Meeting your energy and nutrient needs can be challenging if you are an active individual always on-the-go; but, it is essential if you want to perform at your best - both in and out of the gym. Although I am a strong advocate for meeting your body's nutritional needs by consuming whole foods, sometimes that just is not possible. And, when you are about to debunk and are faced with choosing between an empty calorie, fat-ladened meal from a fast food restaurant or an enriched energy bar, the latter choice wins out. Care needs to be taken, however, when choosing the best meal replacement bar for you. With all of the different choices on the market today this can prove to be a challenge.
Manufacturers of supplement bars strive to reach different consumer targets. Usually, the label tells all. Descriptors such as "low-carb," "high-performance," or "high-fiber" give an indication as for whom the bar is made and what nutritional "needs" it is intended to meet. Supplement bars basically fall under two main categories - performance and meal replacement. Subcategories within these would include bars engineered to meet the energy requirements of various athletes (e.g., bodybuilders, marathon runners, etc.,), the nutritional needs of different gender and age groups, and/or those individuals with special dietary requirements/preferences (e.g., "vegan," "organic", "gluten-free," etc.,).
When choosing the best bar for you, consider the following:
- What are your goals? Do you want to build muscle mass? Lose weight? Run longer?
- Is the bar to replace a regular meal or to act as a nutritional supplement in your diet?
Meal Replacement Bars
- Although there is a range, performance bars can contain a higher caloric content than diet bars targeted for weight loss in order to meet the energy needs of an active individual.
- Supplement bars that target bodybuilders tend to have the highest protein content, around 20-30 grams. Choose a bar that lists high-quality protein (whey, casein, or soy) as one of the main sources.
- Athletes who are looking for an energy bar to consume prior to a moderate- to high-intensity workout should look for one that is high in carbohydrates (around 25-40 grams). Avoid bars that are high in fat and fiber which can interfere with digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.
- Endurance athletes looking for a supplement bar to be consumed during a prolonged exercise session (longer than an hour) would benefit from bars that are high in quick-digesting carbohydrates (glucose). Ideally, these individuals want to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
- Energy bars consumed post-workout should be relatively high in carbohydrates (30 grams or more) to replenish energy stores and have a moderate amount of protein (10 grams) to aid in muscle tissue repair.
- Individuals interested in using supplement bars as part of their weight loss program want to ensure that the bars provide a nutritional equivalent to what would be achieved by consuming a small meal composed of whole foods. These bars should contain fiber (at least 3-5 grams) to provide a sense of fullness. Diet bars should be relatively low in fat (no more than 5 grams), contain a moderate amount of protein (10-15 grams), and should be enriched with a third of your daily requirement for vitamins and minerals.
- To round out your nutritional needs, eat a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or drink a glass of skim milk along with your meal replacement bar.
What to Look for in all Supplement Bars
- The fat source should primarily come from mono-and poly-unsaturated fats such as whole grains and nuts (e.g., oats, almonds, etc.). Avoid bars high in trans and saturated fats.
- Limit bars sweetened with sugar alcohols which can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Instead, choose bars that are sweetened with natural sugars (e.g., fruit purees, honey, etc.,).
- The protein should come from quality sources such as eggs, soy, whey and casein.
Performance and meal replacement bars are a convenient source of energy and can have a place in your diet when chosen wisely. Care should be taken to avoid going "overboard" on supplement bars. Since many can contain mega amounts of carbohydrates and protein, you are at risk for consuming more calories than you expend, which can lead to weight gain. If you are considering using meal replacement bars, meeting with a dietitian can help you find the best one for your goals and nutritional needs.
OnFitness, June/July 2006, pp.62-64, "Honest Facts about Supplement Bars"
Labels: diet bars, energy bars, meal replacement bars, performance bars, supplement bars