DMT Beauty Transformation: Getting Lost in the Sauce: Spring Energy’s Popular Gel Under Scrutiny
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Getting Lost in the Sauce: Spring Energy’s Popular Gel Under Scrutiny

June 06, 2024BruceDayne

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For the past 10 years, Spring Energy has provided endurance athletes with energy gels, and more recently drink mixes, made from “real” foods. Athletes looking for wholesome alternatives to more traditional sugar-based gels made in a lab have flocked to Spring’s smoothie-like gels made with fruit and basmati rice.

While Spring products are more expensive than many gels, many athletes have found the tradeoff for high-quality, real food fuel that goes down easily on the run to be worth it. Until now.

After skepticism about the actual contents of Spring’s gels began brewing late last year, it turned into a full-blown controversy this week.

In January 2021, Spring Energy released a game-changing gel, Awesome Sauce. In collaboration with coaches and runners Megan and David Roche (who taste-tested and named the flavor), the applesauce, basmati rice, and sweet potato-based gel was designed to provide endurance athletes with a whopping 180 calories per 54 gram packet.

This high-carb alternative became especially enticing when a study was published in April 2022 reporting that ultrarunners should consume 240 to 360 calories (60-90 grams of carbohydrates) per hour. It’s no surprise that Awesome Sauce (sold at $5 a gel), with its small but surprisingly mighty nutritional content, initially flew off the shelves. It seemed too good to be true.

After several third-party lab tests, that appears to be the case.

Not-So Awesome Sauce? 

Awesome Sauce
The applesauce, basmati rice, and sweet potato-based gel was designed to provide endurance athletes with an advertised 180 calories per 54 gram packet. (Photo: Mallory Arnold)

In late 2023, runners took to Reddit to discuss their doubts in Awesome Sauce’s nutritional facts, which were printed on the packaging and stated on Spring Energy’s website. Though it’s unclear who first performed a concrete test on the gel, two months ago, Liza Ershova, a Reddit user who uses the username “sriirachamayo”, posted in a thread called “False nutritional info on Spring Energy gels.” Ershova allegedly performed a test “in an environmental chemistry lab” and found that the dry weight of Awesome Sauce is 16g instead of the stated 45. She hypothesized that, “If all of those grams are carbs, that corresponds to about 60 calories, not 180.”

On May 17, German endurance sport speciality shop Sports Hunger released a video stating that they, too, had Awesome Sauce gels tested by a third party, and allegedly found that each packet contains 16g of carbs instead of the 45g that Spring Energy claimed.

“The maker of Spring Energy assures us that they will rework their manufacturing process to ensure that they will again reliably achieve their high numbers that they declare to have,” a Sports Hunger representative says in the video. “We hope that this is really going to happen because we believe that natural food for many of our customers is a great alternative to the regular gels.”

On May 28, ultrarunning coach Jason Koop, who coaches elite athletes sponsored by Spring Energy, posted an Instagram Reel saying that he’d paid for Spring Energy Awesome Sauce to be tested by a third party, RL Food Laboratory Testing in Ferndale, Washington. The results showed that the gels tested contained 76 calories and 18g of carbs. The lab results can be found on Koop’s website. Koop declined to be interviewed for this article.

Other runners have also come forward after attempting to replicate the gels with varying degrees of Awesome Sauce’s ingredients: organic basmati rice, organic apple sauce, apple juice, yams, maple syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, sea salt, and cinnamon—and could not achieve the gel’s original volume of 54g. Their experiments suggest that it’s impossible to fit all of those ingredients into the small Awesome Sauce package while achieving the stated nutritional content.

Claiming Responsibility 

On May 22, the Ershova shared Spring Energy’s response to their experiment on Reddit: “Our analysis supports the accuracy of our product labeling. However, we will reevaluate to make sure our data is accurate. Although we hoped your experience with our products would have been wholly satisfactory, we recognize that individual needs can vary. Given the wide variety of options available across different brands, we are confident you will find the right product that suits your specific requirements.”

