Instead of the big build-up, I'm going to give you the payoff at the beginning. VFuel is offering readers of this blog 25% off of your first two orders of VFuel Endurance gels (go to VFuel.com and use the code "dirtyrunning"). Also, you have a chance to win nearly $100 worth of VFuel (that's a 24-pack box of each flavor...chocolate, peach cobbler, and vanilla) by leaving a comment on this blog post. Great, now you can read about how awesome VFuel is.
I first heard of VFuel Endurance gels from Tim Long's blog. He is a great writer and I enjoy reading his race reports. I remember him writing about VFuel and how he would take one every 20-30 minutes with no stomach issues; I was intrigued. I have a history with gels. At times I have loved them, and when I say "them," I'm talking about one particular brand...I'm not going to name names, but come on, you know who you are. But recently, I have had stomach issues when I try to use gels. I'll spare you the technicolor details, but stomach issues, for me, does not simply mean a slightly upset stomach. Recently, I switched to real food for longer training days, but carrying rice cakes around a race course is not very convenient, and unless you are hiking, they are hard to get down.
When Michael Hodges, the co-founder of VFuel emailed me and asked if I would review his product, it was like all the planets were aligning. I was stressed about nutrition for the 100K, I had just read about VFuel on Tim's blog and heard about the gels from Nick Pedatella, and I would most likely have placed an order for VFuel without any prompting on Michael's part, but that's just how the world works sometimes, so lucky me (and lucky you because you get a fat discount and a chance to win $100 worth of VFuel). I was honest with Michael, and I told him about my troubles with gels, and that I was trying to switch to solid food, but I also realized that in the later stages of a long race, it's harder to digest real foods. I told him I was planning on doing the Cuyamaca 100K and I would love to try the VFuel Endurance gels for the race (and on some longer training runs before the race to see if they would work for me). Michael came through with several boxes of gels, enough that I was able to share some with some of my running friends (spoiler alert: they really liked it).
I tried the VFuel gels on a couple of training runs, and I loved the taste (especially the peach cobbler flavor...I'm not sure where they get their supply of unicorn tears, and how they can keep the price so low), and they seemed to work, but the real test would come during the Cuyamaca 100K. I started the race with a handful of gels and a couple rice cakes. I tried to load up on calories early in the race, but really had to slow down to eat the rice cakes. It's really hard for me to get solid food down when I'm running, so I slowed to a hike. I didn't have a problem with slowing down, because I was planning to take the day real easy, but it would have been a problem if I was pushing for a certain time. I took a gel about every 30 minutes during the race, and after about the halfway point, I switched exclusively to gels (except for the luxury of warm chicken noodle soup that I allowed myself at the last two aid stations). The gels worked great for my race. I didn't have the stomach issues that I experienced at the San Diego 100 that forced me out of the race. I felt like I had sustained energy for the entire day, and I felt like I could have kept going. Really, the only thing that tasted better than the VFuel was the carne asada waiting at the finish line (hint, hint...carne asada flavored gels).
The VFuel gels taste great, but there is also some science stuff going on that makes them effective, and while I'm not a scientist (although, occasionally, I do like to add Mentos to Diet Coke), this info may be why the VFuel works.
- They use dextrose instead of fructose, so the gels are easier to digest.
- The flavoring is natural and organic. In the chocolate flavor, they only use organic, non alkalized, real cocoa powder and a hint of pure, real vanilla. In vanilla, just pure and real vanilla is used. In the fruit flavors, they use organic natural flavors to get them as close to the real thing as possible.
- The VFuel is designed with recovery in mind...every single ingredient has benefits towards recovery.
- The amount of caffeine in the gel is enough to act as a digestive aid, not as a stimulant.
- The same goes for the electrolytes. The magnesium and potassium contained in the gel are there for ammonia scavenging (recovery) benefits and not as an electrolyte supplement. They feel the electrolyte needs vary greatly between people and weather conditions to be able to get an accurate amount of electrolytes in any one formula for a given outing.
- The MCT oil is a new concept in gels. It is coconut oil that has had all of the 'bad' stuff removed and what is left is a very pure, clean fatty oil. They are the only gel to offer any sort of fat, a crucial component 70 miles into a 100 mile run, or 13.1 miles into the marathon during an Iron Man. This oil is treated and metabolized more as a carb rather than a fat. It goes straight to the liver and used immediately as a quick energy source. This is another reason why VFuel is so easily digested.
And I thought they worked just because they tasted good.
I had some questions for the co-founder of VFuel, and he was nice enough to respond. I really just expected one or two sentence answers, but man this guy is thorough. There is a lot of good information here, but if you've read enough and want to try VFuel, skip to the bottom and enter to win $100 worth of VFuel (that's a box of each flavor...chocolate, peach cobbler, and vanilla).
