on the package, but taste more like unsweetened raw coffee. I’m not a coffee fan, so this could be a reason I didn’t enjoy this bar at all. There is no peanut butter flavor whatsoever and the bar tasted bitter, which made it hard to swallow. Only with some water was I able to finish the entire thing. The sprouted quinoa and walnuts (found in every flavor bar) made for a good contrast of texture, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about this particular bar.

Almond Chocolate Chip – Again, not the kind of flavor profile you would expect from a bar called Almond Chocolate Chip. Neither the almond (or any kind of nut flavor) and chocolate flavor can be picked up. Even the chocolate chips weren’t visible and not detectable during the chew. There are definitely chunks of nuts in the bar, but it’s hard to pick up whether they are almonds or walnuts. They taste more like raw peanuts to me. On the back-end of the flavor profile is a bitterness. The bitterness of dark chocolate bars I’ve tasted is usually up front which smooths out to a sweetness. The opposite is true for this flavor. I wasn’t able to finish this bar since I took a while to go through the first half that the heat made it oily and became unpalatable.

Overall Impressions
All bars are either 220 or 240 calories and 7-9 grams of protein. Total carbs. ranges from 20-23g with saturated fat from 11-14g. There is a low sodium profile, the Peanut Butter and Almond Chocolate Chip actually have no sodium. So, these bars definitely make good in-between-meals snacks and not snacks during a long run.

I’d stick to the two fruit flavored bars and leave your chocolate and peanut butter cravings to other bars that use peanut butter and more conventional forms of chocolate ingredients. The bars are oily because of the oil in the organic butter that are used. While providing some flavor and binding properties, the oils break down with some heat and the bars become limp and oily.

While I enjoyed the two fruit flavored bars, I personally would wait until a lower price point to purchase the bars. I understand the cost of producing new food items isn’t just about the cost of quality ingredients, but also in other overhead and variable costs associated with not only the bar, but with getting the product to market. Start-ups specially have higher costs of entry in the competitive organic whole food nutrition market with added higher expenses for marketing and PR. In the end a great tasting product will always lead me to choose one over another.

This is a commendable attempt at using new organic ingredients for people looking for an alternative to more established brands. I believe there is a growing niche market among endurance athletes looking for something that not only aligns with their athletic lifestyles, but with their environmental and social beliefs also. Kudos to Nii for recognizing that and attempting to fill that void.

Get their story and visit them at www.niibar.com.


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Bulldog Thoughts

When I registered to run Bulldog 50k in July I had every intention to train hard with long miles and serious climbing. What happened instead was a bunch of short runs with not a lot of sustained climbing and downhill running. The combination of settling back into life in Los Angeles and general fatigue due to activities related to moving led to s a lot of uninspired runs. I would often start my runs with double digit mileage in mind, but I would cut many runs short. So, most runs looked like this: Scary Post Run. An intended 17 mile run that I bailed on.

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What do I wish will happen this Saturday? Well, I hope my lack of training miles actually leaves me with a healthy body and inspiration to prove to myself that the impossible is probable. What I think will actually happen is I’ll finish middle of the pack leaving me with the comfort of knowing I finished strong  without a good training base. I’ve ran this course many times and I know what is possible. I can only hope for the best and pray that I’ll be able to will myself to push past the comfort zone and finish at an effort I can be happy about.

So, here it goes, my predicted times:
“A” Goal: Sub 4:10
“B” Goal: 4:15
“Deserves all the beers” goal: Sub 4:20

The specs:
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Kazan
Clothing: Sugoi Titan run shorts, Wright CoolMesh II socks
Accessories: Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential belt and Handy 20 handheld water bottle.
Nutrition: NUUN Hydration Strawberry Lemonade, PowerBar Berry Blast and Kona Punch, and salted pretzels


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2013: Year-In-Review

Miles: 2,231.62
Max Distance: 37.83
Elevation Gain: 58,943 ft.
Time: 338:29:15

I was surprised I ran so many miles. Most of them were training miles and I rarely ran for fun (not that training wasn’t fun, but most of those runs felt forced). I only mention the vertical gain so I have something to compare my 2014 total with. I plan on running “up” a lot more this year.

Nutritionally it wasn’t the most healthy year. I ate a lot of fast food and drank lots of sugar. I think I would’ve felt better on more runs had I eaten the right kinds of food. I also depended too much on fueling during the run rather than fueling before.

I’d like to think I was physically strong during the previous year. I did a weekly routine of push ups, pull-ups, core exercises, and lunges/squats. What was missing was flexibility work and active recovery. I hope to do more preventative care while continuing body weight training in 2014.

