The endorsements for SoLo Nutrition Bars from athletes are impressive, but how does this low-glycemic nutrition bar hold up in the taste and nutrition department?
SoLo Bar Rating
Scale: 1-5 (1 Being Worst and 5 Being Best)
Nutritional Profile: 4.5
Overall Rating: 3.8
Would You Eat It Again? Yes.
I’ve had box of SoLo Nutrition Bars sitting in my panty for a couple of months now.
My plan was to include them next round of head-to-head energy and protein bar reviews (which I still plan on doing), but then a week ago before my usual 5K run, I needed a quick pick-me-up. A protein shake just wasn’t cutting it, so I decided to dig in early and try out one of the SoLo Bars. Afterall, if they are good enough for Paul Tichelaar, member of the Canadian Olympic Triathalon Team, I figured they’d be fine for my measly little 3.1 mile run.
So I gave in, broke the seal on the box, and grabbed a Chocolate Charger.
Who Is SoLo Nutrition?
SoLo Nutrition Bars are manufactured and marketed by SoLo GI Nutrition in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. According to the company’s website, SoLo GI Nutrition is planning on developing a series of low-GI specialty performance foods and snacks, with SoLo Nutrition Bars being the first of these products.
SoLo Nutrition Bars: High Performance Nutrition?
SoLo’s unique claim to fame is that unlike many energy bars, the SoLo bars are formulated to reduce glycemic load on the body. Glycemic load is a measure of how a carbohydrate raises blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.
While this might seem like a marketing hook, there are actually some very solid, practical nutritional reasons why you might want to choose a nutrition and energy bar that minimizes blood glucose spikes. While blood glucose spikes can deliver a quick burst of power, rapid increases in blood sugar levels also have a tendency to cause energy crashes later on — exactly not the thing you want to happen during any type of endurance activity, like running, biking or even working out at the gym.
The manufacturers of SoLo Energy Bars claim that their particular low-glycemic nutrition bars are formulated to have minimal impact on blood sugar levels, providing more sustained energy to power your performance, exercise or endurance activity. They call this “Controlled Energy Response”, which is really just marketese for “slow-burning carbs.”
What you need to understand is that most energy and nutrition bars are extremely high in simple sugars, which make them suitable for post-workout nutrition when insulin sensitivity is increased and the body can more effectively utilize carbohydrates.
However, the high sugar content doesn’t make them as well suited as a pre-workout snack, when complex carbohydrates are the preferred source of sustained energy. And most energy bars are also too high in simple sugars to make them a smart choice for in-between meal snacking at the office. In fact, some “nutrition” bars are so high in sugar, that you’d be just as well off to grab a Snickers bar.
SoLo claims that their nutrition bars cause blood sugar to rise more slowly than the average energy bar, and those levels are sustained for longer periods of time.
According to SoLo’s literature, the first rise in blood sugar with a SoLo Bar occurs over a period of about 60 minutes, and then begins to trail off gradually over 180 minutes. This is much less pronounced than the spike you see with high-sugar, high-glycemic energy bars, where the initial blood sugar spike takes place in a very short window — typically within 30-40 minutes of ingesting the bar, and then drops back to pre-consumption levels within 60-90 minutes.
SoLo has a very compelling chart comparing the impact of the SoLo bar on blood sugar levels with the glycemic impact of typical energy bars.
While the chart makes a good case for SoLo’s “Controlled Energy Response”, I was a bit disappointed to see that it didn’t provide a clinical source for their example.
I kept looking for a third party citation that I could fact check their numbers independently with.
Some digging on the SoLo website reveals that the bars were developed with the support of scientists at the University of Toronto and that the product has been clinically-validated as “low-GI.” I spoke with Carla Poirier of SoLo GI Nutrition, and she says the bars were developed in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Wolever, of Glycemic Index Laboratories, which also did the GI testing for the energy bars. Dr. Wolever is a nutrition scientist who previously worked with David J.A. Jenkins at the University of Toronto — inventor of not only the Glycemic Index, but also The Portfolio Diet. Wolever worked with Dr. Jenkins in the “early years” of developing the Glycemic Index, says Poirier.
