With so many different energy bars and energy “chews” on the market, the process of choosing an appropriate bar under specific circumstances can be a bit confusing. There is nearly too much choice!!
Lets start here with the main goal of eating an energy bar to gain the most fuel and energy from it. The truth be told, not all so-called energy bars provide appropriate energy from a performance perspective. If your eating for tastiness sake then the energy bar world is your oyster but if you are meeting specific needs the choice is a bit more complicated than that, especially for the needs of endurance, marathon and ultra running.
Each bar may serve a unique purpose in an individual’s diet, but not all energy bars serve the same purpose. Here is some helpful tips in choosing what bar and when.
- Consider Your Carbs
Choosing a balanced bar that contains a little fat, carbohydrate, and protein works well for many circumstances. However, there are many bars that are quite low in carbohydrates. Since carbohydrates fuel demanding training, constantly curbing carbs may hinder performance, especially if this is a pre-race bar.
In conclusion, If you’re looking for a bar that will support a race or hard workout, choose a bar that contains more like 40g (or more) of carbohydrates. Choosing a carbohydrate-rich bar also applies to post-hard effort snacking. Keep the low carb bars for snacking or treats or whatever during the day.
- Judge the Fat
Having a little fat in an energy bar can support feeling a greater sense of fullness and satisfaction with eating the energy bar. The important factor to note when a bar has a higher fat content is the fat source. A bar that reads 11g of fat on the label may seem like a high fat load. The next step would be to look at the ingredients. If list of ingredients reads, “organic oats, organic honey, organic peanut butter, raw pumpkin seeds” (in this order), it’s safe to say that a bulk of the fat is most likely a healthy, unsaturated source in coming from the peanut butter and pumpkin seeds. If the label were to read, “whey protein, milk chocolate-covered coating, chocolate chips, glucose syrup,” it’s likely the fat source goes toward the yummy chocolate layer. When the saturated fat content inches up much more than 1-2g, it’s time to look for another bar and steer clear.
- Protein power!
Energy bars are frequently marketed as providing energy in the form of protein. For a typical healthy diet, a 30g protein bar is not going to be necessary. On the flip side, looking for a bar that carries some protein can be beneficial to meeting daily protein requirements and offer a greater sense of satiety. When choosing to eat a bar before competition focus on carbohydrates, not protein. A bar with 6-20 grams of protein will facilitate the recovery process. A mega-dose of protein for recovery is not necessary, but some protein should be present.
- Tummy Trouble
Choosing the lower sugar energy bar is the better choice, right? Not so fast. The key here is to look at the label under the total carbohydrates and compare actual grams of sugar when choosing a lower sugar bar. If the label actually reads “low sugar,” it often contains sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Reaction to sugar alcohols varies from person to person; but, sugar alcohols can ferment during the digestive process leading to very uncomfortable gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Some energy bars can have as many as 27 GI distress-causing grams of sugar alcohols.
SO be careful and figure out what works. I personally cannot eat GU, it just doesnt aggree with me and makes me ill (and its nearly at EVERY race 😦 oh well ).
- Full with Fiber
Choosing high fiber bars can work really well in providing a greater sense of fullness and support overall health. The downside is that this too can lead to gas and bloating for some. Such bars are worth testing outside of critical training and racing windows to ensure they are well tolerated.
Fortified energy bars can be useful to runners who struggle meeting certain vitamin or mineral needs. Take for example Iron Girl, Marathon and Luna bars, which all have a higher content of iron compared to many similar energy bars. A runner struggling with anemia may choose to include such bars often.
The downside of eating fortified bars all the time is that they can contribute to an excessive intake of nutrients. Aiming to eat a diet that most often consists of a variety in whole foods reduces the risk of over-supplementation.
- Great Grains
When resources for fresh, whole food are limited and a bar is inevitably going to be the snack or small meal of choice, go for grains. Look for bars with ingredients such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, wheat, and rye. The sooner such grains are listed in the ingredients, the more beneficial grains are present in the bar.
SO Simplest rule of thumb if all else fails and you are unsure just use your good common sense. Chances are If a bar reads a lot of unfamiliar ingredients that are hard to pronounce and you figure it could also be a type of household cleaner!!! or they sound manufactured, a different bar may be a better option.
Happy fueling and happy running.