Overall, it was a good year of running. I earned my first buckle, set a half-marathon PR, a few podium finishes, learned new training/nutritional techniques, discovered new trails, raced/trained with friends, ran alongside my wife, and was injury free!

Photo taken by MK.542732_482048085184070_1140172712_nIMG_0427

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Pocket Fuel Product Review

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I noticed a person tweeting about Pocket Fuel and I was intrigued. I love the idea of whole food nutrition in a small pouch. Usually, I use Clif Shot gels for runs longer than an hour. I was excited to try something different from my traditional gel.

Pocket Fuel uses nut butters as a base with the addition of various fruits, seeds, and natural sugar. It doesn’t have the typical gel consistency. It’s thicker and the consistency is textured and sometimes grainy.

I bought three pouches from REI: Banana Blueberry and Chia Goji Honey (both almond butter based) and the hazelnut butter based Chocolate Haze.

The first one I tried was the Chocolate Haze. I’m a sucker for anything chocolate. I took it out on an easy 12 miler. I followed the website instruction to squish and squeeze vigorously to make the consistency gooey and easier to consume on the run. After about 5 minutes of kneading the mixture, I left for my run. I held the packet in one hand and after seven miles I opened the cap to eat some. When I squeezed the pouch I first got a taste of oil before the hazelnut butter. I needed to squish the contents some more to mix everything up. I did this and it came out mixed, but in globs. It was cold outside and I was probably better off taking something that would not freeze over so easily, but I was excited to try something new! I sucked as much of the mixture out of the pouch as I could and resealed the with the cap. There was a good bit of the mixture left inside that I couldn’t squeeze out, so I took the rest home.

After this experience, I figured Pocket Fuel would best be used as a pre/post run snack. The package being bulky, the mixture thick, and the work you have to do to consume the content doesn’t make Pocket Fuel an “on the move” food source.

What I did for the other flavors was to spread it over toast before and after my run. I ran the pouch under hot water while massaging the mixture for a couple of minutes to get it to a spreadable consistency. The flavors I tasted were very good and satisfying. I can probably eat more than two packets after a hard run!

You have to give the folks over at Pocket Fuel a lot of credit for coming up with something that is so unique. I don’t think there is any other product out there that has the hunger satisfying properties of a fuel bar in an easy-to-digest consistency. Bravo!

Some challenges Pocket Fuel will have to address are the packaging, the ingredients and how they react to temperature change, and easing the user experience.

The hard plastic cap Pocket Fuel uses makes stuffing the pouch in small areas hard and uncomfortable. Also, while trying to get as much of the content out of the pouch, theres is always some that remain because you can’t squeeze past the plastic tubing tip. Sucking, as the website suggest, doesn’t work (partly because the contents have to be in liquid form for this to work).

I kept the pouches of Pocket Fuel on my dining room table for a couple of days. My house is kept at a constant 68 degrees. At this temperature, the nut butter base remained separate from the liquids in the pouch and hard. With the air temperature at 34 degrees during the one run I took Pocket Fuel with me, the contents separated and the bottom where the hazelnut butter settled into felt like a piece of stone. It took some effort to get it to a consistency I could squeeze through the pouch.

Understandably, using whole food ingredients will present some problems. We all know about oils separating from natural nut butters, and clumping of some fruits and seeds when mixed in liquid, but when something is marketed as “ready when you are” I don’t want to do much work when I’m ready for some food.

I hope they’re working on some changes because it’s a great tasting product with some unique nutritional benefits that are not often found in other fuel “gels.”

Some minor things I want to address:

-I don’t think the whole reusable pouch thing adds any value to the product. It takes too much effort to get the contents out and clean it. After that, what are we suppose to use it for? Gel consumers buy fuel gels for convenience, ease of use, and the ability to just throw them away. Perhaps recyclable rather than reusable.

-Not sure if this is a common occurrence, but I noticed every package of Pocket Duel sold at the REI location I went to was oily. Being sealed with a twist off cap it was easy for contents to leak out.


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What About Running?

It seems that I’ve been doing everything else except run recently, but I’m writing this post to reassure all of my fellow run nerds that I’ve been putting in miles. I took last week off because of back spasms caused by parkour and snow shoveling. I’m back at it this week, so far running one hour a day. Thanks to @mk_liveloverun for sharing some of those miles.

This week I’ll most likely hit 50+ miles on 6 days running. Next week I’ll be back to my base building schedule (the last two weeks!). In January I’ll be introducing some speed to my weekly runs before going all out February and March. I’m excited about my racing prospects in 2014. Looking forward to new PRs.

I didn’t race that much in 2013, that was intentional. I wanted to put in the kind of work in training that would carry me to a new level, being able to toe the line and know good things will happen. This current training plan is very aggressive on the miles. I feel that mileage is key to becoming a competitive racer.

