Meet Your Baker: Rodeo Trail Nuggets

Rodeo Trail Nuggets started in January 2014 as a collaboration between Rodeo Adventure Labs Cycling Team, run by Stephen Fitzgerald, and Bake Works, his father and brother's bakery in Washington State. As a family run business BakeWorks had always wanted to sponsor one of their son's cycling teams, and though they create and sell many healthy and mostly delicious products, none had been exactly the right first for endurance and adventure sports. "Instead of just telling them it wasn't a good fit and giving up, I asked them if they'd like to collaborate and try to create something new with a few simple goals."
  1. It had to be very simple, relying on ingredients that were already perfect straight from nature.
  2. It had to be all natural. No esoteric chemicals or ingredients.
  3. It had to be easy to eat (summer or winter!).
  4. It had to taste very very good.
"I gave them input as to what I thought would be a good starting point, they added their significant food prep and ingredients expertise to the equation, and the first Rodeo Trail Nugget Flavor was born soon after." The first test subjects were Rodeo Labs team members. Then friends, internet friends, family members, and complete strangers (in order to really get honest feedback). "We were shocked when positive comments started rolling in. We loved what we had created, and it was amazing that other people did as well. Then when people said they'd love to be able to buy some, we knew we had something. We took the feedback, refined some more, made some mistakes, and finalized the first flavor before moving onto the second flavor which was Just Beet It. At The Feed we love Beets. When we tasted Just Beet It, our minds were blown and we were true  believers in the amazingness of Rodeo Labs. "Beets can be polarizing and a little bit bland to some people, so we again went looking for simple flavors and ingredients that could add some zest to the promising base and soon after we had locked the 2nd flavor. Even people who hate beets have been unanimously won over when we beg them to try that flavor despite their veggie phobia." Having two fruity flavors in the bag, Rodeo Labs wanted something a bit more rich for the third flavor. A very simple bit of straw polling and research revealed that many people love chocolate and peanut butter and that was what they targeted. "We first tried a mix of peanut butter mixed into the base with added cacao nibs, and it was delicious but it didn't really have a lot of wow factor. Each flavor that we makes needs to make an instant impression when you bite into it, and we knew that we needed to keep working on the third bar. The eureka moment was when we decided to use coco instead of cacao to get a stronger chocolate flavor. We also left the peanut butter out of the bar base mix and instead used it as a filling in the middle of the bar. Now we had a flavor where the chocolate and peanut butter each stood out more and were only mixed once you take that first bite." The result is excellent, and with that Rodeo Labs was ready to introduce all three bars to the world. As for Fitzgerald's personal favorites: "My favorite bar changes constantly. Just Beet It is often the bar I'll grab first, but when I'm very very hungry the Chocolate Peanut Butter Apocalypse is the best for nuking my hunger quickly. Peanut butter has a special way of doing that for some reason. I've eaten countless Almond Lemon Hot Date and I love them, and it's great to circle back to the original flavor when I've eaten so many of the other two." Fitzgerald's background in cycling and endurance sports goes back 20 years. He may not be the fastest, but he has perseverance. His biggest achievement in each and every one of his sporting endeavors is that no matter, if it's a good day or a disaster, he always aims to finish. In his early 2os Fitzgerald picked up adventure racing where he ate approximately one trillion sports bars from every brand known to man over the next decade. "I've never ever had professional aspirations but I started cycling and competing in my early teens never really stopped." After he'd had enough adventure racing (and the sleep deprivation that comes with it) he returned to the simpler sport of cycling once again, regularly competing in road, cyclocross, and MTB races all year long. And regularly eating a lot of bars. "I still come at the sport (of cycling) as a dedicated amateur. I simply enjoy the fun, challenge, and camaraderie that even amateur racing provide. Most recently I'm very interested in the non competitive adventure side of cycling and that was one of the founding principals of Rodeo. We enjoy big mountain rides on road, gravel, and trails. We like bending the genres, we like asking "why not", we like trying new things. Non competitive adventure cycling provides another palette of options with which to test ourselves, and we are very excited about where that will take us." With all this experience in endurance sports Fitzgerald was completely burned out on sports bars. "There are truly many many excellent bars out there, but at some point my taste buds simply revolted out of boredom and fatigue. How may ways can grains, nuts, fruit, and syrups be mixed? I thought I'd tasted them all. In the short term I switched to gels and gummy products to tide me over and those worked well enough. When the opportunity to help develop a bar presented itself I remember thinking  'if we do this, it can't be another 'me-too' bar that just tastes and feels like everything else.' We either needed to make something that seemed fresh to jaded mouths or we'd call the project a fun but unsuccessful effort and scrap it. Needless to say we didn't end up scrapping it and to this day I'm truly amazed that we were able to create something that I felt satisfied our original goals." Fitzgerald doesn't come at any of this as an "expert" in nutrition. He has a huge respect for the true sport nutrition experts and has enjoyed learning from them over the years. He's studied from the best, how to fuel, what to eat and when to eat it. For what he lacks in background, he brings in experience: "I DO come at all of this as someone who has formed strong opinions about what works and what doesn't work from simple  personal experience. Out on the trail in adventure racing I learned a simple lesson: After 52 hours on the trail your body literally hates everything you try to get it to eat. It's just tired of everything. The simple act of putting calories into your mouth and delivering those calories to your starving cells becomes the highest and only priority." "Anything that could make it past a skeptical mouth became THE perfect food at that exact momen. One moment our super food would be a bar, the next it would be red hots, the next it would be turkey jerkey, and occasionally we'd a geriatric protein shake. The only goal was to keep the body's furnace burning.  When developing these bars those thoughts constantly returned to me: It had to be something we truly wanted to eat." That is the basic Trail Nuggets philosophy: Take proven foods and deliver them in a surprising and delightful way. We consider his mission accomplished.