Four days later, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Spring Energy sent out an email to newsletter subscribers stating:

“In early May we submitted Awesome Sauce for third-party caloric and biomolecular analysis. Although the results indicated that on average our products deliver the designed nutrition value, we have recognized weaknesses in our processes and ingredients which can introduce unwanted variations in some batches.To mitigate those variations in our small batch production, we decided to modify some of the formulations, revise and innovate processes, and re-evaluate ingredient sources. These changes will bring higher quality and more consistency to our products. Enhancements of our products aimed to stabilize their nutrition values are on the horizon, and within the next few weeks, you’ll see the results of our efforts. A new and improved version of Awesome Sauce will soon be available.”

The internet outrage ballooned swiftly.

“‘On average’ – if someone has a beat on where I can grab packets of Awesome Sauce at 75g of carb per pack to allow for the average of their product to be 45g overall, hit my inbox,” @aidstationfireball posted on X. “Excited to taste the new, re-formulated, $7 gels they’ll replace these with.”

David and Megan Roche, the Boulder, Colorado-based running coach couple who collaborated with Spring Energy on Awesome Sauce, discussed the backlash on their podcast. They weren’t involved in the chemical composition and makeup of the gel, they claimed. Rather, they simply proposed the concept of a high-carb gel to their friend Rafal Nazarewicz, the founder and CEO of Spring Energy. They stated they understand the public’s outrage, and Megan added that they “didn’t really use it” during their runs because she didn’t feel that her body was responding to the energy it was supposed to provide.

In addition, the Roches stated on their podcast that they have quietly harbored concerns about Awesome Sauce for years, and while they did not explicitly tell their athletes not to use it, they made a point of promoting other gels instead. (The Roches currently have a financial partnership with The Feed, the online warehouse that sells a wide variety of sports fuel, including Spring Energy.)

David elaborated in a lengthy Instagram post on May 29: “It’s sad and infuriating that the nutrition was wrong, and we are thankful to the really smart people who figured it out on Reddit (including an athlete we coach who started the initial thread). When we described concerns to Spring, we were assured that the nutrition was correct and they followed all FDA regulations. We left the Spring sponsorship years ago, and we never received compensation for proposing the name/doing taste testing (outside of the $200 per month that we both received during the sponsorship). Since then, we have publicly directed athletes to other options for high-carb fueling, while hoping to be a source of love and support in the community. Our podcast covered our concerns as soon as the German lab testing indicated that we wouldn’t be risking making defamatory statements about a business without substantial evidence.”

Who Can We Trust?

Holding an Awesome Sauce gel
(Photo: Abby Levene)

While concerns around Awesome Sauce instigated this investigation, it’s not the only flavor under scrutiny. Koop sent additional Spring Energy gels, Canaberry (named after professional ultrarunner Sage Canaday) and Hill Aid, to the lab for testing. The results indicated that both of these flavors also contain fewer calories than stated on their nutrition labels.

The lab results showed that the batch of Canaberry that was tested contains 10g of carbs (versus the stated 17g), and the Hill Aid sample contains 10g of carbs (versus the stated 20g).

Koop also paid for Gu Chocolate Outrage to be tested. The results were consistent with the nutrition facts. All three of these reports can also be found on Koop’s website.

These vast discrepancies between Spring Energy’s reported nutrition facts and the lab results raise the question: which gels can be trusted?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA), most running gels fall under the category of “dietary supplements”, which don’t have to be approved before being sold. However, the FDA requires that all dietary supplements have nutrition information clearly marked on a product’s packaging (including serving size, number of servings, and ingredients) and periodically inspects manufacturing facilities to confirm that products meet the labeling requirements. The FDA also reviews product labels for accuracy.

“Dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA, but much of our role begins after products enter the marketplace. In fact, in many cases, companies can produce and sell dietary supplements without even notifying the FDA,” the FDA states on their website.

The FDA allows nutrition labels to have an inaccuracy margin of up to 20 percent—for reference, based on multiple lab results, Awesome Sauce’s caloric content is about 57 percent less than what the label says.

Sports psychologist and ultrarunning coach Krista Austin works with some of the top endurance athletes in the world, and is best known for training Meb Keflezighi to  his 2009 New York City Marathon win. She recommends several products out on the market to her ultrarunner athletes, as well as suggestions that might work with a person’s individual plan. Typically, she suggests that athletes rotate gel flavors to avoid flavor fatigue, which can impact an athlete mentally and derail performance. So if a certain brand is proven to work well for an athlete, she says, use a variety of flavors.

