Friday, July 12, 2013

Vitacost ARO Black series sports nutritional supplement review

Triathletes are bombarded daily with suggestions, directives and advertisements for nutritional supplements to use in addition to their regular diet to account for the extra stress of training and racing and to enhance the effects of the caloric burn.

Want to bike harder, run faster? Take this super duper supplement that increases your this-and-that level to give you the added endurance. Want to lose that last 10 pounds to bring out those muscles or get to that race weight? Take this super natural supplement to boost your metabolism and burn it off.

Some of it’s hokey, and some of it is real. What’s real is the lack of protein in the everyday person’s diet, not just triathletes. If you are training for Olympic distance or further, then you are probably susceptible to protein deficiencies if you are not paying attention to your diet. Sadly with today’s ample supply of fast food and instance meal options, nutritional density has been lost in the translation, making supplementation almost a necessity for anyone, not just triathletes. It’s a scientifically proven fact that you need protein to rebuild and fuel your body when you are pushing your body for triathlons. You need amino acids to power your engine and there are other supplements that are elemental in health. The grey area comes when companies start making “proprietary blends” and coming up with a cool sounding name instead of just labeling what’s in there. Some may make claims about physical improvements with sketchy science and reports. Always be leery of those.

Triathletes can change up their dietary plan and try to get everything they need in their food consumption only, but it can be difficult and expensive to make that happen. It’s not a weakness to turn to supplements. It can be cost effective and using the right supplements can cut out the side chemicals and elements you don’t want in your body to begin with.

How do you choose what brand to go with? There’s name brands, knockoffs and the small biz guys that are trying to get their foot in the door with a quality products. How do you know what’s what? Lucky for you readers, Vitacost reached out to offer up their ARO Black Series supplements to try out.

For this review, Vitacost sent the following products for consideration:
Packaging / Shelf Appeal / Marketing - 5 out of 5 servings

You have to admit, the ARO Black Series packing looks the part. It’s sleek and aggressive looking in all black with foil lettering. The bottles are constructed of quality plastic and they don’t flex and crumple like flimsy plastic.

The titles are easy to read and the nutritional facts are there for all to see. There’s nothing to hide. This makes it easy to grab the right supplement at the right time when you are in a hurry adding something for breakfast or something to your drink heading out for a ride or run, or afterwards heading out the door for work. Nothing is worse than having to take 10 minutes to dig through your supplement bottles looking for the right one. With the title of the type of supplement just as big as the brand name on the bottle, it’s an easy process with ARO.

It’s also a good sign when a company consolidates their products and groups them together to create the impression that they should all work together. Uniformity leads to thinking of the series in a collective whole. Smart sales tactic.

Form / Construction - 5 out of 5 servings

Vitacost claims that their ARO supplements are pure. “ARO products include only high-quality, hand-selected ingredients and are FREE of artificial dyes, fake flavors, hidden ingredients or gluten.”

In this day and age of gluten sensitivities and intolerance (perceived or real), the ARO series is on top of it. When reading the nutritional fact sheets, you can see that there’s fewer “junk” ingredients that improve taste, texture and appearance. Is it more important to get the nutrients, or have it look nice? Nothing destroys the nutritional benefits than the extra crud added in today’s foods. It’s nice to see that the ARO series takes this problem seriously.

Fashion / Appearance - 5 out of 5 servings

Aside from the packaging, the actual supplements need to look at least somewhat appealing if you want people to eat it.

The amino plus is a grainy powder, reminiscent of a lot of hydration mixes. The protein powder looks similar to most other protein powders out there. The glutamine is a very fine powder that’s similar to powdered sugar (don’t confuse the two when looking to add your supplements).

Depending on flavors you picked and what you add it to, you can come up with a myriad of presentations to get it down your gullet. The protein powder in oatmeal doesn’t make the contents look any different. The lemon lime amino acid looks innocuous in any green gatorades and the unflavored glutamine goes with just about anything.

