Although energy bars should not be part of your everyday diet, on occasion they can make a quick, convenient and easy addition to your day. In general, a healthy diet should be made up of as many unprocessed, fresh and natural foods as possible, however in certain situations an energy bar can give you the nutrition that you need in an easy to digest manner, providing valuable vitamins, minerals and protein as well as an energy boost.
Energy bars, however, are not all created equally, and the one you choose should depend on your needs and requirements at the time.
It is important to look at the nutritional content of your energy bar before purchase to ensure that it isn’t just a candy bar disguised as a healthy product.
What to look for in an energy bar
Before you work out, you need a carbohydrate boost to give you energy. Protein, fat and artificial sweeteners should be avoided as these can slow gastric emptying and lead to a feeling of sluggishness.
Many energy bars are too high in these nutrients to make good pre-workout snacks and it may be better to choose a different high carbohydrate snack such as fruit or a slice of toast.
If you do choose an energy bar, it is best to go for one that contains maltodextrin, which is absorbed quicker than other carbohydrates and therefore gives you the quick energy boost you need.
Bars with low fiber content are also advisable as these are gentler on the stomach.
See also: What to eat before workout
If you are only exercising for less than an hour and a half, there is probably no need to snack during your work out as you will have enough glycogen stored to provide your body with energy. However, if you are doing a longer event or training session an energy bar may be a good way to replenish your stores.
Many people find that sports gels or drinks are a more easily digestible form of energy during exercise, however, if you do choose a bar go for one based on honey.
Honey contains fructose which is absorbed more slowly, as well as glucose which is absorbed faster and therefore provides energy quickly that lasts for a longer time period, keeping blood sugar levels stable.
For recovery after a workout
After a workout you ideally need protein to repair muscle damage, carbohydrates to replace energy stores and a little fat in order to repair cells. Whilst this can easily be obtained by a balanced meal, if you are unable to eat in the two hours after a workout, an energy bar is a good option to aid recovery.
Look for a bar with about 200 calories and five to ten grams of both protein, and fiber, at least thirty grams of carbohydrates and five to ten grams of fat.
See also: What to eat after a workout
As a snack
When choosing an energy bar as a portable snack, it is important to be aware of the calorie content, which could be more than you need for a snack between meals. Choosing lower calorie bars or eating half a bar may be a good option if you are watching your weight.
Try to choose a bar with at least one and a half grams of fiber and five to ten grams of protein as these will help to keep you fuller for longer. Fat content should be less than two grams and sugar less than fifteen grams per bar.
As a meal replacement
If you do not have time to sit time to a proper meal, an energy bar can be an effective way of obtaining the calories and nutrients that you require. As this energy bar is replacing a meal, it is appropriate to choose one with around 350 to 500 calories, at least ten grams of protein and ideally extras such as seeds, oats or dried fruit.
A piece of fruit and some water in addition to the bar make a more complete meal.
The disadvantages of energy bars
Although they have their place, energy bars should not become part of your everyday diet. It is important to remember that they are usually high in calories and therefore could cause weight gain if you are not doing enough physical activities to burn them off.
They are also very expensive and not the most cost efficient way to obtain the nutrition you need.
Another disadvantage is that many energy bars contain additives and sweeteners which should not be too prevalent in a healthy diet.