Energy Bars: Better Than Bananas?
By Nancy Clark, MS, RD
Once upon a time, candy bars were the most popular energy lift.
In 1987, PowerBar started the onslaught of designer sports foods that are fighting for your loyalty.
Here are the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s):
My workouts improve when I eat an energy bar an hour before I train. Would a banana or some other natural food do the same job, or does this "designer food" have magic ingredients?
Energy bars are not magic, or preferable to natural foods such as fig cookies, dried apricots, bananas, and other popular pre-exercise carbohdyrates.
Any fuel is better than no fuel. In fact, eating even a candy bar five minutes pre-exercise improves performance when compared to having eaten nothing.
The "magic" about energy bars is they are convenient, prewrapped, portable, durable… and hassle free.
Some energy bars claim to be "easily digested," but digestiblity varies greatly from person to person.
You'll have to judge that for yourself-- energy bars or bananas.
I am overwhelmed by the options. Are some energy bars better than others?
Some energy bars are made from whole foods; they are filled with fruits, fiber, and wholesome goodness and quality nutrition.
They are preferable to the energy bars that taste like candy and are little more than sugar-coated vitamins, minerals, and protein.
With names like Fudge Brownie and Devil's Food Cake, do you really think these snacks offer better nutrition than what's found in an orange, banana, or peanut butter sandwich?
I eat energy bars for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Is this healthy?
Sure. Too many designer foods could lead to health problems.
1. If you eat engineered foods, you displace natural foods from the diet.
Instead of grabbing a piece of fruit, you choose a Boom Bar.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the most healthy protective foods (and are already underconsumed in the typical athlete's diet).
You'll likely end up with an even lower intake of the fiber, carotenoids, and other health-protective phytochemicals found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
2. Eating too many highly fortified bars could contribute to an overdose of minerals.
One popular bar provides 50% of the RDA for zinc. When you eat several highly fortified energy bars per day, plus take a mutivitamin and mineral supplement and eat highly fortified breakfast cereals, you're consuming megadoses of vitamins and minerals.
Whereas you will most likely excrete the excess vitamins in your urine, your body may develop health problems related to mineral imbalances.
Minerals compete with each other in the body, and too much chromium, for example, can interfere with zinc absorption.
This could weaken your immune system.
Too much zinc has been shown to elevate cholesterol levels.
Good nutrition relies on the proper balance of nutrients; this balance may be difficult to achieve with excessive supplementation.
3. A diet rich in energy bars is poor in variety.
Athletes commonly consume only 10 to 15 different foods per week.
If the bulk of your limited diet is energy bars, think again. You may be missing out on important nutrients obtained from a variety of foods.
Variety adds spice to your nutritional life. Your goal is to consume at least 20 to 30 different kinds of foods per week.
I'm trying to lose weight. I do well when I eat packaged foods or a 40-30-30 bar as a fundamental part of my diet plan. Is this safe?
Dieters tend to like energy bars because they offer a defined amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and this nutrition information on the label makes it easy for the dieter to calculate his or her food intake.
Their small portion assists calorie control by simply having a defined start and finish. Nothing is left in the bag to tempt you to eat more.
Some dieters eat energy bars to the exclusion of whole foods. Bad idea.
The best way to not only lose weight is to learn how to eat appropriate portions of your favorite foods. Simple.
The Bottom Line:
Eating energy bars is preferable to eating Twinkies.
The better bet is to eat a variety of wholesome foods that offer nature's bounty of health-protective compounds.
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is a nutrition counselor at Boston-area's SportsMedicine Brookline. She is author of the best selling Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition, available by sending $20 to Sports Nutrition Services, 830 Boylston St., Brookline MA 02467 or via www.nancyclarkrd.com
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