Fueling yourself in the winter can often be frustrating. If its cold enough, traditional summer treats like apples and oranges become frozen by the time you need them. While I’ve had my fair share of frigid peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they’re usually eaten out of necessity rather than enjoyment. Compounding the problem is the fact that food is arguably more important during the winter months. Our bodies rely on food both to fuel our activities and to maintain body temperature. So are there any good options besides relying on energy bars or trying to keep bulky sandwiches from freezing?
Last week I had the opportunity to test Clif’s new line of organic energy food. With savory flavors like sweet potato with sea salt and pizza margherita, along with more standard sweet options like banana mango with coconut and banana beet with ginger, the line offers different sizes and types of food for different activities. The ingredient lists are simple without difficult-to-pronounce additives. The sweet flavors come in smaller (90 g) pouches with about 100 calories. They tend to be high in sugars and carbohydrates with relatively few fat calories and low levels of sodium. The savory foods are more calorie-dense, with between 160 and 200 calories per 120 g package. They tend to have high levels of vitamin A and are often good sources of other nutrients like iron and calcium. They also have higher fat and protein contents, making them ideal for longer activities.
So how well does the food actually work and what does pizza in a pouch taste like? To find out, I took several packets on an 11 mile snowshoe trip up St. Regis mountain and on the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center trails. The trip took about 4 hours and I left my sandwich at home, sealing my commitment to trying the energy food. I had my first pouch, the pizza margherita, during a break on the top of the mountain. The paste was thick and red with a consistency similar to that of a pâté. At the taste my first thought was, “I can’t believe I left my sandwich at home.” My dog, probably sensing my lack of enthusiasm, looked at me, expectantly. The food tasted like very salty and rather thick pasta sauce. It took me another few tastes before I became more accustomed to what I was eating and realized that I kind of liked it. When the pouch was done, I sat looking at the tube protruding from the top, trying to figure out if there was an easy way to get the last few licks out (I couldn’t think of one). Once I got over the initial strangeness of the consistency and its saltiness, the food was enjoyable. I do think that it would have been improved by crackers or bread and maybe some cheese. Coming down off the mountain at a steady pace, my stomach only felt slightly heavy and I could feel my energy pick up. I could tell that I’d just eaten some carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, but my digestive system didn’t feel as burdened as if I’d eaten, say, an actual slice of pizza.
I tried the next flavor, banana beet with ginger, about an hour later. The beet-colored food had a more gel-like consistency that was less thick and pasty than the pizza. The main flavor that came across was the banana with an after-taste of ginger. The food was sweet and tasted good from the first squeeze. I especially liked the ginger flavor because it felt warming and comforting on the cold day. This flavor was lighter and easier to digest. As I continued snowshoeing, I felt less aware that I had just eaten, compared to the pizza flavor.
A few hours later, I felt hungry and sluggish so I stopped to try the sweet potato with sea salt. After the pizza, I was more accustomed to the idea of savory paste-like food, so the first bite was less of a shock. The flavor immediately reminded me of sweet potato fries and the consistency was similar to that of a fine potato puree. The food was filling but not too heavy and I had no problems resuming exercise afterwards.
Several days later, I tried the last flavor: banana mango with coconut. The mango flavor came out the strongest, followed by the banana. The coconut rounded out the flavor and gave the food a refreshing sensation with a cooling effect. This flavor was also very appealing and easily consumed.
Overall, I think that the new Clif foods are a good fuel option for snowshoers. None of the flavors taste artificial in any way. They come in compact pouches that can be kept in a pocket to keep thawed. In cold weather where stopping to take a break might feel uncomfortably cold, they are easy to eat on the move. I also appreciate having two types of food for different activities. It is definitely worth giving the new flavors a try so that you can leave the soon-to-be-frozen sandwich at home.