Alpen Fuel Review - Kristin Zosel, Ultra Runner
Guest post by Kristin Zosel. Kristin is a long time mountain/trail/ultrarunner with a passion for strong espresso and pastries, high alpine environments, and most importantly, her family. She derives great joy from petting all the dogs and talking to every creature along the route. As a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, and gear reviewer for iRunFar, she loves inspiring and enabling others to live their passions as well.
"I can eat Alpen Fuel Granola on the drive to the start of the day’s exploration, run and power hike the high Colorado mountain route all day, and have no issues with my stomach or my ability to continue fueling as the miles and hours build."
As any endurance athlete knows, one key component of maintaining a life-long love affair with moving through nature on foot (or any form of human-powered movement) is healthy fueling. Fueling preferences are different for every person and often change a bit with the seasons—what works in negative temperatures during winter ultrarunning and sled-pulling training outside Anchorage, Alaska, doesn’t always work at 13,000 feet on a balmy, late summer day while linking sections of the Hardrock trail over a few days in Colorado’s San Juans with speedy friends. And what facilitates a two-hour, hard trail running effort at lower elevations is often significantly different than fueling for a 12-hour, flower-chasing mountain romp. I was not blessed with an easy-going stomach, so figuring out what foods will work well before, during, and after mountain trail adventures is a fairly consistent challenge that seems to evolve and shift every few years, just to keep me from getting complacent.
A consistent thread that runs strongly through my decades as a mountain/trail runner is the need for higher calorie and carb-dense food surrounding the endurance activity. My gastro-intestinal system seems to spend a lot of time tenuously dancing between “tolerably fed” and “let’s have a blood sugar crash party about NOW.” Through significant trial and error, I’ve found I like to get anywhere from 250-800 calories and a minimum of 60 grams of carbs prior to a trail jaunt and adjust the numbers up or down depending on length of the outing and how intense the effort will be. Easy to digest, highly palatable, and tasty foods are key. Why? Because, frankly, I want to enjoy what I eat and prefer to keep the nausea at bay for as long as possible.
For shorter, more intense efforts, I choose items on the lower end of the calorie spectrum that digest easily and disappear into my blood stream (of course, I balance the carbs with some fats and proteins as well). For longer days at lower intensities, I aim for the higher end of the calorie and carb spectrum prior to the outing. This helps the belly to be happy and the whole food-to-energy conversion working more smoothly throughout the long adventure. During the longer mountain forays I keep the carbs (40-80 grams/hour depending on what I’m doing) and calories (150+ kcal/hour) going with a mix of easy to digest fluid and food options that are simple to stuff in a hydration pack. Once my stomach settles afterwards, it’s all about replenishing the calorie deficit over the next day or two. I’ve discovered time and time again that under-fueling gets me nowhere, so this current strategy is where I’ve settled, at least for now...
"On paper, Alpen Fuel’s granola provides right what I prefer prior to an all-day adventure with calories in the 600-800 range and carbs above 70 grams per pouch."
The past few years, my goals and desires have shifted away from running as many ultra races and have focused more on exploring classic day-long, 50k-50 mile routes in the mountains with friends and pacing a few hearty folks in their hundred milers. It’s all the fun and very little of the pain. I might get used to such a fine combination! This has shifted my pre-adventure fueling a bit more towards the higher end of the calorie/carb range and has made for a few more pre-dawn breakfasts at trailhead parking lots or “pre all-night pacing” meals at the 49-mile aid station. It was from this perspective that my eagle-eye stumbled across Alpen Fuel on social media, and I was able to try out the four granola breakfasts offered.
On paper, Alpen Fuel’s granola provides right what I prefer prior to an all-day adventure with calories in the 600-800 range and carbs above 70 grams per pouch. The proteins (20+ grams) and fat content (30+ grams) slow the digestion down a bit for more satiety, and as long as I’m not planning to be high intensity out of the gate, it hits the target for a high calorie/carb breakfast. The Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium included are all added bonuses in the nutritional profile. Though it doesn’t factor into my decision process, these granolas are all gluten free and vegetarian. Lastly, the packaging is sturdy and holds up well to the hot water soak and spoon attack, then is easy to reseal and fold flat to take up minimal space in the trash bag or backpack.
Stats and specifics aside, my favorite aspect of the granola meals is that they’re simply delicious. I absolutely love the Orange Pecan! It's rich without being over the top, with just the right crunch and texture from the nuts a well balanced flavor from the citrus without being too sweet. If I could only have one of these granolas, this is the one. I can eat it on the drive to the start of the day’s exploration, run and power hike the high Colorado mountain route all day, and have no issues with my stomach or my ability to continue fueling as the miles and hours build. Of the other flavors, I enjoyed the contrast of the tart lemon and sweet berries in the Lemon Berry option. It tastes perhaps a bit less “rich” than the Orange Pecan but still pleasantly sustaining. If you’re a coconut lover, the Coconut Mango granola is the one for you with perhaps the highest coconut-to-other ratio in any of the performance oats/breakfast foods I’ve tried. It's so good without being overwhelming. Chocolate Strawberry is more like a dessert or post-adventure meal for me. It’s on the sweeter side with the chocolatey goodness, and I must add that it pairs beautifully with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream in the evening (which is why I really love car camping).
All in all, if I was fast-packing or doing a multi-day backpacking trip, I’d have no problem eating one or two of these per day (morning and evening) for several days because they have delightful flavor profiles, pleasantly varied texture, and dense nutrition to fuel the day and jump start the evening’s recovery. For now, however, my summer and fall adventures are focused on a few car camping escapades with my family, pacing at a Colorado mountain 100, running the Teton Crest Trail south to north, enjoying a fall ultra, and getting in as many long training days my favorite alpine trails as I can. I’m glad to have found the small batch, made-in-Montana Alpen Fuel granola pouches to be reliable and tasty options for pre-outdoor-adventure-delicate-gut fueling.