More Average than Awesome? (English Version)

The “Awesome Sauce” from US manufacturer Spring Energy is a cult product. The energy gel is made from natural ingredients, tastes delicious and promises to deliver an incredible 45 g of carbohydrates per packet. Now, an analysis proves that Spring Energy’s nutritional information is not correct. Not even close.

An energy gel that tastes like cinnamon-y apple pie, is based on purely natural ingredients, offers an above-average amount of carbohydrates and calories, and also promises maximum tolerance? What sounds like culinary paradise on earth to the ears of a trail runner is the promise of Spring Energy’s “Awesome Sauce”. The gel, which was launched in 2022, enjoys cult status. It is the brand’s bestseller.

The “Awesome Sauce” has recently been the subject of controversy. It is nothing less than an accusation of fraudulent labeling. In other words, the “Awesome Sauce” is not as “awesome” as it claims to be. The stated nutritional values are not accurate, critics say. What initially appeared to be a dubious internet rumor is now turning out to be true. An independent laboratory test, the results of which are available to our editorial team, proves that Spring Energy has provided false information about the nutritional values of the “Awesome Sauce”. These are not minor deviations that could be explained by the production process. No, it is a matter of completely false figures that are astonishing. The significance of this spectacular event can be called “Springgate” in reference to previous scandals.

Did Spring Energy knowingly mislead its customers? Is this a major misunderstanding? Or is the embellishment of nutritional information in the food sector actually quite usual?

Nutrition Facts of Spring Energys "Awesome Sauce".

Our research begins with a gel in hand. The bright green packaging of the “Awesome Sauce” lists the ingredients: Basmati rice, apple juice, apple sauce, sweet potato, maple syrup, lemon juice, sea salt, cinnamon and vanilla. That’s it. Gone are the days when you had to choke down (and often up again) sticky sugar mass that tasted like flavor enhancers. With the “Awesome Sauce” in your running vest, food during the run becomes a real treat that you can even look forward to. What is really spectacular, however, is the nutritional value of the gel. 180 calories (kcal) and 45 g of carbohydrates for only 54 g of weight. All is well and good, you might think. But is it also too good to be true?

 

No bargain

This gel-packed calorie bomb made from purely natural ingredients comes at a price. The gel costs 4,30 euros in retail (the price in the USA is 5,00 US dollars per gel). A high price that places the “Awesome Sauce” as an absolute premium product. If you are planning a long ultra trail lasting 20 hours and want to consume 90 g of carbohydrates, you will need two “Awesome Sauce” per hour. If you buy 40 gels, you end up with an investment of 172 euros, which is likely to exceed the entry fee. Apparently, however, enough people are willing to pay this price. The only retailer selling “Awesome Sauce” in Germany, Sporthunger.de, is regularly sold out.

A presumably decisive selling point: 45 g carbohydrates for 54 g weight. By comparison, the premium product “Black Line” from the manufacturer PowerBar offers 30 g of carbohydrates for 50 g of weight. Industry leader Maurten offers 25 g of carbohydrates per 40 g of weight. The “Awesome Sauce” therefore performs very well in comparison, at least if you value as many carbohydrates as possible. This information is particularly important for sports nutrition. Spring Energy, founded in 2014 by Rafal Nazarewicz and Adam Goleniewski, knows this and markets the product accordingly. The product description states: “With an impressive carbohydrate content of 45 g, this gel is a comprehensive and readily available source of energy to support optimal performance during intensive training sessions or competitions.”

 

The founders of Spring Energy, Rafal Nazarewicz and Adam Goleniewski. Photo: Spring Energy

It is this “impressive carbohydrate content” that sparked a discussion on the reddit platform in April. The reddit platform is not exactly considered the home of objective debate culture. However, it would be too easy to simply brand the points of criticism raised there as dubious. We read through the entire discussion after we became aware of the topic. The initiator is the user “sriirachamayo”, who claims to work in a chemistry laboratory. He uses Spring Energy products himself. He only became skeptical about the values of the “Awesome Sauce” and, without further ado, subjected the packaging contents to an, shall we say, unconventional test. Would his test confirm Spring Energy’s nutritional information? Or would his suspicions be confirmed?

 

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" More and more people are expressing their skepticism, trying to recreate the composition of the “Awesome Sauce”, but clearly failing. "

A kitchen blender reveals doubts

His experiment certainly does not meet scientific standards. Without further ado, he removes all the liquid from the gel – in a standard kitchen blender. He puts the remaining mass on the scales. Lo and behold, the dry remnant of the gel weighs just 16 g. According to his understanding, however, this mass should contain 45 g of carbohydrates. A calculation that doesn’t add up. He writes that even if the 16 g he weighed were pure carbohydrates, this would only add up to around 60 kcal. Not 180 kcal. His explosive finding: the “Awesome Sauce” only provides a third of the carbohydrates and calories it claims to provide.

The user is vindicated and shares his findings on reddit. More and more people are expressing their skepticism, trying to recreate the composition of the “Awesome Sauce”, but clearly failing. The debate is taken up by the American running podcast “Singletrack” on April 30, leaving the supposedly dubious reddit cosmos. By now, at the latest, the topic has arrived in the running and trail scene. We also started working on this article at this point.

