Energy Bars: Costly but Convenient
Nancy Clark, the director of nutrition services at SportsMedicine Associates, offers information to help you make smart choices in the world of energy bars.
PowerBars, PRBars, Zone Bars, Balance Bars--a plethora of energy bars await you at every convenience store, each boasting its ability to enhance your performance. You can spend a fortune on these prewrapped bundles of energy, thinking they offer magic ingredients (not true). Here is some information to help you decide how much of your food budget to dedicate to these popular snacks.
- Energy bars are convenient. In today's eat-and-run
society, when meals are a rare occurrence in a busy schedule, an energy
bar suits the need for many hungry people who seek a hassle-free,
somewhat nutritious snack.
- Energy bars are portable. You can easily tuck these
compact and lightweight vitamin-enriched bars into a pocket for "emergency food." Energy bars are handy for runners and bikers who want
to carry a durable snack on a long run or ride, or for hikers who want
a light backpack.
- Energy bars promote preexercise eating. Snacking before
exercising is a great way to boost stamina and endurance. The energy
bar industry has done an excellent job of educating us that preexercise
eating is important in optimizing performance. The associated energy
boost likely does not result from magic ingredients (chromium, amino
acids) but from eating 200 to 300 calories. These calories (which
usually include some form of sugar) clearly fuel you better than the
zero calories in no snack. Note that calories from tried-and-true fig
bars, graham crackers, bananas, and granola bars are also effective
- Energy bars promote eating during endurance exercise.
Energy bars are also a great way to boost stamina and endurance.
Instead of relying on what you eat before you exercise, you can consume
about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per hour
during endurance exercise. This comes to 200 to 300 calories for most
active people--exactly what an energy bar offers.
- Most energy bars claim to be highly digestible. One
could debate whether energy bars are easier to digest than standard
food, because digestibility varies greatly from athlete to athlete.
I've heard some people comment about how a PowerBar settles heavily in
the stomach, whereas others swear it is the only food they can tolerate
during exercise. As with all sports snacks, you have to learn through
trial and error during training what foods work for your system and
what foods don't. Do not try this pricey treat for the first time
before a special event, such as a marathon, bike race, or rugby game
only to discover it causes discomfort. One key to tolerating energy
bars is to drink plenty of water along with the bar. Otherwise, the
product will settle poorly. Energy bars have a very low water content
to make them more compact than fresh fruit, for example, which has high
- Some energy bars are touted as fat free or very low in fat. The claim is that they digest quickly and empty from the stomach without causing problems.
- Some energy bars boast about a higher fat content. A higher fat content supposedly promotes greater fat burning to help you lose body fat and exercise longer before you hit the wall. To date, I know of no professional research that suggests that preexercise fat enhances weight loss (see chapter 11 for more information about fat burning and weight control).
- Energy bars are expensive. You'll have to fork over at least one dollar, if not two, to buy most sports bars. The better value is to buy low-fat granola bars or breakfast bars from the supermarket at a much lower price. A handful of raisins can also do a great job at a low price
Excerpted with permission from Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, by Nancy Clark, Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.