Update 12-7-2012. Honey Stinger sent me some updated gels and organics to try.
When I first started my endurance career in 2009, the San Francisco Marathon had Gu Gels available on the course. Gu’s were my first experience with using nutrition during a race, and I stuck with Roctane and GU all the way through my second Comrades (Ultra) Marathon in 2012. However, GU prices have gone up, and I’ve begun to tire of the “chemical” taste of Gu… Plus, it was time for a change after 3 years of the same stuff and dozens of races. Gu has its downsides – mostly in stickiness and trash during a bike/run – but it wasn’t the worst I’ve tasted on a course.
What I wanted was something better for my Iron-Length (Full) HITS Triathlon in Palm Springs this December.
Enter Honey Stinger. I was intrigued by what I read about the benefits of honey and I love the taste. So, I thought I would try out a variety of the Honey Stinger products and see how they worked when I wasn’t sucking on a honey packet. Besides, some of these things were inspired by Lance Armstrong and he is certainly one helluva better bicyclist than me. He might know a thing or two I don’t. Or not.
As it turns out, maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t… at least for me. With Honey Stinger, it’s a huge mixed bag from absolutely horrible to fantastic. For the record, I am not sponsored by Honey Stinger nor did they give me any of this stuff for free.
Let’s take a look at each one of the products, starting with the worst first. I’ve listed the products in graded order. Each one was graded on taste and variety (subjective), packaging (non-subjective), useability (both subjective and non), and cost:
The Honey Stinger gels are the biggest disappointment. Although the taste isn’t the worst, the texture is a very, very sticky thin film of “gel” that manages to easily get everywhere. When the box arrived from Honey Stinger, several of the gel packs had leaked, getting everything in the box into a gooey mess. After cleaning up a dozen packets or so, I went about trying the gels during both a bike and a run.
Gel packets are nothing but litter and they’re hard to carry on your person without getting your jersey sticky. I hate sticky jerseys. Also, additional gel packets were found to be leaking (almost 1/3 of the gel packets were not properly sealed). Plus, on the bike, it’s hard to open the packet, suck it down, and then put the trash somewhere on the bike without getting my fingers all sticky in the process.
- Taste: Poor (I didn’t like the taste much, but that aside the consistency was too runny for me in the desert heat)
- Packaging: Major Fail
- Useability: Poor
- Cost: Reasonable
The waffles are much better as far as being durable on a hot run or bike. The biggest downside with the waffles, however, is they have a tendency to crumble and there is nothing more disappointing on the bike than to see half your waffle fall to the street. That said, the Chocolate Waffles are a nice mix of Waffle and Honey, and you don’t have to worry about the temperature affecting them. I tried using them during an UltraMarathon, however, and discovered that they were too “dry” for my taste on the trail. They made me rather thirsty and, when you’re panting up a hill, it’s hard to breath and chew on them. So, for the ultras, I’ve decided to stay away, and on the bike, it’s too easy to have them crumble and lose half the waffle to the force of gravity. However, I do keep them for shorter runs, and the honey waffle actually tastes better (I think) than the chocolate waffles, and I’m a chocolate fanatic.
- Taste: Good (A little “dry and chalky” for me, though)
- Packaging: Good (Easily opened on the bike)
- Useability: Okay
- Cost: Reasonable
The Protein Bars
Now, for every good thing, there has to be a drawback, and the protein bars are no exception. When I first received the protein bars, they’d been shipped to a box at a UPS store – where you would assume the temperature was kept fairly moderate. The moment I tore into them, however, I found the chocolate gooey and messy and sticky to the wrapper. Considering that I’m a messy person to begin with, this turned into an absolute chocolate disaster. Saddened that I couldn’t eat them right away, I put them in the refrigerator and waited until the next morning.
They. Were. Awesome. As long as the bars are kept cool to cold, they taste excellent. The ingredients are fairly good and the taste can’t be beat. For a snack, these things are a win. For use in a race: Definitely not possible unless you’re doing a triathlon in the Arctic.
