A few weeks ago, I began to explore the idea of the Soylent Athlete. More specifically, I asked: Can an athlete better meet his or her fitness goals by using powder meal replacements?
The catalyst for this line of thinking, the unforgettably-named Soylent, just raised a whole mess of money in the venture capital world and looks to up their production levels as a result. Which is great. Because I ordered Soylent sometime in mid 2014, and I’m still waiting on my first batch.
But in the meantime, there are many Soylent alternatives available. The recipe for Soylent itself is open source, meaning there are a lot of similar and hopefully great product on the market. Today, I’m going to look at 100% Food from Space Nutrients Station.
Ego Depletion: 6
I have now tried four variants of 100% Food: The normal vanilla (or “raw”), the normal chocolate, the low carb vanilla, and the low carb chocolate. I have liked all four flavors, and — texture and consistency aside — my favorite flavor might be the Low Carb Raw variety. But the chocolate flavors are excellent, too, and contain Ghirardelli chocolate powder in them. For funsies, you can also add a little chocolate syrup, though that obviously eats away at the health benefits of the meal.
One thing I really wanted, though, was a spicy option. Or perhaps a savory option to which I can add any of my delicious hot sauces. My office neighbor is always dousing his food in Crystals, and it makes eating something mildly sweet almost like torture. I love hot sauces, and I can’t stand by as others eat hot sauces without me.
Overall, are the different flavors of 100% Food suited for everyone? Maybe, maybe not. It really smells better than most of my doubting coworkers expected, and has much more flavor than its gruelish appearance.
Let me start by saying the texture is difficult. For many people — my wife included — the texture and consistency is a non-starter. There are whole sesame and chia seeds in the mix, and with water, the meal thickens into a kind of paste. Sometimes, especially with the low carb varieties, the powder will clump into thick, tough balls inside the bottle or even leave whole gaps of powder untouched by water (this was never an issue in the normal varieties, just the low carb ones). The remaining combo of water and powder can then create a sort of snotty paste — not fun to look at.
I really don’t throw up much, but after my first 100% Food meal, I nearly did. I ate the majority of the bottle problem free, but then had just a little bit of powder left. I added some extra water and swirled the contents together. I learned from later experiments that the water/powder balance is best when it’s near milkshake consistency, but that first night, I glorged out a mouthful of watery meal as my body said, “Nope! That’s not the consistency we expected!”
That caveat delivered, when I can get the powder whipped into a milkshake or oatmeal consistency — which is about 90% of the time for the normal stuff, 75% of the time with the low carb variety — then the consistency is actually one that I rather like. Sometimes, I’ll make it with hot water and it’s like drinking down some vanilla or chocolate oatmeal of some sort.
This is the part where I’m most jazzed. Let’s compare my life before and during a wholly Space Nutrients diet:
After switching to a 100% FOOD diet, my nutrient intakes went from erratic to stable — and especially healthy.
Basically: I was getting way too much sodium, not enough fiber, too much fat, and probably an oversized dose of protein (coming specifically in the form of red meat, i.e. burgers). According to the nutrient standards set by the USDA and the NIH, I became a super-prudent eater after I began eating only 100% Food. I was having about 50% more than the recommended daily intake of fiber; I cut my fat intake to appropriate levels; I had sodium under control, probably for the first time in my life; and I consumed almost 0 cholesterol (which corresponds with a 200 Cholesterol-).
I hear it’s important to get some “good cholesterol,” but since the NIH or USDA did not suggest a minimum amount of ol’ cholesty, I guess it’s good I lost it completely from my diet.
I went from typically missing my calorie goals (usually around 2500 on days I run) to landing well under them.
How did this new diet affect my body? Well, first of all, let’s talk about the gap in the middle of my data. On October 30th, at almost precisely 6:00 a.m., my son burst into our lives. He’s a great little fella, but he does not fit neatly into the pocket of my jogging shorts or the nice jogging stroller we have. So the following data I consider very incomplete because I switched from jogging almost every day to jogging occasionally shortly after his birth.
But here is a sample for how my body reacted to 100% Food:
Despite eating nothing but a milkshake-like paste, I managed to maintain my usual running distances and paces.
And here is a similar look that show how my runs still clustered with my pre-100% Food performances.
The upper-right orange dots represents one of my best runs in the whole month, but overall, I did not see either a spike or major dip in my running ability.
Did the liquid diet make me a better runner immediately? Did it give me an instant pep in my step? Maybe a bit psychologically, but not in a discernable physical way. Shortly after this period, I tweaked my ankle (not to mention had a kid) and found myself out of commission for a while. I hope to someday revisit this study, though, and track more physical performance data.
AWFUL AND DISGUSTING, BUT HONEST NOTE: Many people complain about the impact 100% Food’s fiber has on their puny digestive systems. But I’m a fiber fanatic. My body has been training for a spotlight like this, so I did not notice a discernable or at least negative difference in flatulence or bowel movements. If anything, I endured less straining and grunting and praying during BMs. Sorry, but I’m just reporting the facts. Back to the non-poo-related part of the article…
Because they come in neat, self-contained bottles, I never spent more than 5 minutes preparing a meal. That’s pretty fantastic.
I understand that Soylent and Joylent and some of the other liquid meal groups require users to make a batch beforehand and parcel out bits of food throughout the day, perhaps in sports bottles or used water bottles. I’m not sure, but I do know this current method of delivery for 100% Food works and works well.
I should mention, though, that convenient doesn’t mean great things for the environment. This 10-star rating for the package has to do only with the user’s experience, not the overall impact of the item. That is a calculus the user must complete (as in, what’s worse: garbage dumps filled with plastic bottles, or gallons of water used on washing reusable bottles).
Here’s the biggest problem for me. I didn’t mind the texture, but by the end of the day, all I could think about was whatever delicious smells my wife was microwaving. Could I have maintained an all-soylent diet as a college athlete? Maybe if everyone in my apartment and on my team were doing the same. But in a house where
real old-fashioned food is being made and consumed, I think it is near impossible.
I wanted to continue to test the different flavors of 100% Food (thus the gap between my data and publish date), and I found a good process that works for me: Eat 100% Food for breakfast and lunch, then share a traditional meal with the wife at dinner. That works pretty well for me, but I still struggle with matters of ego depletion: After eating really healthy throughout the work day, I find myself splurging on chocolate or popcorn at the end of the day. It’s not a great strategy, and I could very much see this as a problem for athletes who already have a lot of stress on the menu.
At around $5 a bottle (even after shipping), it is certainly affordable, but it once was better. When I started in September, I was paying about $3 for bottle. And I believe Soylent wants to get down to $2 a bottle.
Here’s what I think I’ve discovered:
- The product tastes good enough for me. I’m going to keep eating it so I can work through lunch and go home early. At least until a better product comes along.
- Eventually, a whole bottle of 100% Food became too filling for me, so I would have half the bottle for breakfast (leaving some of the un-mixed powder at the bottom of the bottle) and then eat the rest for lunch. (This was not an issue when I was still running and needing far more calories.)
- In order for this to be a viable meal for 90% of my life, instead of the 66% it occupies now, I need a spicy option. Or perhaps more flavors in general. The current flavors work well for me, but I still need just a touch more variety.
Eat well, my friends!
Check out the for some great resources on liquid meal-replacements.