Why would someone choose VFuel over another option like Gu or Clif?
Know that we are very proud of what we have created here at VFuel. We wouldn't have come out with another gel if it wasn't quite different from what is out there currently. As a company created by active endurance athletes who have used any and every gel, bar, drink, etc... out there, we have personal experience with the drawbacks of each and hear the complaints that most people have with gels. "They make me bloated." "They 'back me up.'" "They make me nauseated." And it goes on and on in the same fashion. We began making our own gel as we experienced many of the same issues with everything else out there. As we began the creation of VFuel, the main goal was to create a gel that was easily digestible. We wanted a gel that wouldn't make you nauseous. In addition, ever single ingredient is in the gel for a very specific purpose, including aiding in digestion. The biggest change in this regard is that we do not use fructose, we use dextrose. Dextrose goes directly to muscle glycogen not relying on the liver to break it down, as fructose does. It doesn't take much fructose to back your system up, which causes all of the issues that most people associate with gels. We even had a beta tester with Crohn's disease that was able to use VFuel with zero stomach issues, and it now able to train for endurance events again. Prior to VFuel, she simply couldn't fuel for longer runs and certainly couldn't handle any gel, due to the high amounts of fructose.
We also feel that our blend of maltodextrin and dextrose provided extremely consistent energy levels. Most of the feedback we get includes statements that runners are experiencing very consistent energy levels and are not getting the spikes in energy that they get from other gels. Running 100 miles is a roller coaster of emotion as it is. There is no need to expect a roller coaster of energy from your fueling and nutrition plan. This takes an element of the unknown out of ultra distance running and lets one focus on the task at hand instead of managing their 'gut issues.'
Another major aspect that makes VFuel different is our VFuel Endurance Formula. Every ingredient in this formula is there to do one of four things: aid in digestion, reduce muscle fatigue, promote recovery, and/or provide consistent energy. We are also the only gel to have a clean, true fat in the formula. It is in the form of a fractionated coconut oil, and is seen as a carb to your body, so gets used very quickly and cleanly. This offers an additional metabolic pathway that can be used for energy creation. There is really only one other gel out there that even comes close to providing these performance and recovery benefits, but they charge $2.50 per packet, and we have set our price at $1.35 per packet. We want people to be able to use this day in, day out, for training AND on race day.
Overall, we truly believe that VFuel tastes great, uses quality and well purposed ingredients, and helps improve performance and recovery. We want to stand out from the rest, and there is no gel out there that can offer it all.
I've been sick a few times while consuming gels as my sole source of nutrition, and other times I've been fine. Can you explain some of the variables that can cause stomach distress?
There are definitely a few factors that come into play here. The biggest factor is the use of fructose in most gels. Ones metabolic pathway is very limited when fructose is involved. It's a short chained carb so your body wants to use it quickly, which it does. However, it takes some work to turn it into energy. It first has to be broken down in the liver after which it moves on to your muscles in the form of glycogen. This takes some time and requires certain enzymes, which your body has a limited number of at any given time, to break down. If you keep piling more fructose on top of itself, things back up and this process slows down or stops. This causes you to get bloated, nauseated, and show other symptoms of gastric distress.
The times that you have been fine while using other gels tells me a couple of things. One is that you may have a high 'constitution.' In other words, you may be able to handle more fructose than others. This issue doesn't effect everyone every time. I have some friends who can fuel a 100 mile run on ding dongs and gummy bears. If i did that, I may make it 10 miles before you'd find me in the fetal position on the side of the trail. Everyone is different. What VFuel does is remove this issue from the equation.
After hours on the trail and after consuming gel after gel, it is hard for me to choke down anything sweet, do you have any advice or alternatives to a sweet gel?
This is definitely an common issue that we hear with gels. And let me be clear, we are not saying that we think everyone should use gels, or VFuel, as their sole source of fuel for anything. This can work for some people, but we understand that we are all different, have different tastes, and different preferences. We just think that if you use gel, you will get the most benefit out of using VFuel, and the more you use, the more you will reap the benefits of the recovery and energy aspects. There are many great options that can be used, in an alternating fashion, in conjunction with gel to change it up and give you some variety. Clean sources of protein can taste great when you've had enough sweet. One of our founders, Alan Smith, used two sources of fuel as he completed the Rocky Mountain Slam this year. He would alternate between beef (frozen the day before and put in drop bags) and VFuel. This worked very well and the beef was a nice way to change it up. He fueled the Bighorn 100, Hardrock, Leadville, and the Bear 100 using only beef and VFuel. And we have no affiliation with Scott Jurek, but if you haven't read his book Eat & Run, I'd recommend it. He has some great vegan options for those of you who won't do the beef. I have used rice and miso balls that have worked pretty well, a variation of some of Scott's suggestions in his book. Salty and, for me, sat well in my stomach. But the key is to experiment and find what works for you. It definitely takes some time to figure out what's going to taste good, sit well, and give you usable energy when you're 65 miles into a 100.
