The sports nutrition industry is one of the biggest and the most successful in the world. Protein shakes, NO2 and other vasodilators, isotonic energy drinks, energy bars, creatine, testosterone boosters, recovery bars and more – all of them are products that we buy in order to better perform in the gym, on the race track and on the pitch. The question is though, with so much marketing hype surrounding all these products, how do you cut through the swathe of promises and choose the products that are actually going to work and that have some merit?
This is something that can be very difficult if you don’t know the science behind the substances nor the mechanisms behind how they work – in which case you are relying solely on the information presented to you by the marketing department. Here then we will look at one example of a sports product – the energy bar – and will look at what the pros and cons are of these bars and how they claim to work. At the same time we’ll also look at the difference between good energy bars and bad energy bars and how you can tell which is which.
The idea of an energy bar is of course to provide you with energy and that means supply you with calories. These calories need to be devised in a specific way in order to be maximally effective. Specifically if you have only quick release calories then this will contribute to weight gain and will result in a rapid surge of energy followed by a trough – if you are eating the bar before a long distance run, then it is very important that you have this combination of slow-release and fast-release (complex and simple carbs respectively). If the bar is just filled with sugar – a quick release carb – then this will cause you to run out of energy about half way through the run.
Bear in mind as well that it is important to consider the number of calories you consume and to add this in to your daily caloric intake. If you are running in order to lose weight then you need to run a certain amount compared to the amount you eat so that you end up burning more calories than you consume. If you run a short distance but eat a lot of carbs, then you will find that they cancel each other out. In this case an energy bar before a weight loss session might actually be considered counterproductive – it is running when you are tired that causes you to lose the weight.
It is also very important to consider the matter of digestion. If you are eating an energy bar and it is very difficult for your body to digest, then this will result in your body feeling stodgy and heavy as it tries to digest the food and that can lead to indigestion. At the same time the fact that the food is being digested will mean that some of your energy is being redirected toward the digestive system which will then result in your feeling more sluggish.
This is why it’s important to choose energy bars that will be easy to digest versus those that will take up a lot of energy. Anything light is a good start, and anything fibrous will help too. The best energy bars resemble energy bars in their composition therefore.
Minerals and Vitamins
Another thing that energy bars will promise you in many cases is that they are filled with vitamins and minerals which can provide various benefits such as increased energy and endurance. This is true and it isn’t – while something like vitamin B6 can help your body to get more energy from the carbs you consume it also takes time to absorb, and something like calcium which can strengthen your contractions certainly isn’t going to affect your next workout. These vitamins and minerals certainly aren’t a bad thing, but any slight impact they’ll have on your body (with the exception perhaps of B6) is not going to be pronounced enough to be noticeable. Rather this is just a clever marketing strategy to get you to pay more for what is essentially probably just oats and sugar.
Versus Energy Drinks
Compared to energy drinks, an energy bar has several advantages as well as drawbacks. On the negative side, part of the purpose of an energy drink is to rehydrate you and to replenish your stores of salt and sugar. This is something it can do relatively easily and it contains salt and sugar to replace that which is lost through perspiration. An energy bar is less efficient at doing this and certainly at hydration and so you are likely to need to get something to drink on top of your energy bar.
At the same time however drinking lots of fluids can make them slosh around in your stomach resulting in your feeling ill which is less than ideal for if you are going running or doing a workout. As light and solid food, energy bars do not have this disadvantage. Furthermore, they are also able to be stored much more easily than a bottle of energy drink and will fit easily into your pocket or elsewhere.
However the real winner has to be fruit – fruit is already fibrous and light and easy to digest. It has vitamins and minerals that are much more easily absorbed and used by the body, they’re juicy and so able to rehydrate you, they’re portable and they’re a great source of carbs. Crucially they are also much cheaper – the only downside is that they can get easily bruised and damaged.