Ultratrail Runner Sage Canaday promotes his sponsor Spring Energy. Photo: Instagram

“Isn’t it strange that even brands that don’t claim to use only natural ingredients, but use every high-tech tool to optimize nutrition (e.g. Maurten, SiS), still don’t have gels with this composition and calorie content?” asks the initiator of the discussion. How is that possible? He contacts Spring Energy with a request for a statement. Spring Energy replies, but is tight-lipped. They stand by the information but would check it again. Spring Energy has not yet made the results of the review public. All written inquiries from Alles Laufbar to the brand remain unanswered to this day.

A laboratory analysis brings clarity

We sought contact with Sporthunger.de, the only retailer that sells Spring Energy in Germany, at an early stage. Yes, the debate was being noticed. A laboratory analysis commissioned by Sporthunger should provide clarity. Until then, the company does not want to take part in speculation. The results of the analysis are available on May 15. In a telephone call at midday, the owners of Sporthunger, Jonas Jacquet and Florian Dohrn, tell us the core message of the findings. There are not 45 g of carbohydrates per pack. It’s not 30 g either. Not even 20 g. It’s 16 g. Exactly the number that the reddit user found in his kitchen mixer experiment. The fact that the result would be so dramatically bad leaves the two founders of Sporthunger speechless. How do you deal with a situation like this? We agreed that we would have to analyze the events calmly and that this article would only be published after a statement from Sporthunger.de. The statement comes on May 17 in the form of a video message. In the video, the two founders express their shock and disappointment with the results.

Natural and delicious: a product photo of the “Awesome Sauce”. Photo: Spring Energy

Tolerances yes, deceptions no

 

Even before the laboratory tests became known, we spoke to Stephanie Wetzel, Project Coordinator for “Food Clarity” at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VzBv). We ask whether it is common for manufacturers to sometimes state the nutritional information of their products inaccurately, even embellishing it? Or in other words: pushing the permitted tolerance ranges to the limit? “No”, says the expert. “Information on food must be correct”. There are no ifs and buts. Of course, it is more complex for foods with natural ingredients. There may well be deviations from batch to batch.

Peter Loosen, Managing Director and Head of the Brussels office of the German Food Association, agrees with her. He writes to us: “There have to be tolerances because there are always fluctuations, both production-related and in the raw materials used – and of course the fluctuations tend to be greater with ‘natural ingredients’.” We remember: Spring Energy only uses natural ingredients. Loosen refers to legal requirements. We then fought our way through the applicable EU law. We found what we were looking for in the European Commission’s Regulation No. 1169/2011. It states the following:

“Tolerances in the declaration of nutrients on labels are important because foods may not always contain exactly the declared nutritional value due to natural variations and changes during production and storage. However, the nutrient content of the food should deviate as little as possible from the values stated on the label so that consumers are not misled.”

It goes on to say that “the stated values correspond to the average values for many portions of the food and are not established at the upper or lower limit of a specific tolerance range.” This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. One thing is certain: if the actual nutrient content deviates too far from the values on the packaging, the consumer is being misled. A deception. And then it gets tricky. Did Spring Energy really believe that their figures were correct? After all, all the regulatory bodies – in the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is primarily responsible for this – considered the values presented to be plausible; otherwise, the product would not have been approved for the market in this form.

" This may provide some trail runners with a retrospective explanation for the odd slump during a past competition. The good news is that it wasn't due to a lack of fitness. "

What about specific figures? Table 1 of the regulation states that foods may deviate by plus/minus 8 g in the indication of carbohydrates per 100 g, whereby the measurement uncertainty has already been taken into account. This would mean for Spring’s “Awesome Sauce”: Anything under 37 g of carbohydrates would already be problematic. Now, as already mentioned, it is only 16 g. That is only 35% of the stated amount. To stick with our previous example, if a trail runner plans to eat two gels per hour in a competition in order to reach 90 g of carbohydrates, they will actually only get 32 g per hour. This is far too little to remain efficient in the long term. This may provide some trail runners with a retrospective explanation for the odd slump during a past competition. The good news is that it wasn’t due to a lack of fitness.

More “average” than “awesome”

These are deviations that cannot be explained by measurement errors or miscalculations. Only the owners of Spring Energy themselves can explain how this blatant error, with which Spring Energy has presumably made a lot of money, came about. But there is silence. It is reported that a marketing agency is advising Spring Energy on this issue. One thing is certain: The moment when damage limitation could have been established through comprehensive transparency and openness has probably passed. Will the “Awesome Sauce” be around for much longer? Sporthunger.de removed the product from its range at an early stage and has done everything it can to inform its customers in the best possible way. Other international retailers are likely to follow suit. Perhaps Spring Energy will change the recipe. Perhaps the nutritional information will be revised downward at some point. Whatever happens, the “Awesome Sauce” may taste “awesome”, but in all other areas it is ordinary at best. The end result is a product that does not deserve the name “Awesome Sauce”. Instead, “Average Sauce” would be much more appropriate.

 

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