Choosing an energy bar? Be picky

Choosing an energy bar? Be picky

Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Lara Bars. Builder’s Bars, Mo Jo Bars, Pro Bars. When it comes to deciding which energy bar is best to fuel their workouts, some people, overwhelmed by the choices, opt to buy whatever is on sale that day.

But differences abound among the choices that runners, bikers and other athletes face when deciding what to take along on their ride or run. Through trial and error, most athletes come up with a favorite or two, depending upon what kind of workout they are doing.

Theresa Redmond of Scarborough recently rode 180 miles during three days in the Trek Across Maine. On Memorial Day, she did the White Mountain Ride, which included pedaling up 4,500 feet over 84 miles through Pinkham and Evans Notch in New Hampshire. She also rides about 100 miles a week through the course of three to four days to stay in shape for her long treks.

Redmond always keeps a Clif Bar – more specifically, the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Bar – in her shirt pocket for those times she finds her energy beginning to flag. She prefers Clif Bars, which are packaged like a long, vertical bar, but actually look more like an oval-shaped lump. Made of 70 percent organic ingredients, such as organic rolled oats, organic roasted soy beans and organic brown rice syrup, they are light, compact, moist and chewy.

“It does not crumble and even with the heat stays in one piece,” she says, adding, “I don’t like the dry, crunchy energy bars that make you too thirsty. It is delicious and has the right balance of carbs (sweetness) and protein (muscle power) to sustain me on my long bike rides.”

Sue Schenning, who also does long bike rides of 30 miles a more on a regular basis, usually takes a Harvest Energy Bar by Power Bar on her rides, and keeps one in her car for those days when she doesn’t have time for lunch.

“They’re tasty – particularly the peanut butter chocolate chip – and satisfying,” she says. “One of these, an apple and a pint of milk makes a pretty good meal on the run.”

I’ve become an energy bar consumer during the past few months. I play basketball one or two nights a week for two hours or so (give or take a few water breaks). I’m also a teacher who often goes from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. without a break for lunch. Energy bars get me through a workout or through my classes until I can sit down to a real meal. I’ll often choose a Luna Bar because of the taste – the chocolate-covered one with coconut tastes like a chewy Almond Joy. I sometimes choose Clif Mojo Bars because they have peanuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, held together by brown rice syrup and organic soy flour. If I’m really hungry, I’ll have a Gnu Foods Flavor and Fiber Bar because it is so filling and all the ingredients – except the wheat protein isolate – are whole foods.

According to Judy Donnelly, a registered and licensed dietician at Nutrition Works in Falmouth, people should “definitely look at the ingredient list” and not just the percentages of protein, fat and carbohydrates printed on the back when choosing their energy bars.

“Whenever possible, you should choose ones with real foods in them (as opposed to) a bunch of chemicals mixed together in a lab,” she says. “Lara Bars are a good example. There are five to eight ingredients, and you know what they all are.”

Donnelly also steers people away from bars made with processed sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, because even though athletes need carbohydrates, processed syrups don’t give athletes the benefit they would get from eating real fruit.

“If you’re pounding the pavement, you’re increasing the inflammatory response,” she says. “A real fruit salad gives you carbohydrates plus anti-inflammatory benefits.”

Donnelly understands that people’s busy lifestyles have fueled the market for energy bars, but she believes most recreational athletes – including those who do occasional triathlons or bike treks – can prepare adequately just from the meals they eat.

“Those who are doing two-a-day workouts may need to supplement, just because their calorie needs are so high,” she says. “But 80 percent of those in a race like the Tri for a Cure can get what they need from a high-quality diet.”

That said, Donnelly understands that there are times when athletes need to have some quick and easy food source handy to help them prepare for or get them through a workout.

Donnelly advises athletes to choose a bar based on how soon the actual workout is. If it’s right before a race or trek, the bar should have a higher percentage of carbohydrates because the body processes them more quickly. If it’s at least an hour before the competition, the bar can have a higher percentage of protein and fats.

Triathletes and runners don’t need mega-protein energy bars, no matter when they eat them.

“Twenty grams of protein is a meal,” she says. “They’re targeted toward the strength-training crowd.”

If Donnelly were making her own energy bar, she would mix rolled oats, dried fruits, chopped nuts and some coconut together with honey and nut butter. No additives need apply.

“It’s actually pretty easy and you can Google a recipe,” she says.

With so many energy bars available, people should “definitely look at the ingredient list” and not just the percentages of protein, fat and carbohydrates printed on the back, says Judy Donnelly, a registered and licensed dietician at Nutrition Works in Falmouth.

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