Is there any aspect of cycling that has escaped our insatiable appetite for marginal gains? Sir David Brailsford has much to answer for and as the gigantean twitter following of his former Team Sky chef, Søren Kristiansen, so clearly demonstrates, nutrition is not immune to our constant quest to transform ourselves from Christopher Biggins into Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Sport Nutrition is a competitive market, with brands competing with one another to convince us that their magic formulas enhance our performance and dietary needs, but rather than provide clarity, their respective claims can cause one to collapse in a sobbing, bewildered fuddle of carbs, proteins, electrolytes and maltodextrin. It’s often difficult to understand the relative merits and flaws of the competing products, but almost impossible to extricate the science from the ballsy marketing claims.

So it a blessed relief when a nutrition product arrives on the market that was conceived simply to make consumption a little easier when riding, whilst giving a sustained energy boost at the same time. 

Eating a conventional energy bar when cycling at a medium tempo, especially the oat-based variety, challenges our ability to multi-task. Does one chose to breathe and stop chewing or chew and stop breathing? And if the pace increases, one risks the danger of either choking mid-ride or depositing a semi-masticated bolus of cereal bar all over your top tube.

Cue the Lancashire based sports nutrition specialists, Secret Training, who have come up with the answer in the form of their new Stealth Juice Bar. Their Juice Bar occupies that grey area between energy bars and energy gels – delivering the same energy boost in a form that is more easily digestible than conventional energy bars, but a little more substantial and enjoyable than just squeezing a sickly gel down your throat.

Founded by former European Champion Track Cyclist, Tim Lawson, Secret Training offers an ever-growing range of sports nutrition products, that have been developed using ingredients and formulas that cut out those ‘scary ingredients’ that Lawson identified in some sports nutrition products, relying more on well-balanced formulas that utilise natural ingredients wherever possible.

His own background and tough training regimes left Lawson with an appreciation of the need for dependable and trustworthy products, so it’s no great surprise to learn that Secret Training products undergo extensive testing prior to their release, drawing on feedback from a wide spectrum of sports men and women, including amateurs, pro cyclists and elite, Olympic-level athletes. That all-important pro endorsement has seen Secret Training supplying some leading domestic teams, including Madison Genesis, and also the Tinkoff team, which included Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador, before the Russian team disbanded last year. 

‘Made for athletes, for athletes’ is one of the company slogans, but the nature of the Juice Bar, which are both gluten-free and suitable for vegans, makes them particularly beneficial to road cyclists who regularly train or ride at a moderate to high tempo. 

A huge amount of R&D has gone into the development, aided by feedback from pro riders, both on the road and track, including members of the British UCI Continental team JLT Condor: “I can never manage to chew through a conventional bar,” one of their riders tells us in the marketing blurb that accompanies a box of Secret Training products sent to Wheelsuckers’ HQ for testing. So for me, the Juice Bar opens up an alternative to just using gels and drinks. I tried the bar during some moderate intensity road efforts and it’s definitely easy to swallow quickly on the move.”

At time of writing, Secret Training offer only two Juice Bar options; Apple & Blackcurrant and the rather delicious Orange & Pineapple. The all-important consistency is that of a gummy, puree like paste. Open up the 50g sachets and you have to push the contents to the opening. It’s firm enough to bite a section off, but soft enough to chew and easily consume. The only comparable food stuff I can think of is malt loaf – a similar moist ‘in the mouth’ sensation.

Easy to swallow it may be, but a knock-on benefit of the Juice Bar is that its consistency allows you to pop it back, unfinished, into a rear pocket – useful if you just want a pre-ride nibble (recommended by the way) or if someone decides to attack the moment you tear off the top of the sachet!

If, like me, you tend to eat conventional energy bars during longer training or lower tempo rides, but prefer the quick speed and delivery of a gel when riding at a higher tempo or racing, then the juice bar provides a happy medium.