I’m looking at my training from Camarillo Marathon to replicate a few behaviors and practices. It was my perfect race! I’m going to need to run with sub 3:00:00 peeps. I was also running about 20-30 miles of trail with 4,000 ft+ of climbing weekly along with Tuesday and Thursday speed work. Man, I miss those Gritty City runners!…and the San Gabriel Mountains!

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2013 Christmas Wish List

I like to think I have a very simple taste in running gear. I don’t necessarily fancy the newest and best gear. I gravitate towards things that give me the greatest value for the type of activities I enjoy.

socksSmartwool PHD Nordic Socks – These merino wool blend socks will keep your feet dry and warm during snowy runs. A bonus is they don’t stink after runs and can be worn multiple times without washing! I own a pair and they’ve become my go to for long trail runs in cold weather conditions.

 

clif-energy-gel_thumb Clif Shot Energy Gel – I’ve tried a lot of gels and Clif has by far been the best tasting. The consistency of the gel is not thick like other brands and it isn’t loaded with too much things (protein, vitamins, supplements, etc). My favorites are Chocolate Cherry and Strawberry if I need a little pick me up and Raspberry for sustained energy with the caffeine buzz. When racing I mix the shots with water in a bottle for easy consumption on the go.

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Mountain Hardwear Integral Pro Mid-Layer – Mountain Hardwear is known for making durable, high-quality outdoor apparel. This mid-layer has a great fit, comfortable feel, and does a really good job at maintaining body temperature. I’m a fan of merino wool blends for their ability to wick moisture and keep you warm while maintaining a light profile. Versatility is what makes this piece a good value. It can be worn on it’s own (flat-lock stitching eliminates chafing) or with a shell for really cold runs.

PETZL-NAOI’ve never owned a Petzl, not because I didn’t think their headlamps weren’t any good, on the contrary, I think they make the best, but the kind I’ve wanted were too expensive. Since this is a wish list, the NAO has to be included on the list! This headlamp has everything you would want while running hard in the dark. It has a sensor that will automatically adjust brightness, a beam setting that is more like a theater spotlight, operate in extreme weather, and fit and comfort! I hate having to go through light settings while running. I’d prefer my arm to be free to help with my balance. This headlamp has programmable light settings and the sensor allows for hands-free use!


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December Playlist

More synthesizer! Music warms the heart and on long winter runs I hope it will help to warm the rest of the body as well. Toro y Moi has been on the running playlist the few months. Something about the sound and his voice that make me move.

Feel Good Track of Rosemead Family of the Year
Let’s Be Honest Family of the Year
Treehouse Family of the Year
Putting Money and Stuff Family of the Year
Stupidland Family of the Year
Summer Girl Family of the Year
Suprise Family of the Year
No Good At Nothing Family of the Year
Charlie Song Family of the Year
Intervention (Staple Jeans) Family of the Year
I Played Drums On This Family of the Year
Castoff Family of the Year
Psyche Or Like Scope Family of the Year
Let’s Go Down Family of the Year
Jamesy Family of the Year
Hero Family Of The Year
Chugjug Family Of The Year
The Barn Family Of The Year
The Princess And The Pea Family Of The Year
Stairs Family Of The Year
Down To The River Family Of The Year
Cast Off Family Of The Year
Summer Girl Family Of The Year
Surprise Family Of The Year
Psyche Or Like Scope Family Of The Year
Falling Haim
Forever Haim
The Wire Haim
If I Could Change Your Mind Haim
Honey & I Haim
Don’t Save Me Haim
Days Are Gone Haim
My Song 5 Haim
Go Slow Haim
Let Me Go Haim
Running If You Call My Name Haim
Okay Holy Ghost!
Dumb Disco Ideas Holy Ghost!
Changing of the Guard Holy Ghost!
Dance a Little Closer Holy Ghost!
It Must Be The Weather Holy Ghost!
For Edgar Holy Ghost!
I Wanna Be Your Hand Holy Ghost!
Bridge and Tunnel Holy Ghost!
Don’t Look Down Holy Ghost!
In The Red Holy Ghost!
Cheap Shots Holy Ghost!
Hold On Holy Ghost!
Talamak Toro Y Moi
You Hid Toro Y Moi
Low Shoulder Toro Y Moi
Chi Chi Toro Y Moi
New Beat Toro Y Moi
Go With You Toro Y Moi
Divina Toro Y Moi
Before I’m Done Toro Y Moi
Got Blinded Toro Y Moi
How I Know Toro Y Moi
Light Black Toro Y Moi
Still Sound Toro Y Moi
Good Hold Toro Y Moi
Elise Toro Y Moi

 

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