I’ve been willing to review sports nutrition product for a long time. Now that I finally get to start, I decided to dive straight into it and review a range of products that you are most likely familiar with (if you ended up here): the iconic Clif Bars. Here we go !
1/ The company:
Clif Bar has been founded in 1992: if you (can) remember, that’s when sports nutrition was mostly focused on making elite runners swallow carbs as fast as possible. In other words, nutrition for ultra-endurance was an untouched territory. In this context, the project of a bar aimed at trail runners, adventure bikers or climbers was fairly innovative. The brand developed amazingly from there, opening a new niche in the sports nutrition market. They were joined later by many other brands in the now crowded adventure-organic-real ingredient segment. In addition, Clif holds a solid reputation of being an amazing place to work, with a great work-life balance for its employees and a sustainable business model.
A priori, lots of positive stuff. So, with no further introduction, let’s dissect their most famous product.
2/ The product and its category:
The Clif Bar was the original product of … you got it … Clif Bar. This is the type of bar that gives you about 70 g of stuff to chew on, meaning we are clearly in the ultra/adventure food category. To put it differently, do not plan to eat this while running fast or you may die in the process. So, I kept this in mind and reviewed the Clif Bar during trail running or during long rides.
Oh, and another thing before we continue: I bought these bars in Germany in may ‘16, so anything that has happened since then or anything that is country specific won’t be fully covered here, sorry. With this in mind, let’s move to the real stuff.
There are a handful of flavors (18, I believe) of the Clif bars so I picked 4 among the flavors that I like and that are available where I live. I’ll give quick thoughts about the other flavors I could try in the last section.
It seems that Clif has made lots of efforts lately to reduce the environmental impact of their wrappers. First, they announced that they reduced by 10% the size of the wrapper (so, 10% less waste). Also, they teamed up with TerraCycle to start a free recycling program of gel pouches and bar wrappers (check it out here). Probably that half of the wrappers they got were given by Scott Jurek during his Appalachian speed record (look at this, seriously), but anyway… The good news is that you can also send them all the other energy bar wrappers, as long as they are foil-lined.
So, after you opened the wrapper and sent it to recycle, here is how the bars look like.
And a close-up from the inside.
A great point for me is that you get to see what the package promises: in this case, big chocolate chips, bits of peanuts, almonds or macadamia nuts.
You may already notice, however, that the bars themselves are pretty different from each other. We’ll come back to this heterogeneity between bars in a second. So, it’s not a real negative point, but be aware that, it’s not because you like one of the bars that you’ll like all of them.
And here are the bars on my (non-really calibrated) scale. It says 68 g on the package but it seems that Clif gives an extra-bit of everything.
I’ve heard a lot that reviewing nutrition would be impossible and irrelevant. That criticism mostly came from the idea that everybody has his own specific taste for things. In brief, you may hate something that I love and vice-versa.
While there is no doubt about this, I believe it is possible to describe the texture and flavor in an objective manner. Then, if you think that the objective description matches your taste (ie you like crunchy watermelon-flavored waffles), you can try the product and make up your mind.
I have come up with a graphical representation of the texture and flavor profiles. I’ll try to stick to that in the future. Leave a comment below if you have suggestions to improve things.
5/ Situation test:
I took this bar with me on a few long trail runs, including races. It made me realize a few more things than when I was just looking at it in my kitchen.
– DENSE: The bar is indeed dense so there is quite some chewing required. The positive side for me is that you get the feeling that you’re having some real food and it definitely calms the hunger you can feel during long runs. The downside is that I was having a hard time eating that bar during a race, even bit by bit, because I didn’t want to stop.
– BIG: You need to be hungry if you plan to eat all of the bar at once. There’s nothing that keeps you from eating only half and putting the rest in you pocket. The bar is not too sticky and the wrapper is of good quality, so you can put things back to your bag without making a mess.
– RESISTANT TO WARM TEMPERATURES: No bad surprise with the chocolate-based bars when exposed to 20-30°C temperatures. Even the chocolate chips seem to resist. I haven’t tried higher temperatures though.
– HARD WHEN COLD: I remembered almost breaking my teeth while trying to eat a Clif bar during a ski tour last winter. So, I recreated winter conditions by leaving a few Clif bars in my fridge for a few hours.
And I was impressed by the changes in the texture of the bars after only a few hours in the fridge. They became like stones, hardly chewable.
Though it’s certainly a recurrent problem with cereal-based bars, I would clearly advise not to count on the Clif bars for endurance in the cold (unless you’re a rodent). A few hours after they got back at room temperature, the bars were normal again, as if nothing happened.
Some warnings I need to do before we touch upon the nutritional values.
1/ the nutritional values I’ll talk about will systematically be those written on the product wrappers of the bars I bought. You may get different values elsewhere, be it on the official brand websites or on the wrappers of the same bars just bought in another country. Although it’s weird, I know, it’s due to a variety of technical reasons that would be a great topic for a next article !
2/ As you may notice, the nutritional values may slightly change between flavors of the same product.
Below are the nutritional values for the Chocolate Chip Clif bar.
|/ 1 bar (68 g)||/100 g|
|Carbohydrate (g) / Sugar (g)||39 / 23||57 / 34|
|Fat (g) / Saturated fat (g)||4.5 / 1.5||6.6 / 2.2|
|Sodium (mg)||148 (calculated from salt)||217 (calculated from salt)|
This makes a Clif bar a little caloric bomb. If you’re planning an ultra, you probably don’t want to have more than a Clif bar per hour+. Most of the energy comes from carbs, but there is still a substantial amount of fats: given the fact that this is not a high-performance, but rather an adventure type of bar, this is of course no problem. And, to be honest, it is probably that fat content that makes the Clif bars tasty.
Again, Clif has lots of flavors available and you may see the nutrition values can change a bit. Overall, it’s still in the same ballpark though. Pick whatever pleases your palate.
CONCLUSION … AND THE POINTS!
The reputation of the Clif bar is great and testing the product in depth showed that there is a reason for this. The Clif bars are great, but it’s not all rainbows and butterflies!
To me, the weak point of the Clif bars is that they are very very very usage-specific. Their usage is basically limited to long endurance workouts, for which you can afford to stop and eat. Oh, and the temperatures should be moderate if you want your teeth to survive. If you do long workouts and live at decent latitudes though, the Clif bar is just awesome.
That’s the strong point of the Clif bars. The bars really contain big chunks of chocolate or nuts, and I’ve never been disappointed when I opened a pouch. The wrappers are great and resistant and there’s a program to recycle them.
This is of course subjective but I love how Clif has many different flavors, that are both very distinct from each other but still have a certain Clif bar signature. With 18 flavors, you will probably find one you like.
The nutrition sheet looks good for an endurance bar, with a good balance between carbs and fat, all of this provided by wholesome ingredients.
Overall, it’s 15/20 for the Clif bars!
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more testing!