Poirier confirms that Glycemic Index Laboratories was the source for the GI analysis performed on the SoLo bars. While the other energy bars were not tested directly by Glycemic Index Labs, Poirier says that GI ratings for those bars were based on published GI analysis of major sports and energy bar brands. Poirier could not share the specific testing data with me because it’s proprietary, but she did stress that Glycemic Index Labs is a well-respected and validated glycemic testing facility that regularly tests all kinds of foods, not just the SoLo energy bars.
SoLo: Ringing Endorsements from Professional Athletes and Sports Teams
One thing that is pretty impressive about SoLo’s marketing is their extensive list of professional athletes and sports teams which use and have endorsed their product. These include, among others, endorsements and testimonials from Olympic Triathlete Paul Tichelaar; Olympic Distance Runner Megan Metcalfe; Joe Rogowski, strength and conditioning trainer for the Orlando Magic; and Annette Kamenz, Elite-level Ironman Triathlete and Marathon Runner.
The SoLo Nutrition Bars are also used by 12 NBA basketball teams, the Detroit Tigers, a handful of minor league baseball teams, several NCAA althetic departments, and a half-dozen professional hockey teams.
SoLo Bar Ingredients
Like the Clif Builder Bar, which was one of the favorite energy and protein bars amoung tasters in my last test, the SoLo Nutrition Bars have an ingredient list that isn’t filled with preservatives, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup and ingredients you can’t pronounce.
With a few exceptions, the ingredients are minimally-processed. The proteins in the bars are typically a combination of soy protein and whey protein isolates and concentrates and are bound with MUFAs like soy, peanut and almond nut butters. The SoLo bars are also sweetened with fruit juices, honey and brown rice syrups. The fruit versions of the SoLo Bars have things like dates, plums, and dried cranberries.
I did find it curious that the Lemon Lift SoLo bar never mentioned “lemons” anywhere in the ingredients, which leads me to believe they get their “lemon lift” from something in the ingredient list called “natural flavors.” But I’m going to cut them some slack, because in general, the ingredient list is pretty clean.
SoLo also adds a fiber blend of inulin and oat bran concentrate to add some fiber to the bars, which also probably helps blunt the glycemic load of the bar.
SoLo Bar Protein and Nutritional Profile
The protein content of SoLo Bars averages 11-13 grams per bar, putting them in the moderate protein category for energy and nutrition bars. The Clif Builder’s Bars have more protein, but they are intended to be protein sources and not necessarily energy bars. Carbs come in around 26 grams, with 3-4 grams of fiber, putting the net carbs at around 22 grams. Sugars are around 11 grams, mostly from fructose and not sucrose, which reduces their impact on blood sugar. Fat is kept to a minimum, averaging around 7 grams per bar, which makes them ideal for pre-training nutrition.
I also like the fact that SoLo managed to keep the bars low-GI without resorting to the use of sugar alcohols, which are present in many low-carb energy and nutrition bars.
How Do SoLo Bars Taste?
I have to admit that I’ve tried just about every protein and energy bar on the market, and more often then not, am underwelmed by the flavor of most energy bars. My expectation is that they’ll usually taste pretty bad, be overly sweet or in the case of PowerBars, almost inedible due to poor texture. So that was the frame of mind I had when I tore open the foil on the SoLo Bars.
I sampled two SoLo Energy Bars as part of this review: Chocolate Charger and Mint Mania. In both cases, I found the bars to be moist, chewy (but not tough) and very flavorful. There was none of the funky “artificial flavor” taste that you get with some energy bars, and they were not overly sweet (although they were certainly sweet enough.)
They didn’t have the Whatamacallit crunchiness of a Clif Builder Bar or the goeey candy bar texture of a Detour Bar, but they were very solid, tasty bars that I would certainly eat again. In fact, I liked the Mint Mania enough that I’ll probably go ahead and place an order.
SoLo claims that in a taste-test performed by The San Francisco Consulting Group (a marketing research firm), 88 percent of tasters preferred the SoLo Bar over PowerBar and 72 percent preferred SoLo to the Balance Bar.
The Balance Bars are pretty tasty (even if they have some suspect ingredients) so until I actually do my own taste test with some people other than myself, the jury is still out on how SoLo stacks up against the Balance Bar.
