What's Your Flavor?:
Reviewing Japanese Sports Nutrition
Recent estimates expect the value of the global sports nutrition market to be worth over $31 billion by 2027. When it comes to fueling ourselves before, during, and after, we’re spoiled for choice! From gels and bars to gummies and powders, just figuring out what tastes good, keeps us going (without bathroom visits), and doesn’t dent our wallet, is an endurance workout of its own.
Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a back of the packer, or a full-fledged sponsored professional athlete, nutrition plays an important role in sports. Famous names like Gatorade and Powerade may immediately come to mind, but as athletes, we know that sports nutrition comes in various shapes and forms!
In Japan, it can be difficult to source popular sports nutrition brands abroad. In fact, Japan has a wide variety of domestic products – often primed for Japanese palates and preferences. What are they like? Are they worth a try? With the endurance athlete in mind, we review five uniquely Japanese sports nutrition options.
Sports Yokan (cacao)
- Faith: It’s like a light-weight plastic, I was able to cut through the plastic wrapper to halve it with a dull plate knife without effort. Easy to push out as a solid (unlike a Gu).
- John: Simple packaging, designed to be able to squeeze out as a block.
- Faith: Somewhere between a Gu gel and Clif Blox. I like that it came out as a (soft) block and slid right out the packaging with a push.
- John: Smooth, somewhat gelatinous but has a paste like texture.
- Faith: Sweet but not overwhelmingly sweet – I would probably find this a little too sweet during a 70.3 but like I do Gu, I would eat it anyways. I like the chocolate (cacao) flavor a lot.
- John: Very tasty, almost like candy. I like sweet, so I enjoyed it. Others might not like the sweetness.
- Faith: Impressed. I HATE yokan so I was expecting something actually LIKE yokan. Maybe that difference is what impressed me most (false representation…). Easy to eat, I would probably want water with this and you’d want to chew a little bit.
- John: I loved it. I think many athletes would find it too sweet but I like that. The packaging makes it easy to eat during a race.
- Faith: Peels easily and is well made, but also when I peeled it (too aggressively?), the entire thing flew out the packaging. I was also busy trying to unwrap the mochi from the rice paper packaging and didn’t realise it is also edible. Now I know. Very smart – the rice paper ensures the mochi won’t stick to the packaging.
- John: Wasn’t as user friendly for runners as the Sports Yokan wrapper. The rice paper was a nice touch to keep it from sticking to the plastic foil packaging.
- Faith: Thick and chewy – to the point where I worry I would choke if I am running. I would totally be into this on the bike, though.
- John: Very chewy but had big chunks of nuts in it. Not the best for when you are on the go. The rice paper kept it from getting sticky which helps avoid any messes.
- Faith: I’m into this. It’s neutral and not aggressively sweet or flavored. It kind of just tastes like you’re eating sticky rice.
- John: Has a classic mochi taste that appeals to a more Asian crowd. Not much taste, and lacks any sweetness but seems like a good choice for an endurance race.
- Faith: At about 300 yen per bar, the price point is a little steep for me. You’d probably want to save these for race day, bar a few for race-day simulation type of training. Overall though, I’m impressed and would seriously consider adding it to my ‘arsenal’.
- John: The wrapping makes it difficult to consume during a race. Taste-wise it’s not sweet, which doesn’t appeal to me but makes sense if you’re in the middle of a race. I thought the rice paper was a nice addition both for presentation and keeping it from melting.
Enemoti (walnut & sea salt)
- Faith: Same as the walnut Enemoti, the foil wrapper peels away easily. You can also cut it using scissors for smaller, bite-size pieces which I think I would do to place in a Ziploc in my bento box. The bar is flat and firm; it would easily fit in a side pocket in a cycling jersey or tri kit. It’s a little on the large side compared to say, a Gu but it lays flat unlike Blox.
- John: The packaging was easy to peel open. No fumbling around even when you’re on the move.
- Faith: Chewy with sizeable nut pieces. The mochi consistency may feel a little heavy, especially to those not typically accustomed to rice or mochi. It’s a thick consistency, so you definitely have to chew.
- John: Texture was very chewy with chunks of nuts. Despite its flatness, it feels ‘thick’ – you can’t just shove the entire bar in your mouth.
- Faith: Holy smokes, this is salty! It would probably be a welcoming taste during strenuous physical activity but sitting here at our desks, it just makes you want to chug an indecent amount of water. It’s exactly like the original flavor – with a bucket load of salt.
- John: Taste was very similar to the first Enemoti but much saltier, which would help in a race but any other time might be too salty for some.
- Faith: I prefer the original flavor. No difference in price between the two but again, I think they are a little expensive at about 300 yen per bar. Still, I’m fully prepared to buy a few more Enemoti for my next race.
- John: Again similar to the first Enemoti, which I think appeals more to the Asian population and particularly those with a taste for mochi. The saltiness might bother some but I love salt, so it was okay for me.
Rice Puree (apple and honey)
- Faith: Easy to open but seems like it might be difficult to eat when you’re on the go.
- John: Typical tear-open packaging for any sports bar, seems less than ideal for eating on the move.
- Faith: Not overly sweet but the honey certainly lends to sweetness. It tastes exactly as advertised – apple (juice) and honey. Not sure about the rice part.
- John: Tasty, and sweet. A little too sweet for me and it didn’t taste anything resembling rice.
- Faith: Firmer than a Gu but softer than Jello. With a lot of coaxing, it slid down and out of its packaging. It stuck to the back of my teeth a little but not as bad as a Hi-Chew. Not something you’d choke on.
- John: Smooth and easy to eat. It is very gelatinous and can be squeezed from the wrapper.
- Faith: Tastes pretty natural. I’m into it. Low calorie option (110), I am not super sold on its packaging but I also can’t offer any solutions. [Edit: I tried this at the 2020 Ironman 70.3 Bangsaen in Thailand and made a massively sticky mess all over my aerobars. Does not handle well in tropical heat.]
- John: A very tasty treat. Don’t taste any rice, it’s more like firm applesauce. Seems like it could be in danger of melting during a hot race.
Sports Mugicha (roasted barley tea)
- Faith: Normal tear-open packaging. You just pour the contents into a water bottle and shake it up like any hydration powder.
- John: The packaging is plain and easy enough to mix with water. Dissolves easily in water.
- Faith: There were some small visible powder bits at the top of the bottle but the remnants did not bother me when I was drinking the tea.
- John: Even after vigorously shaking the bottle of water with the powder, it feels like there’s a film over my tongue after drinking it.
- Faith: It’s salty mugicha
- John: Tastes very bad, a little like tea, very salty, and not sweet at all. Definitely leaves a tea-like after taste in your mouth. It’s not something I would drink again.
- Faith: Well, that was interesting…Turns out we initially did not combine the packet with enough water. After watering it down (with hot water), it was much more manageable. I like mugicha and this is pretty close, especially if it is watered down.
- John: I did not enjoy this one at all. The taste was very bland but I guess it would appeal to tea drinkers.