I discovered Veloforte, the new kids on the nutrition block, very recently. Their bars have totally changed my outlook on sports nutrition, and what follows is a beginners guide to why you, too, need some of this awesomeness in your life.
Who are Veloforte?
Veloforte are a premium nutrition brand formed in 2016, serving the peloton totally natural endurance nutrition. These are energy bars based on a classic Italian recipe for a fortified desert, known as panforte.
I’d heard of the brand a while ago, but only got one into my grubby mitts in the last few months when we started stocking them in Athlete Service. I was immediately intrigued, as their promise of totally natural nutrition and the ‘#realfoodrevolution’ appealed to my palette and stomach’s distaste for overly synthetic bars. I tried one and I was hooked.
From the beginning… what is panforte?
The history behind panforte is a stelvio esque long and winding story, but I will attempt to distil it into a prologue sized mouthful.
The most common and widely-accepted recipe is believed to date back to the 13th century, and originated in Sienna, the magnificent walled city that hosts the finish of the equally magnificent climb for the line of Strade Bianchi (the best race of the year methinks?). The treat was created by spice sellers as a curative and fortifier (i.e., what a can of coke is to the man who just came off the back of the chaingang), and used to pay monks as taxes. The cake was believed to be used by the Crusaders as a portable, long-life, energy giving confection to power them on their quests. Hmmm… portable energy food, where could this lead…?
Originally, Panforte was heavy with black pepper, and the cake was originally called ‘panpepato’ in reference to this. Nonetheless, even back when the cake was laden with this zingy savoury spice, it was based around sugar, honey and nuts, and still is to this day. The recipe only changed substantially in the 19th century, when black pepper was omitted from a variant, and replaced with vanilla flavouring. This was when the modern panforte was born, and the recipe remains largely the same today; nuts, fruits, spices, all baked together with flour and sugars. Simples.
Just as every mechanic will tell you a different method to degrease your bike, every Italian family has a slightly different variant of the recipe. However, the Sienans believe their 17 ingredient mix to be the most authentic – not surprising given they invented it.
Strade Bianche, Panforte… the Siennans know how to do things right. pic: http://www.strade-bianche.it.
So, let’s find out how a cake used to pay fat monks came to be a bar found in the pockets of riders and racers around the world, including Team Morvelo Basso and Storey Racing.
Marc Giusti – the brains behind the bars
I recently had a chat with Marc, the man who set up the business back in Spring 2016. Marc’s a dedicated and experienced rider who has some massive rides in his palmares, such as the Manchester-London audax, and a 250mile non stop trip across Mallorca and Ibiza. Born and bred in London, but from a Siennan family, you can hear and feel the Italian passion for bikes and food coming across as you chat to him.
From Panforte to Veloforte.
I asked Marc how the idea to make ride food from a recipe originally used to pay off greedy Monks came about.
Following an appendix operation, one of Marc’s first thoughts were on regaining fitness, and so, being a South West Londoner, he joined the masses in the Richmond park laps game. As his legs got stronger, and his rides got longer, Marc wanted to find something to fuel him that would be kind to his newly fixed insides. Much like me, he found many packaged bars synthetic, unappetising, and a bit creepy, but also realised that nutritionally weak ‘heathy’ cereal and granola bars were barely potent enough to get you over the Ricmond Park pimple that is Dark Hill, let alone over the Mortirolo.
The solution was obvious. Marc’s wife, Lara, just happened to be an award-winning chef, and a regular baker of Panforte. Like true natives of Sienna, the Giustis always had a loaf of the good stuff stashed away in the cupboards. Marc was well aware that nuts, fruit and simple sugars make legs go fast. And so these loaves of panforte were soon chopped, wrapped, and making their merry ways around Richmond Park, and beyond, stashed safely in Marc’s jersey pocket.
As Marc got fitter, he soon found himself riding the Rapha Manchester to London audax, fuelling solely on his wife’s lovingly made panforte. Marc powered along nicely, never tiring and always loving every bite of his bars. Meanwhile, other riders were bonking and berating the flavour fatigue and stomach woes that come with a long day on the packaged stuff. Sure enough, the cogs were ticking. He and Lara (who is also a CardioRespiratory Physiotherapist – handy that) developed the panforte recipe that was still true to its historical origins, but would power your legs further and faster than you thought possible. From there, the product was tested out on a cohort of riders on the epic cross-Mallorca and Ibiza ride, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Perfectionism, pizzas and panforte.
Like all Italians, Marc is passionate about food. It’s not just fuel. It’s something to WORSHIP. On asking him about his thoughts about pineapple on a pizza for example, I am met with what threatened to become a diatribe about how this combination is the ‘devil’s work’, and the foundations underlying British cuisine’s downfall from grace.
This love of the process and outcome of cooking is more than evident in the creation process behind panforte bars. Each product is a painstaking process, with the fruit being hand-picked (I presume by beautiful olive-skinned Italian maidens, dressed all in white), the ingredients hand-cut, the bars hand-baked and chopped, and then every single bar ishand wrapped. Having made and wrapped bars using the same technique myself (see my own home-made bar recipe here), i know that the wrapping process is, well, a time-consuming ballache. As Marc says, each bar is a ‘labour of love’, but the epitome of the Italian ethos to food – few ingredients, of the highest quality, prepared lovingly and with the utmost attention to quality.
Right, enough of the history lesson and chit-chat, and on with the important stuff. How do they taste, how do they go down on the bike, and do they work?!
Veloforte in the wild – a review.
In the bar
There are three flavours of Veloforte bar, and, per the traditional panforte recipes, all three are based on nuts, dry fruits, spices, and honey.
