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I. What are “energy bars”?
Definition and Contents:
An energy bar is a convenient, fortified snack-food containing a blend of simple and complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. The primary source of protein in energy bars usually comes from milk and the fiber comes from grains and oats. Some bars also contain additional herbs, such as ginseng and guarana, “to help provide maximum energy” and to stimulate the central nervous system (http://s2.com.etj/ wn/sportsbars.html). Others include sodium and potassium phosphate to increase oxygen consumption capacity and to prevent lactic acid buildup in the muscles. The size of an energy bar varies with each brand and can range anywhere from one ounce to more than five ounces. The majority contain 100 to 300 calories and get most of these calories (at least 60 percent) from carbohydrates (Walsh 1997). The bars are usually easy to digest and come in a wide array of flavors and textures. They are advertised by most manufacturers as an “optimum energy fuel” and are used mainly as a way to replenish the body’s energy stores as they are being depleted (http://s2.com/etj/wn/sportsbars.html).
Who are they for? Where are they found?
Energy bars are most often associated with top athletes and endurance sports, such as bicycling and running. Recently, however, they have started to attract outdoor enthusiasts, participants of team sports, and casual exercisers (McEvoy 1994). They are becoming so popular that even overweight individuals are eating them as a low-fat meal substitute (Runner’s World 1994). Today they can be found almost anywhere: in sporting good stores, pharmacies, health food shops, and even severaldepartment stores (Lobb 1995).
When do you eat them?
Energy bars can be consumed before an event to ensure sufficient levels of muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrate), during an event to stabilize or maintain blood sugar levels, or after an event to replace expended nutrients and to maximize recovery. Some people also eat them as a snack or meal replacement throughout the day. Specific times and amounts obviously vary for each person (http://s2.com/etj/wn/sportsbars.html).
II. Two main types of energy bars:
1. High-carbo group
Most energy bars are placed in this group because they are high in carbohydrates and low in proteins and fats. Producers of these bars argue that a high portion of carbohydrates provides “a superior source of fuel for endurance performance and that the fewer fat calories you ingest in a pre-workout, the better”. Several examples include PowerBar, Gatorbar and VO sub 2 Max (Lobb 1995).
2. Balanced group
Other energy bars (such as PR Bar and CarboCrunch) contain a more balanced mix of nutrients that reflect the 40-30-30 diet philosophy. In these bars, only about 40 percent of the calories come from carbohydrates and the rest of the calories are divided equally between protein and fat (http://outside.starwave.com/magazine/0296/9602bfp.html). Manufacturers of this type of bar claim that the equal proportion of food groups leads to greater fat-burning during exercise. According to this theory, burning more fat allows the body to save carbohydrate stores for that “final push” at the end of a long workout or race, when they are most needed. These manufacturers also believe that the body’s ability to tap stored fats is inhibited when carbohydrate rations are too high and that, as a result, fatigue can occur much sooner (Lobb 1995).
Which type do most nutritionists recommend?
Nutritionists tend to favor the high-carbo group. Therefore, they promote consuming bars that would give an individual extra energy but not extra fat calories to digest (http://s2.com/etj/wn/sportsbars.html). According to nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., of SportsMedicine Brookline in Brookline, Massachusetts, “the ratio of a runner’s entire diet should be 60 to 70 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 15 percent protein and 20 to 25 percent fat”. In her view, this ratio is consistent with standard guidelines for both sports and health (Lobb 1995).
Do consumers agree?
In contrast to the recommendations of nutritionists, several highly-accomplished athletes have had more success with the balanced type of bar, including road-race elitist Anne Marie Lauck and five-time Ironman Triathlon winner Mark Allen. However, one study showed that runners do not pay attention as much to the overall percentage of carbohydrates in a bar, but to the actual composition of the carbohydrates. Nutritionist Alice Lindeman, Ph.D., R.D., suggests that the blend of carbohydrates should be equal. Fifty percent should be simple carbohydrates which are important for the beginning phase of exercise and are used at a more rapid rate. The other fifty percent should be complex carbohydrates because they are released slowly into the blood and can be used when stores begin to diminish (Lobb 1995). Several sources of simple carbohydrates include honey, fructose, and corn syrup. Complex carbohydrates are found in maltodextrin, glucose polymers, or unprocessed rice, oats or wheat flour. A perfect blend of these ingredients offers the body a dose of energy that acts quickly but that also lasts a long time (http://s2.com/etj/wn/sportsbars.html).
III. Different brands of energy bars:
As the energy bar industry continues to expand, more and more brands are being introduced into the market. As a result, each brand must make a different claim to set it apart from its competitors. Listed below are several brands and some of their biggest claims.
1. Clif Bar
-“baked and not extruded”
-“uses all natural, unprocessed ingredients”
-“100% wheat and dairy free”
-“weather friendly integrity”
(http://www.lainet.com/pro/hpages/efoods/ClifBar.html)
2. MLO Hardbody Energy Bars
-“high quality protein”
-“formulated with MCT’s: more immediate source of energy and not as readily
stored as body fat”
-“more body fat is burned as energy”
-“spares muscle energy stores”