“I usually use high molecular weight carbohydrates, but the thing is, they’re not as sweet as other sports nutrition products out there,” says Austin, who owns a consulting business providing sport performance services to Olympic and professional athletes as well as military and industry personnel. “So what we’ll do is we might throw in another gel like the Awesome Sauce to help give them that sweet component. It’s just in their arsenal.”

She says, in general, her athletes who have consumed Awesome Sauce have had positive experiences, but that because these gels were just one part of the fuel plan, that muddies the waters a bit. In addition, the potential lower calorie count of this gel may make it easier to digest. However, Austin recalls that one of her clients was taking in one Spring Energy gel (multiple flavors) every hour in her ultra, but found herself so hungry that she needed to eat a lot of the food provided at aid stations on the course, too.

“She was a smaller ultrarunner, and I thought it was interesting that she was taking in all these calories,” Austin says. “She was using Spring Energy gels, and I now I’m thinking, ‘Maybe this is why she needed all the additional food on the course, too, because she wasn’t getting what we thought she was.’”

Ultramarathon dietician Julie Shobe is surprised and disappointed in the news about Awesome Sauce. “My clients and myself bank on the efficiency of the gel being easy and light to carry,” she says. “Underfueling within a long run can create acute symptoms like low energy, nausea, or brain fog. Ultrarunners find themselves in dangerous situations on long runs and races, and are often in remote areas, so unintentionally underfueling could have negative consequences.”

Awesome Sauce
(Photo: Abby Levene)

Austin says runners can still rely on information they’re receiving about endurance fuel, but that it’s always possible there are, as Spring Energy suggests, bad batches. She’s leaning toward this being the reason for the nutritional inaccuracies (keeping an open mind that more information can come out) because she’s had experiences with bad batches of different brands of gels in the past, where the product tasted off and she brought it to the attention of the brand, who confirmed it was an error on their part.

By May 30, Spring Energy had removed Awesome Sauce from its website, although it can still be purchased in the All Inclusive and Vegan Spring sampler packs. There, Awesome Sauce is described as, “our best-seller, has been created for all carb lovers who want to fuel in a healthy way, with wholesome products free of added sugars!”

Nashville Running Company owner Lee Wilson has made the decision to take Awesome Sauce, Canaberry, and Hill Aid off store shelves. “It came down to the integrity of it,” Wilson says. “After the other flavors came out with the test results, we decided we can’t sell it.”

Nashville Running Company crew member Eric May added that this whole ordeal is disappointing, especially because the gel was so popular in the community.

“We used to have people come in when we got shipments and walk out with boxes of them,” May says. “It’s a bummer.”

He adds that a few customers have remarked that they still really enjoy Awesome Sauce and will keep using it.

“How a company reacts to the issue tells you a lot about them, and the fact that they’ve taken down their product, it means they’re probably doing their homework to see what’s going on,” Austin says. “I would say, give them a chance to rectify the situation.”

Sabrina Stanley, a pro ultrarunner from Silverton, Colorado, has used Awesome Sauce frequently in the past, but says she stopped eating it when she felt she was taking in three times what she should be consuming to keep hunger at bay. She adds that though it’s a huge disappointment that athletes thought they were buying a gel under the impression it was a different product, the company is the only party at fault.

“Professional athletes aren’t responsible for making sure the nutrition label is correct,” Stanley says. “They are often sub-contracted to give opinions and help promote a product in hopes of making a few extra dollar to continue doing what they love. They aren’t in the lab developing the product and writing the nutrition label, like the consumers, they are trusting the hired them to do their due diligence.”

On May 29, Spring Energy released an official statement on its Instagram, with Nazarewicz saying they’ve identified weaknesses in the manufacturing process, and that only some batches were accidentally made with varying nutritional values. Nazarewicz apologized and stated Spring Energy is introducing changes to its process and hopes to continue its mission toward making real food performance products.

“Spring Energy has admitted to inconsistencies in their product and also said in a recent IG post this was not intentional or malicious,” Shobe says. “However, to be this far off from your stated nutrition label deserves some major inspection. The whole thing made me question not only the integrity of their products but the nutritional labels of other products. Why, as a dietician, didn’t I become more suspicious of Awesome Sauce in the first place?”



mmitchell, DMT.NEWS, DMT BeautySpot,

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