Taste Test: Caffeinated Squares, Gummies, and Bars

We put three nutrition products to the test—with interesting results.

When it comes to fuel and nutrition, there’s never been a more confusing time to be a triathlete. Gels, dummies, powders, bars—you name it, we’re being sold it. Just figuring out what to eat and when can be an endurance workout all of its own. Luckily for you, a lot of these products land on our desks: We swim, ride, and run with them, chew them up and spit them out (quite literally, sometimes). Here’s our take on three new caffeinated nutrition products…

Quantum Coffee Infused Energy Square

$30 for box of 10,

As the official energy bar of the Ironman U.S. Series in 2020, you can expect to hear a lot about Quantum Energy Squares this year. Made from nuts, seeds, and fruits infused with organic green coffee (with a caffeine hit equivalent to one cup of espresso), these bars are designed to provide a slow, long lasting boost. With 200 calories per bar and 10g of plant-based protein, they are definitely well equipped to fuel you—and keep you feeling full—but we didn’t find them the easiest to eat on-the-go. They’re heavier and chewier than you might expect, and although they work well as a fuel source for longer rides, they are almost impossible to eat and keep down before a run workout. Available in three flavors: peanut butter dark chocolate, caffe mocha almond chip, and coconut almond chip.

HILO Gametime Gummies

$20 per tub,

caffeinated nutrition products
Photo: Brad Kaminski

The endurance scene is full of strange gummies that promise to fuel you in all kinds of weird ways, but the Hilo Gametime Gummies might just be the most bizarre. Claiming to be a “first of its kind nootropic designed to provide next level energy and mental performance,” it’s hard to know what they’re going to do to you. Nootropics are supplements that can help improve cognitive func- tion, something that’s popular in the gaming industry. Despite boasting 100mg of caffeine per four gummies (plus 100mg of L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation, and 250mg of Cognizin CDP-Choline, a memory enhancer), it’s hard to see how these will catch on in tri. They taste terrible (like eating chemicals out of a petri dish) and only provide 45 calories per four gummies. While sometimes it can be fun to try something new, in this case, we don’t recommend it.

Clif Bar Coffee Collection Energy Bars

$18 for box of 12,

caffeinated nutrition products
Photo: Brad Kaminski

The folks at Clif Bar know a thing or two about making first-class energy bars, so it’s no surprise that their latest offering—the Coffee Collection—tastes great and lives up to its promises. Each bar contains 65mg of caffeine from organic Colombian coffee beans and delivers a gentle buzz, equivalent to one shot of espresso. We tested these bars before run and swim workouts, as well as mid-ride, and were pleased to find they’re easy to chew and digest, and not at all heavy like some bars. With 9g of protein per bar, plus a massive 44g of carbs and 250 calories, they keep you well fueled and feeling fuller for longer. They’re available in three flavors—dark chocolate mocha, vanilla almond latte, and caramel macchiato—and the dark chocolate mocha definitely won us over. Just don’t eat too many of them late in the day!