The Science Behind EnergyBits (Spirulina)
Like so many others in the online fitness community in recent weeks I was approached by EnergyBits about receiving a free sample to review and giveaway on my blog.
I’ve been interested in EnergyBits for a while, but their somewhat high price tag ($115 for 1,000 tabs) made me hesitate in purchasing a bag, so this worked out really well.
In most of the blog reviews I’ve read on EnergyBits everyone says they felt the bits boosted their workout, but weren’t sure if this was a placebo effort or not.
I decided to do a little research to find out if there is any science behind EnergyBits or if those bloggers were really experiencing a placebo effect.
The Science Behind EnergyBits
The NYU Medical Center and the University of Maryland Medical Center conducted the two studies I reviewed. These studies weren’t conducted specifically on EnergyBits, but they were conducted on spirulina and according to the EnergyBits website, EnergyBits are “made from 100% organically grown spirulina algae.”
The NYU Medical Center report on spirulina (June 2011) describes the nutritional supplement as, “a type of blue-green algae that is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids, antioxidents that can help protect cells from damage. It contains nutrients including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid).”
The report goes on to say, “test tube and animal studies suggest spirulina may boost the immune system, help protect against allergic reactions, and have antiviral and anticancer properties. However, there is no proof that spirulina has these, or any, benefits in people. More research is needed.”
The University of Maryland Medical Center study (July 2012) echos the same findings as the NYU study.
It specifically notes that “Spirulina is a rich source of protein – dried spirulina contains up to 70% protein by weight – but you’d have to eat an awful lot of spirulina capsules to obtain a significant amount of protein this way. Spirulina also contains vitamin B12 , a nutrient otherwise found almost exclusively in animal foods. However, there’s a catch; the B12 in spirulina is not absorbable.”
According to the EnergyBits website, EnergyBits tabs “have the highest concentration of protein in the world (64%) all for just one calorie per tab.” The website recommends that you “swallow at least 30 EnergyBits (or more) before any workout, run, game or intense physical or mental activity.” They do not mention anything about B12 on the EnergyBits product page.
To me it sounds like as long as you’re not relying on EnergyBits as your sole form of protein you’ll be okay (note: I am definitely not a doctor). Remember that the bits, although marketed as “food,” should not be used as a meal replacement.
Neither of the two medical studies noted anything about spirulina helping with increased energy, increased endurance or reducing fatigue, though the EnergyBits product page notes that the supplement can “boost your athletic performance, supercharge your run or crank up your endurance while working out.”
That being said, because the studies were void of these topics, it cannot be concluded that spirulina does not help with energy or endurance. It may or may not.
While no hard scientific research has found health benefits in humans yet, the medical community continues to study spirulina due to its strong potential.
The Really Awesome Stuff About EnergyBits
Okay, so the research is still out on spirulina, but does that mean you should back away from EnergyBits? No way!
We all know that the mental aspect of running is a huge. If you have a bad day where your mind just isn’t into the training session the day is going to suck. Big time. And on race day, any thing that might give competitive runners an advantage is absolutely welcome.
After reading through a bunch of blog post reviews of EnergyBits it seems 110% clear to me that even if there is no proven physical benefit to EnergyBits [yet] there is a really strong mental benefit.
Here are excerpts from some EnergyBits reviews:
The Runivore Says: “I took ENERGYbits about 30 minutes before I started running. On the drive to the trail I already felt more alert than I usually do early on a Sunday morning. On my run, my energy stayed consistently high, and most importantly my pace did not waiver… I definitely think the ENERGYbits helped me.”
Alex Tries It Out Says: “When I first talked to Jonathan [EnergyBits employee] about Energy Bits, he explained it as ‘sustained energy’ not a ‘spike in energy.’ Although I wasn’t sure how to interpret that at the time, it made perfect sense after trying the bits. While running my energy stayed up – no dips. I was able to maintain my pace easier than ever before. I felt strong, not tired. I also didn’t crash after the race like I generally do. I felt like I could keep doing all day!”
Nut Butter Runner Says: “I could not believe how amazing I felt during the entire run. It typically takes me a good first mile or two to warm up and start feeling the run, but right from the start I was feeling good! I honestly think it was the best I felt during any run! I was able to maintain my pace the entire time too! I completed 9 miles in 1:13. After a run I can crash for the rest of the day, but I continued to have energy!”
A Doctor in the House Says [Andrea is a 4th year medical student]: “I am the biggest believer in the placebo effect. If you think these bits of glory are going to get you to the finish line in your next 10K, I bet they will! Our mind is a powerful thing, and sometimes just thinking you have an extra boost is enough to amp you up.”
Cookies on the Run Says: “I was impressed with how I felt more energetic as the miles rolled on and the Bits took effect. The dread of my run was replaced with a great feeling of achievement and confidence of being able to shake this lethargy and reach my goals. Was it all down to the Bits? Who knows but I can tell you that I was energized and strong where I expected the complete opposite. I’ll be using them again for sure.”
There you have it – real runners giving their real reviews showing a really strong mental benefit from using EnergyBits!
My Experience with EnergyBits
The morning of my July 4th 5K I decided to take EnergyBits for the first time. The recommended dosage is 30 bits; I’m not a big fan of swallowing pills and wasn’t able to get all 30 down. I only made it through 10 bits (downing 2 at a time with a glass of water). The bits are small (the size of an Advil or birth control pill) so if you’re not bothered by taking multiple pills at once you probably would be able to get the full dose in.
Perhaps because I only took 10 bits, I didn’t notice any effect on my energy levels. Also… the morning of my Fourth of July 5K my alarm was set for 4:30 am and perhaps I was just too sleepy for anything to help. In addition to the 10 bits I also had a nice, big cup of coffee and was still pretty tired.
I’m definitely not what you would call a morning person!
Overall, I would say that if you’re interested in EnergyBits you should try them. According to the two reports I read from NYU and the University of Maryland more research is needed (specifically on humans) to know the true extent of spirulina’s health benefits, but from reading reviews from other runner’s there appears to be a clear mental benefit to taking the bits.