An All-Out Hunger Assault at the Europa Bodybuilding Expo

The trade show at last weekend's Europa Super Show Expo was full of vendors hawking everything you need to support a healthy (?) extreme weightlifting lifestyle. From smack-talking T-shirts to stun guns, to the sequined spandex slingshots those judges like so much, it was one-stop shopping at the Dallas Convention Center last weekend. Most of all, there was food, or something like it. So long as nobody dies from eating the stuff, we'll call it food.

If you do up and spring an internal bleed, or snap at a guy brushing past you too close, you have no excuse to be shocked if you've just downed a glass of Dark Rage, Hemo Rage or Meltdown Fat Assault. The Hemo Rage label's got the warning right there: Don't take it if you're pregnant, nursing, or "undedicated and/or weak-hearted." A lot of it's probably big talk for effect, but it can't be worth risking an overdose on "Iphoric Potent Methyl B-PEA Matrix." Some of the labels just sound incredibly obvious, like the warning that "Consuming Meltdown on an empty stomach may cause nausea."

The branding behind this stuff makes Mountain Dew look as extreme as Ovaltine, all screaming dudes who look rightly horrified at where their veins are popping out. (EXTREME VASCULARITY!)

Whether or not any of it looks like food, many of the bars and shakes touted their great taste as a selling point -- from the ubiquitous Cookies 'n' Cream to less likely flavors like "Gashin' Grape" or "Orange Creamation." With samples at most tables, it seemed like the right time for a City of Ate taste test.

The bars pretty much all tasted the same. Unlike PowerBars and Clif Bars that pander to the market with a dozen fruit/nut/chocolate mixes, these are pretty much slaves to their thick whey protein paste; from one table to the next, the consistency varied hardly at all, and all the flavors were some mix of vanilla, caramel, chocolate, nut and brownie. My pick for best-in-show was the Detour Lean Muscle cookie dough caramel crisp bar, rightly billed as "The Ultimate in Taste," with not just 32 grams of "Quadra Whey Protein Blend," but taurine and OptiFlax too. Some, like the Elite Gourmet brand, had a more extreme cling onto my teeth. Some, like the Labrada Hi-Protein Cookie Roll, tasted more like plastic or black licorice than anything else. The vanilla caramel nut Titan 6-Layer Crunch Bar, which yielded to the same old chewiness after a few piece of chopped nuts on top, tasted like nothing at all until the smoky wood-chip aftertaste.

Beyond the texture, or the not-quite-chocolate coating on everything, the collective aftertaste of a half-dozen sample bars was the absolute worst. If you're trying to get huge, and want to keep your supplements down, I'd recommend picking your brand and sticking with it.

A few of the shakes and powders sold in big plastic tubs were also out for sampling in paper cups, some pre-mixed and bubbling around in cascading lemonade dispensers. Shake-makers have a limited flavor profile to work with, between the vanilla, chocolate and cookies 'n' cream. Banana is surprisingly common, and pretty uniformly bad.

Lacking the dedication and/or strength of heart to drink up the Hemo Rage (this sample packet is just going to keep silently judging me from on my desk), I did try some Swole Fuel Extreme Nitric Oxide Release, which tasted like a pretty good, if watered-down, grape drink, and was full, I was told, of great stuff for my pre-workout regimen. I didn't bother asking if that included brahmi, creatine or huperzine A; trust seemed to be a big part of choosing the right supplement in a setting like this, especially when everything was packaged more like car care products than snack foods.

A little bit dizzy from the crowd and the chemical cocktail I'd downed, I hit my limit when I stopped to read the label at the Ultimate Nutrition table with samples of Muscle Juice and TestotroGrow 2, and realized I'd pretty much just downed a cookies 'n' cream-flavored Big Mac in a single shot. I realized how far I'd slipped, so fast, to such an extreme, and it was a relief to get back on solid footing on my way out with a plain old Muscle Milk sample bar for the road.

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