Personally, I thought it was on par, although different in texture. That said, I can definitely see how people would prefer SoLo over PowerBar, which is, in my opinion, one of the worst tasting energy bars on the market. It will be interesting to see how SoLo does against some of our other popular contenders like Clif and Detour.
What About the “Controlled Energy Response”?
I gave on the SoLo Bars to my colleague Bill Parker, who also runs the Xexco Shop (if you have kids you have to check Xeco cards out) to try them out during his training for the Detroit Marathon. Bill will be providing some notes on how SoLo held up during his two hour runs in a future review of energy foods for marathon training.
In terms of my own training, the SoLo Bars seemed to do the trick fine. One of the things I like about energy and nutrition bars as a pre-workout/pre-run meal is that they are just about the right size to give me a boost of energy during my training, without filling me up or leaving me bloated (which always sucks when you are running.)
The trick with any nutrition or energy bar is to have the proper expectation for performance set when you consume them. Energy bars are not intended to amp you up like you’re on methamphetamines — if they did that there would be something seriously wrong with the ingredient list. Instead, they should provide a sense of sustained energy over a period of hours. This sustained energy should mimic what you get when you eat a pre-workout meal that incorporates a complex carb like oatmeal with some lean protein.
In otherwords, the absence of fatigue is the best indicator of sustained energy, not necessarily a marked boost in energy (unless, of course, you are used to not eating properly prior to training or rely on junk food for that temporary kick.) So in the case of the SoLo Bars, my real measure of their effectiveness wasn’t whether I ran faster or became less fatigued than usual, but whether the bar allowed me to get through my run without unusual fatigue.
In that regard, the SoLo Bars delivered on their promise.
Granted, I could have achieved the same effect with some oatmeal and whey protein prior to my run, but to be quite honest, all of that sloshing around in my stomach might have slowed my pace, versus maintained it. One of the benefits of an energy bar like SoLo pre-training is that it provides just the right amount of energy without a lot of bulk and volume. And above all, it’s convenient — which is really why people consume energy and nutrition bars in the first place.
Where To Buy SoLo Energy and Nutrition Bars
You can purchase SoLo Nutrition Bars at Amazon.com (which has some of the best deals on SoLo bars if you are willing to buy in bulk) or at Whole Foods or other health or natural food stores. For a store locator by state, visit the SoLo website.
SoLo Bar Nutritional Information
SoLo Nutrition Bar Chocolate Charger
Serving Size: 1 Bar
Total Fat: 7g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Trans Fat: 0g
Total Carbohydrate: 26g
Dietary Fiber: 4g
Glycemic Index: 28
Ingredients: SoLo protein blend [cocoa soy crisp (soy protein isolate, rice starch, cocoa), whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate], chocolate coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, cocoa powder, whey powder, skim milk powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor), fructose, almond butter, fruit puree blend (dried plums, dried dates, white grape juice concentrate), chocolate cookies (wheat flour, cane juice crystals, canola oil, cocoa, salt, sodium bicarbonate), brown rice syrup, cocoa powder, water, SoLo fiber blend (inulin, oat bran concentrate), vitamin and mineral blend, natural flavor. (Contains milk, soybeans, wheat and tree nuts. Made in a facility that also produced products containing peanuts and eggs.)
SoLo Mint Mania
Serving Size: 1 Bar
Total Fat: 7g
Sat Fat: 3g
Trans Fat: 0g
Total Carbs: 26g
Ingredients: SoLo protein blend [cocoa soy crisp (soy protein isolate, rice starch, cocoa), whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate], chocolate coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, cocoa powder, whey powder, skim milk powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor), fructose, almond butter, fruit puree blend (dried plums, dried dates, white grape juice concentrate), chocolate cookies (wheat flour, cane juice crystals, canola oil, cocoa, salt, sodium bicarbonate), brown rice syrup, cocoa powder, water, SoLo fiber blend (inulin, oat bran concentrate), vitamin and mineral blend, natural flavor. (Contains milk, soybeans, wheat and tree nuts. Made in a facility that also produced products containing peanuts and eggs. )
Category: Product Reviews and Ratings
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