As an endurance athlete I’ve tried A LOT of nutrition products. Bars, gels, goo, chews, powders, etc., etc., etc. Most of them don’t live up to the hype. At this point, I’ve found what I like/works for me and am pretty picky about what I consume before, during, and after training and races.
So I’ve been intrigued by this little company – EXO PROTEIN – that makes their bars with cricket flour. (Yes, the insect.) I hadn’t tried their stuff yet, but had heard positive reviews. Tasty, sustainably-produced, natural, wholesome. Perhaps a bit unconventional. The whole trend around insect-based protein may sound totally bizarre, but it’s rapidly growing traction worldwide as the globe tries to find more sustainable sources of protein to feed a population that is growing at a rate 3x faster than our traditional livestock and agricultural models have been been able to sustainably support. I’d go into the wonky data behind all of this, but the infographic below (Source: Exo Protein – Why Crickets?) does a much better job than I ever could (click the image to enlarge):
And, taste-wise? You simply can’t notice a difference. So when Exo reached out to me to see if I’d give their product a try? I was too curious not to take them up on the offer. They shipped me a sampler box of their four flavors, and here’s the lowdown!
– TASTE: Nutrition without good taste is a non-starter for me, so taste was a key factor in reviewing these. I’m happy to say that all four flavors tasted great! Interestingly enough I thought I’d like the Cocoa Nut and PB&J the best… but found that I like the Blueberry Vanilla and Apple Cinnamon more. If you didn’t know they contained insects? You’d have no idea. Just a note, I did find the Cocoa and PB&J to be drier than the other flavors. Just an FYI, depending on your own preferences.
– ENERGY: This is where Exo shined. The first bar I used was grabbing one for lunch when I was in a hurry, forgot to pack anything, and grabbed one on my way out the door headed to the office. What I was surprised by was that the one bar I had mid-morning? Provided more than enough energy for my workday, lasting me up until dinner. I can’t say that about any other protein bar I’ve tried. The second one I used during a monster training session; I was pretty blown away that one bar (a few nibbles every 30 minutes or so) got me through a 4 hour, 4,000′ climb/4,000′ descent training session up and down a mountain. Sustained energy, consistently released. My body was still fueling off these things far longer than any other protein bar I’ve used. I did find the Apple Cinnamon and Vanilla Blueberry to be easier on the my palate and stomach than the other two flavors while out training.
– DIGESTION: This may seem like a strange review category, but when you’re deep into an ultra race, your body’s ability to digest food easily without using up too much hydration (the body needs more water to properly digest high concentrations of protein) is very key. And I will say that, for me personally, these are a bit too dense (both in texture and in level of protein) to eat a lot of deep into a high-intensity ultra. But that’s true of any brand’s protein bar. It’s more something I’d have after a long run to recover. Not something I’d consume during the activity itself, except in small quantities.
– INGREDIENTS: Again, refer back to the above infographic. There’s a powerful case to be made for insect-based protein. Obviously, this may not work for all people. Are they vegan/vegetarian? Um, how do you feel about insects? I’m a vegetarian, but not for reasons related to animal ethics (I’ve just found that a plant-based diet works best for me). I still eat the occasional seafood and have no qualms about scarfing down some six-legged critters. That said, Exo’s products are all-natural, no preservatives, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, grain-free, and paleo-friendly, with 10g of protein each. You’d be hard-pressed to find that in any other product on the market.
– COST: at $3/bar these cost a bit more than their competition, but they’re not outrageously priced. For a good product with as much sustained energy as these things pack? It’s a reasonable price, in my opinion.
Final verdict? I wasn’t sure what to expect with Exo’s product, but wound up being very impressed and will be working these into my training nutrition!
More Info: www.EXOPROTEIN.com
(Disclaimer) Disclosure of Sample & Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”