Many athletes have energy bars to complement their diets, to get energy for their activities, and to conveniently carry during outdoor sports (like when on the mountain hiking, skiing, snowboarding, or biking). The nutritional value of these bars varies exponentially, and choosing which one is best can be a challenging task. So we are here to help you out a bit...
When you walk through the grocery store doors, you face a wall of energy bars.
Where do you even start? Are they worth the purchase? What are natural flavors? What about sugar content? What is the macro breakdown? Should you just make your own? There are a lot of questions to ask when choosing the right bar.
Navigating the Nutrition Label
The nutrition label is where you find all the information about what is in the bar you are eating. How many carbohydrates, protein, fat, sugar, fiber, etc. are in the bar?
While it is important to know the composition, it really comes down to what each person will need for their activities. Do they need a lot of quick carbohydrates (aka sugar and grains) do they need a mixture of protein and carbohydrates, and what about the fat content in these bars?
Energy bars can be used for a pre-workout snack, intra-workout snack, post-workout snack, or just a midday pick-me-up, and the nutrition label can determine the timing of when you eat your choice of bars.
Having a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber all play a key role in giving you sustained energy for your activities, so knowing what is in the bar and how to read it will help you choose the right one for you.
Take Note of the Ingredient Label
The ingredients that are in your bar are important for how you will feel through your activities. The ingredients are organized in order of predominance meaning that the first ingredient will be what the bar is mostly made of. The most common ingredients in energy bars are oats, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, sugar, and sugar alternatives (like honey, agave, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup). Some energy bars also have ingredients that increase the protein content of the bar. This could be from pea protein, hemp protein, whey, and egg whites.
Bars are not created equal. Many contain fillers, oils, and high amounts of sugar that won’t give you the best energy and can cause stomach discomfort.
Being able to read the label of the bar and know if it is going to make you feel the best, and give you the energy you need will keep you fully fueled for your activities.
If the first or first few ingredients are sugar, sugar alternatives, or fruit, that is a tell-tail sign that it will give you a short burst of energy, rather than a long duration of energy. If the first few ingredients contain oats and whole grains as well as sugar, that is a go. That's because you have some fiber and more complex carbohydrates as well as quick carbohydrates so you get a balance of energy. Protein also slows the release of carbohydrates, so look for protein in the ingredient label. Soy protein, whey protein, pea protein, hemp protein, and egg whites are all protein additions that bulk up the nutrition in the bar.
Adding in nut and seed butter also increases the protein and the fat, making the bar an energy powerhouse!
When Are You Eating The Bar?
When having a bar before a workout, the carbohydrates in the bar can give you the needed energy for your workout. 30-60g of carbohydrates are recommended for an hour or more of moderate intensity. Energy bars like Clif Bars have around 30g which would be a perfect pre-workout snack. This provides a combination of whole grains and sugar to give more sustained energy rather than just energy gels which will be for quick energy.
When having a bar Intra workout, you can follow similar guidelines. Typically, when training for over 90 minutes you will need some sort of carbohydrate boost to prevent a crash in energy. Having an additional carb source, like an energy bar could be a good addition to lengthy training.
Post workout having carbohydrates and protein will be crucial for muscle recovery. Having carbohydrates after exercise tops off your muscle energy stores which promote and accelerates muscle recovery. Protein post-workout is also very important for repairing and restoring your muscles.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, energy bars are great in a pinch and when making a well-balanced snack or meal is not accessible. Whether you are outside for hours hiking, biking, skiing, or having a 3-hour training session, energy bars can be very beneficial to make sure you are fueled through all your exercises. Energy bars are not created equal so it is important to look at the macronutrient profile and the ingredient list for where those carbs, protein, and fat are coming from.
Some Bars We Like
Clif Bars- Great to pack for hiking and long treks outdoors. Give you a lot of carbohydrates and have whole grains for sustained energy.
Rx Bars- These are simple and effective for a snack bar. They are high in protein, have carbohydrates from the dates, and protein from egg whites, nuts, and seeds.
Go Macro Bars- Similar to Rx Bars, these bars are made of simple ingredients with minimal fillers. They are on the high fat side, so can cause stomach issues if eaten close to exercise, but make for a great post-workout snack. They are high in carbohydrates and protein making them a great option.
That's It Bars- These are basically just fruit bars, but provide a great source of carbohydrates that is quick to digest, perfect for a jolt of energy. Eaten with a protein and complex carbohydrate source, this would be perfect for intra-workout for long-duration exercise.
But if none of these entice you, or you don't think they are worth the price, you can always make your own. And it's easier than you think.
An Energy Bar Recipe
There are so many energy bar recipes, and it is important to find the ones that taste the best to you and give you the nutrients that you need. This is one of Snowbeast's favorites. Let us know if you make them and how you like them! This recipe is customizable, has simple and energy-packed ingredients to for sure give you the extra push in your activities.
A Protein Bar Recipe
Protein bars can be filled with a lot of un-needed ingredients that can make you feel pretty crummy, not exactly what you need when you are trying to recover. This recipe has simple ingredients and is sure to give your body what is needed to recover.
Do you have a favorite recipe to share? Send us a DM with your recipe and we will share it on our story @snowbeastperformance