Fit / Function - 4.75 out of 5 servings

TEXTURE: Vitacost claims “no more clumps. ARO sports supplements are specially designed to mix smoothly and quickly, no blender required.” This is a semi-true statement. The amino acids and glutamine did mix in water or sports drinks without much mixing effort. The protein powder was a little more difficult to get mixed up. We used shaker bottles and a vigorous shaking process when it was added to milk, almond milk or water. It was a little difficult to keep from clumping up on the sides, which is pretty standard for protein powders. It wasn't impossible, but it took some effort to stop the protein powder from clumping. When mixed in items such as oatmeal, there were no issues whatsoever. It was more convenient to use a blender to make a shake, but when you are crushing ice as well with the shake, you kind of need a blender.

TASTE: Vitacost says “enjoy exceptional flavors, taste-tested to perfection. No joke - they are delicious!”. The glutamine was flavorless, so there’s nothing really to talk about there. The amino acids come in fruit punch and lemon lime. They need to add “punch” to the end of any flavor. It’s got a kick. It’s not inedible, but expect a little tartness. It’s best when mixed with a sports drink to add a little flavor back in. It does the job, but be ready. We tried out the vanilla protein powder, and it was delicious. Shakes, in food and especially in oatmeal, it didn’t matter, it tasted great. Boring oatmeal was brought to life with the vanilla powder. It was a joy to eat and you had to be careful not to want to add it to everything possible in the day. Three thumbs up for the taste of the protein powder.

PERFORMANCE: It’s all good about look and taste, but is this stuff really worth the extra work to add it to your meals and diet? In other words, does it work? It depends on your goals. The ARO line is meant from casual fitness people to serious endurance athletes. You need to adjust how much and which supplements you use for your needs. We used the ARO supplements in training from Kansas 5150 Olympic Triathlon to the Ironman 70.3 Kansas. The goal was to lose the excess weight, stay healthy and stay fueled. The protein powder was added in breakfast. The amino acids were added in pre and during workouts and the glutamine was added after workouts. The amounts were tailored to the types and intensities of workouts. Consistency is also key to make sure you have planned to have the supplements when out and about hitting workouts away from home and traveling. we even made sure to have some on hand in Des Moines, Iowa, for the USAT level 1 coaching clinic.

Well, from IM 70.3 Kansas results, shaving 15 minutes off a course PR and 30 minutes from the 2012 time, the ARO supplements didn’t hurt. Race weight has been dropped from 190 to 172-175, in a healthy way. There were no muscle injuries or recovery pain issues. Energy has been consistent from rise and shine to the head hitting the pillow at night. Hunger is kept at bay for the most part in regards to the protein keeping us satiated. Each workout from a low impact swim to a high intensity run-bike-run-bike workout has been properly fueled. It’s always a good sign when after a tough workout you can stay on your feet and have enough energy to take the kids to the pool. During the IM 70.3 KS triathlon, we mixed in protein powder for breakfast and amino acids for hydration on the bike and run. It powered us to a PR on the swim and run in a half ironman event.

Was the best half ironman race day attributed wholly to ARO? There’s too many factors such as adding new training techniques, making more workouts and weather to give it all to ARO. But, we can say that fueling was not an issue in this race. There was no severe cramping, no dehydration issues and no bonk issues. Mission accomplished.

Cost - 4.75 out of 5 servings

The amino acids run about $21.75 for 14.6 ounces. The protein powder runs $45.99 for 5 pounds. The glutamine runs $16.99 for 500 grams.

Each one of these is in the sweet spot for cost and their size. The differentiator will be the ingredients. The lower cost items use more generic ingredients and may have additives that are more for flavor and appeal that nutritional need. Be mindful of the fact sheets when comparing as you will probably get more ingredients and quality with ARO than the cheapies. But, when you compare to the more costly supplements, you get pretty much the same or better product. This is where ARO can stand out offering just as good of quality for less money. What’s also interesting is the Vitacost website option to choose for automatic delivery. Just pick what you want and how often you want, and the automatically deliver it without having to worry about ordering more before running out. And, in doing this, Vitacost will discount your order by 10 percent. That’s nice.

Final thoughts

We can’t really say enough good things about the ARO series. The ingredients are top shelf, the taste meets the standard or exceeds it based on product, and the products work. It’s not a bunch of fluff to sell products. The price is right for what you can get out there. In the day and age of everyone and their dog selling nutritional supplements, you can overpay at GNC or cheap out online with the equivalent of garbage, or you can rest assured that your nutrition is covered with the ARO Black series.


* Writer's note - Vitacost sent samples free of charge for this review and in no way influenced the review.

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