- Taste: Awesome
- Packaging: No complaints
- Useability: For a snack at home, great. For a snack anywhere above 45 degrees… messy.
- Price: Cheap for a protein bar
Finally, we get to what I consider to be the flagship winner in the Honey Stinger line of products from a race-practicality standpoint. The chews are much like Clif Bloks, and before now I never understood why those were so popular. But after evaluating each of the other products in the desert heat of Nevada, the chews are by far the hands-down winner. I like the fact that, every half-hour, you should eat about 10 of the chews. This allows me to actually eat 5 chews every 15 minutes, and I can either suck on them, chew them, swallow them whole, or even nibble them depending on my mood or the course. Personally, I like keeping a steady flow of nutrition into my body, which in turn keeps me drinking water. The chews fall beautifully into my nutrition plan, they’re easy to open and eat on a bike and a run, and most importantly – if I drop just one I don’t feel like I’ve lost half my nutrition. For me, the best Honey Stinger product for the long Ironman are the different flavored chews, ending with the caffeinated chews at the end. Each athlete has to evaluate and try their nutrition plan before race-day. You might find you don’t like the chews or the gooey gelatin of them. However, when it comes to durability, packability, and clumsy-proofness, the chews definitely win.
- Taste: Fair to Excellent (Depending on flavor and preference)
- Packaging: Easy to Open
- Useability: Excellent
- Price: Fair
Honey Stinger has a nice variety of products that could be used for a variety of snacks and on-course nutrition. Only the Waffles and the Chews are actually useful during a race, and depending on your clumsy-factor, dropping-factor, and taste buds, either might work. Personally, I’ll probably have a a combination of both just for the variety.
Update – After this entry appeared, Honey Stinger contacted me and sent me some replacement gels along with their new organics. Below is my updated review.
When I originally reviewed Honey Stinger products, I found they were both some hits and some misses. Shortly after my entry, and hearing that numerous gel packets had leaked, Honey Stinger was kind enough to offer to send me some replacements. They were also kind enough to send me some of their Organic Gels along with some of the newer waffle flavors.
It is quite apparent that a lot of thought has been put into these newer products, because they stood far and above the products I first tested. Let’s take a look at each:
Waffles – Chocolate and Lemon
The chocolate Waffles are still a little dry for me, but I do have an addiction for chocolate and on the trail these waffles do hit the spot. However, the original honey waffles are still the best.
The lemon Waffles add a little zing to the waffle taste, and I found them not all that bad.. but still find the original yummy honey to be the preferred taste among the products (but then again, I like honey – a lot).
Gels – Sealed and New Organics
Apparently, if the gel packets aren’t sealed properly, it definitely affects the taste. I would suggest to anyone that if you find your gels aren’t sealed properly, to let Honey Stinger know and get replacements. I was surprised at the difference in taste!
The Ginseng gels are still not my favorites but I did notice a considerable improvement in taste from the non-leaked gels. They are far more palatable when they’re fresh, but I did find that my stomach still didn’t settle too well during the latter parts of a long run or a long ride. There is something in the original gels that my personal stomach doesn’t seem to like too much.
The organic gels, however, are a different story. Without a doubt, these are some of the finest gel products offered by Honey Stinger. I tested a few of the new flavors during a five hour bike ride, and I found they went down easily and didn’t upset my stomach in the same way that some of the original gels did. And even though Honey Stinger doesn’t offer an organic chocolate (okay, I have a thing for honey and chocolate), the gels were still quite tasty without having a sickeningly-sweet taste. For me, they hit the “sweet” spot between yummy and “blech-sweet”.
To my surprise, it helps to have a fresh product to review before making any conclusions. Although there are still some ups and downs and nothing changed drastically from my previous review, the “fresh” original gels did taste considerably better than the first batch I tried. Also, the organics went down smoother and easier than the originals, and if I was to chose between the two, I would definitely go with the organics – not because they are “organic” but simply because my stomach, when raw from a run/bike, likes them much, much better (if you have a sensitive stomach, you might consider trying the organics first). And that, my friends, his a huge statement considering what a choco-holic I really am.