The back story for this review takes place in April, during the product tasting session my friends and I had with Chris Randall, Brand Manager of CLIF SHOT products. He’s the one who gave us samples of upcoming products, and discussed plans that were in the works for new releases later in the year. That conversation included the following exchange:
Chris: We’re also reformulating our SHOT energy gel.
Me: Oh, good, because … um, nevermind.
Chris: No, it’s OK – go ahead and say it.
Me: That stuff was terrible.
Chris: Yeah … you’re not the only one who thinks that.
Needless to say, CLIF had dug itself a bit of a hole in having its gel product embraced by endurance athletes, but Chris welcomed the challenge. I was reminded of this when I visited the new headquarters last month, and received a handful of the new gels in my goody bag. I also happened to see Chris again there, and he was excited for me to test them out. He impressed me quite a bit with his response to one final caveat I offered:
Me: I should tell you that I’m a huge GU fan.
Him: That’s actually good to hear – we want feedback from loyal GU users. That’s what we’re aiming for.
And that’s how I ended up with a whole bag of the new CLIF SHOT gel flavors, which I’ve been using for the past few weeks now. I brought the bag to Utah with me this month, and unbeknownst to me, Stacy from Wilderness Running Company had also bought two boxes for us to use – so between our two stashes, CLIF SHOT ended up being the official on-course support for our epic Zion National Park run. The feedback was generally pretty positive – but first, it’s worth mentioning what’s so different about these new gels.
The main ingredient of the new formula is organic maltodextrin, which replaces the brown rice syrup that gave previous CLIF SHOTs a fairly harsh aftertaste. The resulting gel has a mildly sweet taste and a thinner consistency than the previous version, and it's also noticeably thinner and sweeter than GU. All of the new flavors contain at least 85% organic ingredients, and are packed with 50% more electrolytes than the previous formulation.
You’ll need to pay attention to the ingredient list, however, because the amounts of sodium, potassium, and caffeine vary with each of the eight flavors. For example, two flavors - chocolate cherry and double espresso - have 100mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of two shots of coffee, while the vanilla and fruit flavors have less caffeine, but 50% more sodium than the chocolate or mocha flavors. To be fair, GU has variability in its electrolyte and caffeine amounts as well, and in some cases, the potassium levels of CLIF SHOT are even higher than GU’s high-endurance Roctane flavors.
CLIF even thought to improve the packaging of their new gels. The innovative litter-leash opening that was introduced with the first version is maintained, and seemed to us to be slightly shorter and thicker to improve its attachment to the main package (the old ones used to tear off the package quite easily). It has a narrower opening for cleaner consumption, and rounded corners for more comfortable transport in a thin pocket.
All of those things are secondary to the primary question, however: how do they taste? During our lab testing at Zion, our group of ultrarunners was pleasantly surprised. The vanilla and fruit flavors scored very high with a taste that was sweet but not too strong or tart, and we all thought the new citrus flavor was amazing.
From the testing I’ve done so far, I’d say that CLIF has made a remarkable improvement with its SHOT gel, and while they’re not quite the equivalent of GU, they’ve narrowed the gap considerably. I’d still prefer GU during an ultra, because I like the fact that they have ginger to calm my stomach (sure, it might be a placebo effect, but don’t tell me that - it’s working well for me), which CLIF lacks. And even with the electrolyte boost, they don’t have a similar offering to the amino acid blend of GU’s Roctane, which is supposed to help slow the rate of muscle damage during activity (same placebo disclaimer here).
What I’ve settled on for now is to stick with GU as my first choice for runs of 50K or more, mainly because they’ve worked great for me and there really isn’t any reason for me to change. However, during long training days I’ll definitely combine my favorite SHOT flavors (vanilla and citrus) with my favorite GU flavors (vanilla, jet blackberry, and vanilla orange Roctane) for a wider variety of options to keep me fueled with steady energy throughout the workout.
If you’re one of the winners of the giveaway, you can figure out your own balance between the two. Leave a comment below this post by 5PM PST on Wednesday, November 17, and I’ll pick three winners to receive a sampler pack of the new CLIF SHOT gels. Good luck to everyone, and big thanks to CLIF for sponsoring this contest.
*Product provided by CLIF Bar and Company
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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