To get deeper into the ingredients, the Classico bar – that closest to traditional panforte, is focussed on citrus peel and almond, The Di Bosco is predominantly red berries, almonds and pistachio, whereas the Ciocco flavour is more heavily based on dates and almonds, and flavoured by cocoa.
In the gob
Regarding the flavour, well, to point out a favourite would be akin to naming a favourite child. Each time I have any flavour of the bars, it becomes my favourite, only to be toppled off its perch as soon as I go back to a different flavour.
The Classico is a real bright and vibrant affair, with the citrus fruits singing loudly. There’s almost a chrismassy feel to it due to the predominance of the orange and the various spices.
The Di Bosco, meaning ‘of the forest’ does what it says on the tin – it’s a super-juicy blast of berry. The pistacios add a tiny hint of savouriness that prevents the whole thing from becoming too sweet and that add a certain depth of flavour, but don’t overpower the taste of cranberry, strawberry and cherry that the bar is based on.
Finally, the Ciocco has a chocolate vibe, but it’s not a bar you’d say tastes of chocolate. The dates keep the fruity tone at the forefront and add a real nice moist richness. This is the bar that tastes most unlike its siblings; there’s less of the fresh fruit tone evoked by berries or citrus peel, and more of the rich, deep sugar of date, perfectly tempered by a very slight bitter cocoa note.
In the pocket
The texture of all three bars is similar. They have bite and consistency thanks to the nicely sized chunks of nut, but are not crumbly at all. Despite having a bit of resistance under the teeth, the bars are mostly chewy and succulent. A massive benefit of this is that, if you’re a ‘nibble a bit and save the rest for later’ type of rider, you won’t find half the bar lingering in your pocket after your first bite and subsequent stash. And whatsmore, when you take a bite, the remainder of the bar stays securely in your hand, and doesn’t crumble to the floor like a used up and dispensed Team Sky domestique.
One of the things that Veloforte pride themselves on is that the bars are totally handmade, and the packaging reflects this. You’re not going to find some factory glue-sealed wrapper here, but a parchment backed foil wrapper that belies a lovingly and carefully prepared product. The cunning way the bar is wrapped (based on the classic rice cake wrapping technique) means you can easily unwrap a whole bar like a little present (one that certainly beats a Christmas jumper), or tear off the top half of the foil to get to the top of the bar for a nibble-and-stash approach.
Although each bar is a relatively hefty 70g, they’re not big on pocket space. That’s not to say the bars are small and stingy – probably 3 bites is a reasonable mode of attack (or maybe 2 if you’re bonking)…
In the science
So, taste and wrapping all good, now to the business end – how does it perform? The marketing boasts that the bars contain the ‘optimal balance of performance-enhancing carbohydrates, essential proteins & fibre’ for endurance sport, and the patter certainly doesn’t lie. Coz marketing never lies, right?
Each variant of bar has a slightly different makeup, but it boils down to more or less this nutrient breakdown for any bar (dependent on the flavour chosen):
- Carbs – 45-50g
- Fat – 9-10g
- Fibre – 4g
- Protein – 4-5g
When I first look at the macronutrients, the thing that jumped out at me was the huge carb content. Most bars pack around 30-40g of the badboys, and, as carbs are KING, this hefty portion in a veloforte bar is a good thing. There’s a fair bit of fat in there, but again, this is a good thing. Those fats are coming from nuts rather than some horrible factory goo, so no need to stress about the quality of your nutrition, and fat (and protein) is key to giving you a slow burn of energy, which perfectly balances off the fast kick provided by the fast-releasing honey and simple sugars that bind the bars.
In the legs
So, how do they feel once they’re in the bloodstream?
I think the best way to describe how a veloforte affects your legs is perhaps to compare it to giving you the instant hit of a gel thanks to the simple sugars and carbs referred to above, but also providing the slow release ‘brick in the stomach’ of a peanutbutter, banana, and jam sarnie – a result of the fat content in the bars.
One of the first times I had a veloforte bar was on the first stage of Tour of Wessex (see a write up here). Having foolishly fought like a rabid dog to get into a good bunch (turns out I failed), I was on the verge of a bonk as I lost contact with the group over Cheddar Gorge – only about a third of the way around the 6 hour ride. I was panicking.
So I smashed down a Di Bosco beauty in more or less one mouthful.
Within about 30 seconds, I thought I was tripping. The instant rush of the honey and sugars was that quick. Within 20 minutes, I was feeling less like my legs were made of tiramisu, and more of whatever Fausto Coppi used to have for breakfast (Italian reference, should you wish me to laboriously explan my joke) . After an hour, I was still going strong, and that bonk was well and truly banished. That one bar gave the quick release, and the slow burn, that I exactly needed in that situation.
Every time I’ve had a bar since, they’ve been perfect. The notion of doing any longer ride without at least one in my pocket has become lunacy.
The pinnacle of nutrition? Could well be. If energy bars were mountains, this would be the Tourmalet, The Stelvio and the Galibier, all wrapped into one: quality ingredients, brilliant flavour, outstanding fuelling.
Rating: Hors Categorie
Veloforte up the road…
When I asked Marc Giusti about ideas for future products, he was elusive yet informative. Plans are in place, and panforte is going places. Expect to see three more variants soon, focussing on other elements of the sports nutrition equation, namely, recovery, stimulation (i.e. caffeine! – and don’t get Marc started on Capuccino etiquette), and salt replacement. Expect nothing but the best.
That’s it. Which just leaves you to go here: https://veloforte.cc
Fill your boots (then your jersey pocket, then your gob), you won’t regret it.