|Editors note: I
don't do product reviews. Not worth the hassle. But after watching Casey
Zaugg develop his commercial product over the last year, I was impressed
by the amount of science he put into it. So I thought, just for kicks, I'd
give it a sorta-scientific test. (Disclosure: Casey did
give me a free carton of the product for testing purposes.) - Bruce
Coconutz Fuel energy balls
If you're a casual rider, here's all you need to know: This stuff
tastes great; it's easy to eat; and it's real food. Consider it a superior
alternative to energy bars, gels, chomps, etc.
For elite endurance riders, this
product has excellent on-bike eat-ability and provides a good balance of fuels.
It offers excellent steady-state energy production with superior bonk prevention
Product info: Coconutz Fuel web site - the energy bar alternative!
I normally don't eat anything solid while pedaling the bike. It's because my
oft-broken nose doesn't give me enough air. Yeah, I'm a mouth-breather. Even at
the mildest cycling pace, I can't eat and breathe at the same time. This
makes foods like jelly beans, chomps, and gummy bears impossible. They're
likely to end up in my windpipe. Granola bars yield bitty flakes
that I suck straight into my lungs. With solid-chunk bars, I'm
sucking bits of spit into my lungs and drooling on my chest, long before I'm ready
to swallow. Now that you know my prejudices, how do the energy balls compare?
Eating starts with getting the food out of its container. I can open gel packs
easily while riding road or straight trail, but it's impossible on
the twisty stuff. Even on straight trail, bar and chomp packages thwart my gloved hands as I try to get open
hitting a tree. The Coconutz Fuel energy balls are stored in a plastic tube that sits upright
in the jersey pocket. Dump one into your mouth, and it's just the right amount
to chew up quickly.
||I was able to retrieve the tube, pop the top, eat a Coconutz ball, and
return it to the pocket one-handed while riding. It was significantly easier and took less
time than a bar or gel pack. Gel bottles
and water bottles with caloric fluids were a bit easier per hit than the Coconutz
balls, but it took three or four hits to get the 40 calories in a ball. Easiest of all, though, is a Camelbak filled with liquid calories.
Rating for access
while riding: Good, better than any other solid product.
The balls have a soft center, so they break up really fast.
Compared to energy bars and chomps, the balls are very easy to chew and go down quickly.
No chunks. I was able to eat while motoring along, without slobber or aspiration.
Yes, it was
easier to drink the calories with a dilute-gel flask. But if we're just comparing solid products, the balls are easiest
of anything I've tried to eat
Eat-ability rating: Excellent
The balls really are good tasting. They have a fresh
"food" taste. I could easily taste the fruit and nuts. I'd rank Coconutz
balls ahead of any energy bar I've tried. Flavors include Cherry Cashew Attack, Berry Almond Explosion,
and Mango Macadamia Madness. There's a sampler pack that lets you try all
Taste rating: Excellent
Test 2: Power source for endurance riding
I have relative insulin resistance, an inheritance from my mother. When I bonk,
I hit the wall hard and fast. For long endurance rides where I'll need
on-the-bike calories, I've used gel packs plus electrolyte drink, with the
occasional granola bar for rest stops. For example on
the one-day White Rim ride I used 18 100-calorie gels, 2 bars, plus 140 ounces of Gatorade.
I wanted to see how well Coconutz Fuel worked as my only source of calories
during a long ride. (For calorie counting, one foil pack of balls is equivalent
to two standard gels at 200 calories.)
|| I rode an out-and-back on the Bonneville Shoreline from
Ogden to the Divide, exploring all the connector trails. The distance was 36
miles over 6 hours. I used two packs of balls. For a comparison, the next week I
used 5 gels while riding over Hog Hollow to Corner Canyon with 28 miles over 5
hours. Both rides were with minimal breakfast so I'd be fueling only with gel or
I did encounter one issue: refilling the tube while riding. Not
recommended. For longer rides, load up three or four tubes. Other riders tell me they
simply pre-snip the top of the foil pack
so they can squeeze balls directly from the foil during really long races.
|Sustained power delivery test:
While staying in Zone 3 and low Zone 4
for most of the ride, I ate balls as needed. My legs stayed pretty fresh. When I
ate a ball, I got a quick boost but also noticed that the energy was more
sustained. Instead of a too-weak-to-pedal bonk as a gel wore off, I just felt a
little hungry when I was due for another ball. With approximately the same
number of calories per hour burned and the same rate of calories ingested, I
started to bonk twice with the gels but not at all with Coconutz Fuel. The "fade" with Coconutz Fuel was slower and I could more easily
"suck it up" and keep pedaling.
