Sampling at event expos and swag bags is one of the primary ways sports nutrition companies get people to try their products, and while it’s a great way to get a sense for a product’s taste and texture, that’s about all it’s good for. The real test of a product is to use it consistently for a period of time and in a variety of conditions. Does the drink tastes good when it’s hot 3 hours into ride? Does the gummy become utterly unchewable at temperatures below 40 degrees? Will the texture of the bar seem pleasantly crunchy or unbearably dry 17 hours into an ultramarathon?
Eighteen months into our partnership with Bonk Breaker, CTS Coaches have wracked up roughly 40,000 hours of exercise time fueled by Bonk Breaker (average 45 coaches x average 12 hours/week x 77 weeks). In addition, more than 1000 athletes have been fueled by a combination of fresh foods, water, and Bonk Breaker at CTS Camps and Bucket List Events. We’ve consumed the products in the heat of Death Valley, the cold snow of cross-country ski events, the humidity of the Costa Rican rainforest, and the choking dust of South Africa. Rather than a comparison test across a range of brands, what follows is the result of a torture test of one brand: Bonk Breaker.
The last 30 years have seen great progress in taste and texture, and the ingredient lists now feature so much variety there’s something for everyone in the market. Even so, experienced endurance athletes are wary of energy bars because we/they remember the early years when only their novelty made up for marginal taste and texture. Bonk Breaker genuinely took taste, texture, and flavor variety to a new level with their energy bars. The only grumbling we heard about the bars happened when we ran out of athlete and coaches’ favorite flavors.
“Bonk Breaker wins by a mile regarding variety. It does help to switch out flavors ride to ride and week to week, and the mint chocolate is surprisingly tasty (for a guy who doesn’t like mint chocolate ice cream…)” – CTS Coach Patrick Allen
Taste and texture are important, and even play roles in performance, but sports nutrition products need to do more than taste good. Bonk Breaker bars don’t stick to the wrapper on a hot day. If you have had to scrape a melted energy bar off a shiny wrapper with your teeth, this is a feature you will value greatly. When Bonk Breaker are warm they are the consistency of cookie dough; when they get cold they stiffen to more of a taffy consistency but you don’t need hyena-strength jaws to chew them.
“They are not grainy like some bars and they don’t seem to fall out of the wrapper when you are riding. Specifically with the more “natural” bar options I have found that you tend to have half of the bar eject from the wrapper onto the road or they are so sticky you end up eating half the wrapper in a bonked state of emergency. “ – CTS Coach Clayton Feldman
Bonk Breaker definitely leaned more toward function than form with their bars. They are not “pretty”. You won’t look at one and instantly recognize the fruits and nuts on the ingredient list. That gives some people pause, but they typically get over it once they take their first bite. Those prettier bars taste good, but many times it seems the effort to make it visually appealing resulted in a drier, irregular, harder-to-consume product. That’s great for a snack, not great for something eaten at a moderate to high heart rate.
“Texture works. Almost melts in your mouth while being satisfactory to chew. All flavors are good, coconut is best. Easy to open, dosage (calorie content) great for a food bar. “ – CTS Coach Adam Pulford
One of the best updates Bonk Breaker made to their line of bars in 2016 was the reduction in size that brought bars down to 200 calories. Previously the bars were so big, so hard/dense, and so variable in their calorie contents that athletes had trouble consuming them effectively.
Coach and Athlete feedback on the Bonk Breaker Protein Bars largely echoed their comments on the energy bars, so I’m not going to spend much time on them individually. The one sentiment worth noting, however, is that Bonk Breaker somehow managed to all but eliminate that vague chemical taste present in virtually every protein bar on the market. We don’t know what voodoo they used to accomplish that feat, but the absence of that background flavor was one of the most-frequently commented on aspects of the protein bars.
