Energy Bars 101: What You Need To Know
Give your body what it needs before an intense workout – carbs! That’s right. Although carbs have a negative connotation to them (think no/low-carb diet or Atkins), carbs play a major role in your body’s energy levels. Not a source to be ignored, learn more about how to choose the right energy bar for your pre-workout fueled snack.
Carbs = Fuel
Carbs are the epitome of energy. When ingested, carbs are broken down into different forms of sugar (glucose, fructose, and galactose) and get used up as energy. Any leftover glucose sugars are stored in your muscles, liver, and fat cells for later usage, and turn into glycogen. An access of glycogen eventually turns into fat. But if you workout, you are using up your glycogen levels (both stored and new) and therefore burning away stored energy.
Your body uses glycogen whenever you workout. It helps your body maintain blood gluclose (blood sugar) levels so that you stay energized for the duration of your workout. If you don’t have that immediate source of energy available, you begin to feel sluggish and you lose momentum during your workout.
Depending on the intensity and length of your workout, you should be able to power through 30-90 minutes of intense training. To ensure that you train for the full time, make sure you have consumed a carb filled snack about 60 minutes before your workout. This will guarantee that your glycogen levels are ready to deliver energy to your muscles.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that to have high endurance and avoid fatigue, a person should consume anywhere from 2.3 to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound per day. This number depends on the type of training (light to moderate to heavy), and on the duration of the workout.
What To Look For
Carbs – Your energy bar should have anywhere between 25 to 40 grams of carbs. For high endurance training, aim for upwards of 70 grams. A good rule of thumb is that your energy bar’s carb source should be 70% of its calorie content.
Protein – Try to choose a bar with less than 15 grams of protein. This prevents muscle cramping and digestive difficulties, as a combination of high carbs and proteins can be counterproductive and be hard to digest while on the move.
Fiber – Look for bars with less than 3 grams of fiber. These carb-rich fibers should come from whole grains like oats, bran, brown rice, barley, rye, buckwheat, or whole-wheat flour.
Calories – Remember that your pre-workout snack is not a meal replacement, so the calorie content should be enough to get you through your workout. Any bar with 170 – 300 calories will do the trick just fine.
B-Vitamins – The more the merrier! Load up on as many as you can. Think of B as a burst of energy, as they help convert food energy into an energy carrier called ATP.
Sugar – This is a tricky one since sugars come in many forms. Try to find a bar with less than 15 grams of sugar. If the sugars come from fruit sources such as figs, dates, cherries, cranberries, or other dried fruits, then don’t feel so bad with higher sugar content. Other acceptable sugar sources are fruit juice, purees, and honey.
Free of sugar alcohols – Xylitol and Maltitol are just a couple of the sugar alcohols found in energy bars. These alcohols are harsh on your digestive system and can cause gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Yikes!
Saturated Fat – One to two grams of saturated fats is more than plenty. Avoid palm kernel oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Free of refined carbs, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colors, and unneeded calories from caramel, icing or chocolate – You’re trying to give yourself a boost of energy, remember? Don’t negate the positive things by ruining it with unworthy calories.
All you need are a few staple items and a food processor to create your own energy bars. When you’re the chef, you control what goes into your product. Some energy-packed ingredients include oats, nuts, raisins, dried coconut, dried fruit, flax seed, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.
Don’t overdo it. Energy bars are meant for convenience. If you have the time to eat a natural carb filled snack, you’re better off doing so.
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