The Gear Junkie: Justin's Nut Butter

In the old days of sports nutrition, before athletic gels became a de facto food for aerobic types and endurance athletes on the move, there was an original quick calorie boost called peanut butter. Spoon up a dollop, put it on your tongue, and you're into a couple hundred calories and a serving of carbs quicker than you can say Skippy and Jif.

On events ranging from mountain climbs to cross-country ski races, peanut butter has fueled me for years. Mostly spread on bread and stuffed in a backpack, though also spooned onto pita with apple slices and--on more than one occasion--squeezed alone from the depths of a plastic baggie to eat plain and pure.

As a nut-butter aficionado--as well as a boy raised on PB&Js--the salty sustenance gave a nutritional boost and served psychologically as comfort food in times of athletic duress, be it on the face of Mount Rainier or at the verge of a bonk during the American Birkebeiner ski race.

So imagine my intrigue upon sampling Justin's Nut Butter Squeeze Packs last month. These 32-gram packages are made to be carried in a pocket while outdoors or on the go. You tear them open and squeeze out the contents to eat just like an athletic gel.

But unlike the formulations found in a common sports gel, Justin's Nut Butter (www.justinsnutbutter.com), a small Boulder, Colorado, company, foregoes sodium benzoate, histidine, ornithine alpha-ketaglutarate and other lab-engineered enhancers. Indeed, the full ingredient list for Justin's Classic Peanut Butter Squeeze Pack includes just two items: dry-roasted peanuts and organic palm fruit oil.

This natural mix produces an energy boost with 190 calories, seven grams of carbohydrates, and seven grams of protein--similar to the nutritional specs seen in mass market athletic gels.

But the Squeeze Packs--which come in plain, honey and cinnamon flavors as well as an almond-butter-based variety--have much higher fat content. The Classic Peanut Butter packs in 17 grams of fat, which makes this mixture too heavy for many athletic scenarios where a CLIF Shot or PowerBar Gel can do wonders.

I've come to prefer the Squeeze Packs during endurance events like ultra races or for meal-replacement during a long hike. You can eat the nut butter squeezed straight from the package or apply it to bread to make a quick meal.

Justin's Nut Butter makes a high-quality product, banking on natural and organic ingredients. I like both the peanut- and almond-butter varieties, though during activity the peanut-based product goes down much easier. The almond butter is too dry to eat without several slurps of water.

The packs--which sell for about $1 a piece at grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and at some Starbucks Coffee shops--are burst-resistant and strong. They won't go bad without refrigeration, staying fresh in air-tight packaging for weeks before being squeezed and eaten, natural energy and a nutty boost rushing forth.

Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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