Along those same lines, what do you recommend as far as fueling goes for a 50 mile race? What about a 100 mile race? If there is a difference, why the difference?
There is definitely a difference in fueling for these two very different distances. For a 50, you can get away with a bit more. If you get a bit 'off' on your nutrition plan you can usually push through it and the deficit wont effect you in the middle of the night, when you're at mile 75 of a 100 mile event. In the 100 though, pushing through fueling issues/deficits, without taking the time and effort to address them and fix them, will certainly come back to bite you. I take more of a training approach to my fueling for a 50. I don't find it necessary to stack any fueling early on and, depending on feel, wont be quite as strict on the timing of my calorie (and VFuel) intake. Though I will, and recommend, stick to one gel about every 30 minutes for a 50 mile run. If not for the immediate energy needs, then for the recovery benefits. I'll feel much better the next day.
For a 100 mile run, I recommend eating early and often. I'll still base my VFuel intake to one gel every 30 minutes, but will often take a little more, especially on a climb. On climbs, such as Hope Pass, I'll switch to one gel every 20 minutes. You can't bank time in a 100, but you can, in a way, bank your calories as long as you don't grossly overdo it. And I, personally, will eat more solid food during a 100, though this isn't the case for everyone. I can easily do a 50 mile run on gel alone, but the 2nd half of a 100 is a bit different and I crave solid food. So I alternate. Sometimes chicken or beef, sometimes fruit and veggies. It just depends on how i'm feeling.
This difference in fueling strategy between the two is simply a factor of the difference in distance. 100 miles is drastically different than 50 in every way and your fueling plan needs to adapt accordingly. The more VFuel you can handle early on in a 100, the more you will delay the onset muscle fatigue that is inherent in these types of events, and the better fueled your muscles will be for longer.
What is the shortest distance or time you would suggest going without VFuel?
We highly recommend consuming 1 packet about 15 minutes before your run (training or race). Then one every 30 to 45 minutes depending on terrain and effort level. For example, I'll use one packet every 20 minutes when running a steep climb, and even go as long as an hour between gels if I'm out on a casual hike with family or friends. And we recommend one packet within 10 minutes of the completion of a run (training or race) simply to benefit more from the recovery aspects of our formula.
The peach cobbler was my favorite, and I'd like to know if you are infringing on any trade secrets from Peach Jolly Rancher? Are you planning on introducing any other flavors? Any hints?
Haha! No, I certain we're not infringing on any trade secrets! That was an experiment gone horribly right! We were playing with flavors and I found a peach flavor that is 100% naturally extracted from peaches. The process is amazing and we're so glad we found this flavor! I threw a bit of this flavor in, added a dash of cinnamon then went for a run! I couldn't wait for every 30 minutes to pass until I could eat another packet! You're right, the stuff is great!
As far as other flavors, we definitely have some in the works. I don't want to give anything away, but think citrus, think ginger, and even think savory! And, as always, we are very welcoming of suggestions! If any of your readers have any thoughts on flavors, no matter how crazy or wild they may be we encourage their suggestions! We're kind of perfectionists in this way and open to anything, so if they suggest it, we will probably give it a shot to see how it tastes!
That's my review. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you give VFuel a try because it's good stuff and they are a great company run by endurance athletes who know their stuff and care about what goes in your body on long runs.
Now for the giveaway. Just leave a comment below (note: you don't need have a Google account to comment, just click the "Comment As" dropdown menu below and click "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" to comment without an account). You will be entered to win nearly $100 worth of VFuel gels (that's a 24-pack box of each flavor...chocolate, peach cobbler, and vanilla). You don't need to write anything specific for the comment, just "yo," or "hi," or a sublime running haiku...whatever you want. I'm going to pick a random winner in the coming weeks. If you would like, you can also go like the VFuel Facebook page (and read reports and reviews from much faster runners who use VFuel).
To order VFuel and take advantage of 25% off of your first two orders, go to VFuel.com and enter the code "dirtyrunning."
Thanks for reading, and good luck.
Disclaimer: I received VFuel Endurance gels to try out for this review (even though I was going to buy them anyway), but you already knew that.