Endurance fuel rating: Excellent.
Test 3: Bonk recovery - speed and duration of
For this test, I got on my trainer without breakfast 4 days in a row. Day 1 and
3 were GU days, 2 and 4 were Coconutz Fuel days. I'd ride at 250 watts (just
below lactate threshold) until I faded and couldn't sustain a wattage over 200.
The "fade to 160 watts" is a classic bonk profile for me on century
rides. On an empty stomach it took between a half hour and 90 minutes to bonk.
Once the bonk hit,
I'd drop to 140 watts and quickly take in a gel or 2.5 fuel balls (to match 100
calories). Then I'd push toward 270
(my time trial wattage) as quickly as my legs allowed. What I was looking for
was how quickly I could come back, matching the same almost-redline perceived
exertion. I'd try to maintain 20 minutes at time trial (TT) wattage --
less than a climb up Suncrest from my side of the mountain. I was expecting Coconutz Fuel to
hit slower than the gel but last a little longer.
||Bonk recovery test:
I could feel the natural fruit sugars in the
Coconutz Fuel hitting me immediately. That "oh,
wow, that feels better" sensation was also there with the gel, but was more muted. So surprisingly, the balls won the speed test. On both Coconutz days, the muscles
recovered strength faster and I was comfortable pushing up to TT wattage more quickly.
(Tracings screen-grabbed and combined from power hub software
of road bike)
| After the post-bonk refueling, I wasn't
able to maintain TT wattage for the full 20 minutes with either product. I gave
out at around 14. But the
Coconutz balls had a less-sudden failure -- a more tapered decrease in wattage
-- and a higher overall work volume. I did find, both times, that my heart rate
at 270 watts was around 10 bpm lower when powered by Coconutz. Not sure
why. I also felt less beat up coming off the TT with the balls.
|As a comparison, I tried the same test (only once) with a
fruit puree that comes in a foil pouch with a cap. Seemed like a tasty
food to slurp on-trail. It hit me really fast, but dumped me even faster.
I was able to sustain only five minutes at TT wattage and the re-bonk was
vicious. The product had 15 gm carb, 14 of which were sugars.
||The bottom line was faster wattage recovery that was sustained
slightly longer calorie-for-calorie, with a smoother "fade" as
the fuel wore off.
Bonk recovery rating: Excellent.
At races, I usually suck down a last-minute gel as my category is moving toward
the start line. My goal is to have those calories hit my muscles just in time,
without provoking insulin secretion that would make me hypoglycemic during the
race. (If I take a gel more than 20 minutes pre-race, I'll feel a bit of
sugar-crash during the race.) I wanted to see how the fuel balls compared to my
traditional pre-race gel for a short intense race -- as opposed to a long
endurance race where riders expect to use products like Coconutz Fuel.
Pre-race loading test:
Race 1: Two Coconutz balls 5 minutes
before my race while advancing in the staging area at the start line. In a one-hour race, I couldn't say there was any difference
between loading with a gel or with two balls. There was no sugar crash. On the other
hand, I didn't feel it made me any faster or less exhausted either.
Race 2: Three balls at the car, 10 minutes before official race time. But the
official start was delayed 15 minutes and my category was staged 10 minutes
behind. The result was 35 minutes between eating the balls and the race start.
Waiting in line at the staging zone, I felt the sugar rush come, then go. I got
a bit shaky. By the time I got to the start line I was feeling sluggish. My
blood sugar was diving just as the race started. It was a tough race.
race loading: Satisfactory, but only if taken within a few minutes of your race
Coconutz Fuel is for sale at the UtahMountainBiking.com
store and most local bike shops.