Bonk Breaker Chews are the first gummy sports nutrition chew I have been able to eat on the fly at a high respiration rate without choking. Most of the chews on the market are too sticky. They adhere to your teeth and you end up spending minutes trying to get the sticky bits off your teeth and down your throat. Bonk Breaker got the consistency right. In the package they rarely stick together, or form into a “melted gummy bear monster” even after sitting in a hot environment for a long time. They are easy to chew, even when they are cold. They were, hands down, the most popular item available to coaches and athletes during camps and events, not only because of the taste and mouth feel, but because they work and rarely – if ever – lead to gastric distress.
“I like the ease of being able to eat the Bonk Breaker chews while riding at higher levels of intensity in mountain bike or gravel races.” – CTS Coach Matt Freeman
Of course the Chews are only a pleasure to eat once you get them out of the package, which can be oddly challenging. The trick is there a notch on a BOTTOM corner of the wrapper if you’re holding it so you can read the front of the package. Even knowing that, they can still be a challenge to open and eat at speed, especially one-handed. Remember those cheese sticks with the ripcord? Maybe that would work for bags of chewables. Our only other wish for Bonk Breaker Chews is increased variety in flavors. It will be great if they can take their expertise from creating great tasting bars to expanding the flavor range of their Chews.
“Funny story: During Cape Epic, my teammate and I were so bonked we just renamed the Chews to “Bonkers”. I made him start eating them when his product didn’t taste good anymore. He ended up loving them. If you can picture a 50-year-old Brit, sweating profusely, climbing up a long mountain in South Africa saying “Adam, I think it’s time we have another Bonker”… – Adam Pulford
Bonk Breaker was still developing and testing their sports drink when our partnership began, and I was impressed by the rigor with which they examined the ingredients as well as their openness to our input. Bonk Breaker would probably agree there isn’t anything earth-shatteringly unique about Real Hydration. The trend in sports drinks has been toward simple ingredient profiles, with a focus on lowering carbohydrate content to produce a hydration-oriented drink. They even used sodium citrate and potassium citrate in addition to sodium chloride. Sodium chloride imparts more of the familiar salt flavor, but citrates are functionally superior for hydration drinks. All of this goes along with the “hydration in the bottle, food in the pockets” philosophy that enables athletes to increase fluid intake in response to rising temperature or effort level without overloading the gut with too many carbohydrate calories.
Real Hydration tastes great and it works, even when you drink large quantities of it every day for two weeks. I had a private camp and the Amgen Tour of California Race Experience back-to-back and consumed multiple bottles of Real Hydration each day for I think 14-15 days. I would have loved a few more flavor choices, but other than that it never bothered my stomach and always helped me have a good ride. Feedback from the other coaches and athletes was similar, although a few mentioned the very light colors (it’s essentially clear after a while) make it harder to easily recognize which bottles are water and which are mix.
“The only issue I have with the drink mix is that it’s made so natural that it doesn’t have any color, making it difficult to identify as mix or water.” – Matt Freeman
When I first talked to Bonk Breaker CEO Chris Frank and his team they really emphasized the non-GMO, organic, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free aspects of their products. I tend to view equipment and sports nutrition products through a performance-first lens, so I saw those aspects as nice but not necessarily critical. I soon realized why Bonk Breaker spent so much time and effort incorporating those aspects into their products. Athletes dig it! It’s an inclusive product line, meaning they designed products to be inclusive of nearly everyone’s dietary choices. One exception is people with nut allergies, since many of the bars contain cashews and/or peanuts.
”Organic, real ingredients always matter. Many people who ride and train are informed, intelligent people. We have reached the point where ingredients matter as well as performance. Bonk Breaker nails it with all three of their products.” – Adam Pulford
Summary of Results
|Taste||Texture||Ease of Opening Packaging||GI Distress||Variety|
|Bars||Excellent||Excellent||Moderate||Only with insufficient fluid intake||Excellent|
|Chews||Excellent||Excellent||Moderately difficult||None reported||Only 2 flavors|
|Sports Drink||Excellent||Moderately easy to dissolve||Easy, but canisters would be preferred to bag||None reported||Only 2 flavors|
CEO/Head Coach of CTS