Energy providing carbs of the Juice Bar comes in the form of isomaltulose. Now, if you’re not familiar with isomaltulose (I wasn’t prior to trying out these bars!) then a quick bit of background might be useful. In short, it’s a natural ‘smart sugar’, manufactured from sugar beet and a combination of sucrose and fructose. Each 50g Juice bar includes 15% of the stuff, and Secret Training claim that  isomaltulose effectively provides sustained, slow release energy (4kcal/g), which helps to nullify the glycaemic ‘sugar spike’ effect that is the hallmark of more sugar-based sports nutrition products.

Lawson is also keen to point out other benefits of the Stealth Juice Bar over gels.  Solid food can provide a more sustained energy release that rapidly absorbed energy boosters like gels,” he explains. “Often ‘solid food’ is the only source of soluble fibre during a ride.” In short, Juice Bars are more beneficial and friendly to ones gastrointestinal tract than gels, which will make those of you out there who might experience an adverse stomach reaction to gels sit up and take notice.

Science lesson over, and time now to turn to what they actually taste like! Firstly, both bars have a nice freshness of flavour – no doubt due to the 24% of fruit juice contained in both – and both are not overly sweet, like some gels out there. The Apple & Blackcurrant brings and autumnal feel to spring rides, but the Orange & Pineapple is sublime – delicious enough to be consumed as an everyday snack.

Both the raison d’etre of the Juice Bars and the two flavours won a definite ‘thumbs up’ from our testers. As marginal gains go, they may not propel you into a Cat1 rider in a mouthful, but Lawson and the Secret Training team have definitely identified a specific gap in the fuelling options available to cyclists and exploited it with a product that delivers a good fruity taste and that all important energy boost when it matters most!

Secret Training have a growing range of nutrition products, all in the same ‘Stealth’ branded range, and in addition to the Juice Bar, the Wheelsuckers’ team had the perfect opportunity to road test some of their hydration drink mixes during the recent hot spell.  Again, it’s the flavours that mark these out from some brands on the market. Lemon Tea, or Mango & Passion Fruit anyone? All testers agreed that the range of hydration drinks tested were sweet to the taste, though no more than other market leaders, but the fresh flavours shine through.

A couple of us loved the Blackcurrant & Elderflower, but one tester said it reminded her of the cream soda and cherryade she used to spend her pocket money on in her youth!  Those wanting a more familiar taste may like the Lemon and Lime – which delivers a zesty citrus freshness, which one tester assured us tasted even better when chilled overnight, with a handful of ice cubes thrown in for good measure.

A range of Secret Training Energy Gels were also on the menu – 60g sachets aimed and providing that quick, easily digestible boost when you need it most. The Secret Training range includes several Isotonic gels, others containing 20% ‘real fruit’ and a single caffeine and betaine gel in Berry flavour.  Again, great flavours prevailed, though the refreshing Watermelon Isotonic gel was the stand out flavour, with the Forest Fruits Isotonic a close second.

It’s difficult to quantify how effective one brand of nutrition products is over another and whether a flavour works for you is very personal and subjective. What Secret Training offer, however, is a excellent array of products that provide energy release, hydration and post-ride nutrition using natural flavours that will provide your taste buds with something to savour too.

Secret Training Juice Bars come in two flavours, Apple & Blackcurrant and Orange & Pineapple. They can be purchased directly from their website, priced at £25 for a box of 16 x 50g bars.

For more information on the respective products, their ingredients and nutritional information, visit the excellent Secret Training website, which also includes some interesting blogs relating to their growing range of products and the athletes that use them. In addition to nutrition, Secret Training also offer a range of race day packs, filled with those essential cycling toiletries like anti-chaffing cream, hygiene wipes and even ‘pins in a tin’ for the dedicated racers out there! 

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Comment by Nick Williamson on July 7, 2017 at 13:35
Great read Dave, I will be giving these a go.

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