CLIF Notes on the New Running Sponsor in Town

by Grace Goodwin

The well-known CLIF Bar just became a generous sponsor of runners in our city. Here’s what Friedman students think of the bar…and did you know that CLIF makes liquid pizza?

There’s an exciting new couple in town. No, it’s not Gronk and one of his fans, but CLIF Bar and the Boston Marathon. On January 27, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A., the sponsor of our city’s famous annual marathon) and CLIF Bar officially announced a long-term partnership in which CLIF will provide support – and of course, CLIF bars – at races. This means not only the Boston Marathon in April, but also the B.A.A.’s 5K in April, 10K in June, and Half Marathon in October.

B.A.A. Executive Director, Tom Grik, said the following on the B.A.A.’s website: “When we look for new partnerships, we look for those which provide and enhance the experience for our runners, and share our mission for improving health. As we look towards the future, we have chosen a partner who will grow with us and our sport. CLIF Bar meets all of that criteria, and then some.” CLIF Bar is not the Boston Marathon’s only sponsor, as a race of this scale requires major funding. The Marathon’s past “featured” sponsors are John Hancock, Adidas, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and The Jimmy Fund. Other sponsors include Gatorade, Samuel Adams, Poland Spring, Stonyfield, and JetBlue.

Most of us have tried a CLIF Bar at some point – dense, chewy, and in dessert-themed flavors like carrot cake, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. CLIF also produces the popular Luna Bars, marketed as “The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women” and recently reformulated as certified gluten-free. That is only the beginning because CLIF also makes: Builder’s, which packs 20g of protein; MOJO and Kit’s Organic, their “simple and organic” granola bars; a variety of portable performance products like Bloks, Gel, and Energy Foods (purées in pouches); Z Bar, for kids; and Crunch, the CLIF version of the familiar green-wrapped Nature Valley bar.

I spoke to Dr. Jennifer Sacheck, an Associate Professor at Friedman who has extensively studied Exercise Science and Sports Nutrition (she also teaches NUTR 272: Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Health, for anyone interested in diving deeper into this topic). Sacheck noted that bars in general can be a good backup to keep in your purse or gym bag, but “don’t rely on them for daily nutrition and fueling your workouts.” For CLIF Bars specifically, Sacheck said to be cognizant of their calorie and sugar content and advised against using them as pre-workout or mid-workout food: “due to their higher protein and fat content, they are not as easily digested and absorbed as other foods.”

Curious for a runner’s take on the new CLIF Bar Boston Marathon sponsorship, I talked to Cailin Kowalewski, a second-year FPAN student who was a Division III All-American middle distance runner at SUNY Geneseo. Her specialties were the 800m, the 1500m, and the distance medley relay.

According to Kowalewski, CLIF Bar seems a natural sponsor for a running event. As a middle-distance runner, her experiences may not be generalized towards marathoners, but she described to me the prevalence of CLIF Bars in college running as a whole: “CLIF Bars are one of many staple foods that have been integrated into the culture of competition day. A lot of people eat them because they don’t upset their stomachs and will hold them over between multiple races over the course of all-day meets,” she explained. She also noted that when it comes to popular race foods, “peer influence is a powerful thing…and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that they come in flavors like gingerbread cookie and chocolate brownie.”

I also spoke to first-year NUTCOM student Katie Mark, another Friedmanite who is not a marathoner but competes in a serious stamina sport of her own: endurance cycling. Mark self-identifies as a low-carb athlete and avoids energy bars in general, particularly CLIF Bars because of their high sugar content. Because of the sugar, she said that, “unless you’re an endurance athlete who’s exercising for at least 2 hours, they aren’t something the average exerciser should be eating.”

This is a familiar topic for Mark. While working with Friedman professor Dr. Jennifer Sachek, Mark has done research on energy bars, specifically comparing them to a Snickers bar (below). When side-by-side with a Snickers, a Chocolate Almond Fudge CLIF Bar has slightly better stats. Snickers has 27g of sugar and 4g of protein, and CLIF Bar has 23g of sugar and 10g of protein. They are equal in calories. For far less sugar and still adequate protein, Mark recommends Luna Bars, MOJO Bars, KIND Healthy Grains Bars, and Quest Bars. That said, Mark mentioned, high sugar content is less troubling for athletes doing more than 2 hours of physical activity – like a Boston marathoner – than it is for those who are sedentary.

Courtesy of Katie Mark
Courtesy of Katie Mark

My personal relationship with CLIF bars has been one of necessity – desperate moments in airports where the only other option is Cinnabon – and I have never used them for training. After perusing CLIF’s website to write this article, I noticed that CLIF sells many more products than simply their eponymous bar.

I was most intrigued by one of their Energy Foods, specifically the Margherita Pizza flavor. This pouched puree is a blend of tomato sauce, carrot, quinoa, sunflower seed butter, olive oil, yeast flakes, and spices. It’s marketed as a way to “meet your craving for a pizza anywhere on the road or trail.” Can’t say I’ve ever had that craving, but maybe I’m not exercising hard enough?!

Update, 3/16/15: Added quote from Dr. Jennifer Sacheck

Grace Goodwin is a second-year FPAN student that used to love bars, but ignorance was bliss, because she’s now sadly aware of their sugar content.

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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