All energy bars and drinks are not created equal. Some pack in the carbohydrates and fats, while others focus on vitamins and minerals. The flavors can be plentiful: cookies and cream, carrot cake, lemon poppy seed and chocolate mocha fudge. Some bars are meant for recovery and are full of protein, while some are meant for pre-workout and are full of carbohydrates. Some bars and drinks help you loose weight, while others give you that surge of adrenaline to win a race. The list goes on and on.
There is no ONE energy bar or drink that will do everything for you. Yes, even energy bars and drinks are specialized! Energy bars , drinks, and gels can benefit you with any need that you may have. You just have to know what to look for. Before deciding on what type of bar or drink to buy, or what ingredient content to look for, you need to decide why and when you will be using it.
While nothing beats real food for the best nutrition, energy bars and drinks are convenient and at times the only choice we have for a meal, snack or with exercise. In a world where most people have lives filled with busy work schedules, family commitments, and exercise, trying to fit real food into one’s day can be difficult. The right bar or drink at the right time of day can help you have the energy you need to make it through the day or get you though your workout. With so many choices or energy, protein bars and drinks on the market, how does one know what to choose?
There are several different groups of bars and drinks: protein, energy, meal replacement, and snack bars. Also available are supplemental gels and chews that one can take while they exercise. Pre-workout bars are your best bet prior to working out. Look for a bar high in carbohydrates, low in protein and fat just before a workout. This bar should have less than 3 grams of fiber. Fat content should also be low. Fat is not digested quickly and can sit in your stomach and cause discomfort during exercise. There are also bars with slightly higher fat and protein content that you can eat 1-2 hours before a workout. The high grade carbs in pre-workout bars or drinks provide an endurance boost during a workout: and they replenish glycogen (energy reserves) in muscles.
Meal replacement bars are going to be high in calories (200-300). Their job is to make you feel the way a real meal would. People who work long hours, may need to have a bar that will sustain them. A bar that taste good and has proper ingredients will help you stay away from the junk food. These bars and drinks are also used to aid in weight loss.
Gels and chews are used during a workout. They are designed for easy digestion and absorption into the bloodstream. The goal is to sustain energy through a gradual rise (not spike) in glucose. They are easy on the gastrointestinal system (GI), when blood flow is being used for working muscle and not in the stomach. They are also easy to carry on you which makes then easy accessible.
Snack bars are going to have a lower calorie count than a meal replacement bar, about 100-200 calories each. They help give you that little “pick-me-up” in between meals. Most of these bars have a little more sugar and salt for taste and are used in between meals.
Post workout bars and drinks are high in protein, amino acids, and muscle restoring elements that repair and restore tissue in your body after a long or hard workout. They help replenish your body. Look for bars and drinks with 12-15 grams of protein.
Here are some recommendations to look for when you are trying to decide what bar or drink to buy. Watch the saturated fat content of the bar or drink. Look for saturated fat content about 2-3 grams and 0 grams trans fat. There are bars with 8-10 grams of saturated fat. That is the same amount you get in a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Cheeseburger!
Sugar! Keep the sugar content low. According to the American Dietetic Association, look for bars or drinks with less than 18 grams of sugar. Some bars have so much sugar in them, you might as well eat Twinkies and Hostess Fruit Pies! Stay away from sugar alcohol. It can make you feel bloated and could possibly cause some irritation to the GI system before or after exercise.
Fiber should be kept around 3-5 grams per bar or drink. A high fiber bar or drink prior to exercise can cause digestive stress, so be wary of bars with more than five grams. Remember that fiber helps keep you feeling “full” for longer. It is slow to absorb and breakdown. High fiber in a meal replacement bar is a good ides, but not prior to a workout.
Carbohydrates. Okay, you want a bar to fuel your workout but not create a carb overload. Look for a bar that is 20-25 grams of carbs. Count calories. Some bars and drinks have 350-450 calories of higher. If you eat more than you burn off, than those extra calories will turn into extra pounds.
Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water when you eat energy bars. Bars are extremely nutrient dense and chewy and are easier to digest with generous water intake. Avoid washing them down with a performance beverage. Consuming too many carbs with a bar and performance drink at once can slow your body’s ability to absorb them. You may feel bloated, constipated and very uncomfortable.
Remember food is the best source of fuel for your body. Don’t become an energy bar or drink addict! Of course an energy bar or drink is better than consuming junk food. There are many options and healthy choices to pick from as long as you know what to look for. EAT UP!
By: Charlene Quenneville A.T.C., DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan