Today most people lead very busy fast-paced lives, and they don’t always have the time to sit down for a meal. Energy bars, which were once primarily the territory of serious athletes, seem to be exactly what most active people need to keep their energy from flagging. These pocket-sized bars offer busy people the ability to save the time and effort preparing a regular healthy meal would require, but are energy bars really good for you?
There are now so many energy bars competing for your business that some research into the energy bar market is highly advisable before settling on a particular brand. These portable energy-boosting bars offer a convenient way for people to consume the healthy calories they need to keep on going when they would otherwise be tempted to grab a donut or another unhealthy snack. But what should you be looking for in an energy bar?
For starters, you should be looking for a low-fat, low-sugar energy bar, otherwise you may find yourself in a lot of trouble. Many energy bars have a high-fat high-sugar content, defeating the purpose of having an energy bar in the first place. In fact, some of them actually have as much saturated fat and sugar as a candy bar. Studies have shown that while some popular energy bars trigger a spike in blood sugar that remains constant for an extended period of time, providing a steady level of energy, others sparked a sugar high that was followed by a rapid decline, similar to the effect of eating a snickers bar.
Steady blood sugar levels mean sustained energy levels for athletes or busy active people, but sugar spies translate into energy ups and downs, which are disastrous for athletes and active people alike. An energy bar with a balanced carbohydrate-fat-protein composition seems to be the best overall choice for both endurance athletes and highly active people. Look for an energy bar with the following: less than 8 grams of fat, at least 5 grams of protein, 3-5 grams of fiber, and less than 250 calories.
Ideally, if you intend to replace a meal with an energy bar, you should also eat other healthy foods with it, like a piece of fruit, grape tomatoes, carrots, or a cup of yogurt. No matter how convenient or healthy your energy bars are, don’t overly depend on them for your energy needs. Nobody is going to take a full healthy meal with them on a long bike ride or endurance run, but balance your energy needs with other healthy snacks, along with your low-fat low-sugar energy bar!
A nutritious energy bar is a healthy alternative to a meal before or after a workout. The best energy bars have a high concentration of carbohydrates to fuel your workout. Most high energy bars contain about 65 % carbohydrates, 25% protein and 10% or less fat. The great thing about healthy low-fat energy bars is that they allow you to workout right after eating one, whereas it is next to impossible to workout shortly after eating a meal. Someone who wakes up early to exercise and go to work doesn’t have time to eat breakfast and wait before working out. Energy bars play a pivotal role in your training regimen because it’s not practical to eat a meal and exercise immediately afterwards.
There are several things to look at when choosing a healthy energy bar. First of all, watch out for a high sugar content. Some energy bars have more sugar than chocolate bars. The Chocolate Chip Clif Bar has 23 grams of sugar – almost 6 teaspoons of refined sugar! And energy bars made with sugar alcohols – maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol – cause bloating and gases. Palm kernel and palm oil – both high in saturated fat – are two ingredients found in many chocolate or yogurt coated energy bars. The Atkins Advantage S’mores bar has 9 grams of saturated fat, and adults are advised not to consume more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day.
Of course there are healthy energy bars out there, whose ingredients are not identical to those found in chocolate bars. Look for energy bars that are made with natural ingredients: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains. These are usually naturally sweetened with real fruit, instead of refined sugar and syrups. Fibre is also an important ingredient to have in a nutritious energy bar because fibre helps keep you full longer.
Always read energy bars’ list of ingredients to find one made with dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Nuts and seeds are healthy sources of fat and protein, helping check your appetite and fuel your energy. Avoid artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and keep track of refined sugars and syrups. Look for a low sugar energy bar that offers a minimum of 4 grams of fibre and less than 3 grams of saturated fat.
Healthy energy bars should include both protein and carbohydrates – at least 6 grams of protein and at most 40 grams of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide the energy to fuel your workout and protein repairs your muscles afterwards. And while even the best energy bars cannot replace a nutritious meal, they are a healthy high energy snack! Healthy high-energy bars have their place in our workouts.
Whereas protein bars are meant for building muscle and bulking up, healthy energy bars are intended for people who need to maintain a higher level of energy over time and distance, such as athletes who undergo endurance training, power walkers, runners, bikers and swimmers. The best energy bars include both carbohydrates and protein because carbohydrates supply energy to muscles, while protein repairs those muscles. Healthy energy bars’ low-fat/low-fiber combination also makes them easier to digest and control hunger on longer runs and bike rides.
The best energy bars are low in sugar and fat, and higher in protein and carbohydrates, serving as energy-boosters before your workout, and muscle-builders after your workout. Healthy energy bars have the perfect amounts of both protein and carbohydrates for the very busy active person. Low-fat energy bars are better substitutes for a meal than random mindless snacking, preventing the hunger and subsequent binging so many of us face after skipping a meal. The best energy bars are those whose protein is sourced from eggs, brown rice, whey or casein.
Avoid energy bars made with the following ingredients:
Fractioned palm oil: A cheap oil used for its high heat stability — it’s bleached, filtered, melted, degummed and refined before being added to any product.
Maltodextrine: (corn): A cheap genetically modified sweetener.
MSG: a so-called flavor enhancer with potential side effects like facial pressure, headaches, nausea and chest pains.
Artificial sweeteners: (malitol, sucralose): their sweetness tricks the body into thinking it is getting some form of energy – which artificial sweeteners do not provide – but severe sugar cravings strike when the body’s needs for energy are left un-satisfied.
High-fructose corn syrup: corn syrup is a glucose-rich syrup made from corn starch. It does not naturally contain any fructose, which is a very sweet simple sugar made by many plants. HFCS is created through a process involving several stages and three distinct enzymes, producing a syrup with about 90% fructose, which is then blended with glucose into a fructose/glucose syrup. It is an inexpensive processed sweetener, thought to be worse for the body than normal white sugar.
Soy protein isolate: Essentially, processing of the soy bean at high temperatures strips its’ nutrients and manipulates the protein into a new chemical structure, making it a synthetically derived protein.
What should you be looking for in a healthy energy bar?
A natural protein source, such as nuts, seeds, quinoa, brown rice protein, and hemp, whey or casein protein
Natural sweeteners – brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup and very little sugar
Fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts are all-natural antioxidants and great sources of protein, fiber, magnesium, and energy-boosting carbohydrates.
The best energy bars contain the fewest processed ingredients possible, a higher protein content, and lower amounts of sugar, fat and carbohydrates. Don’t buy a candy bar masquerading as an energy bar!
Healthy high-protein low-sugar energy bars serve a dual purpose: they energize you for your workout and help rebuild your muscles after your workout. It is also easy to keep track of the calories in healthy energy bars, making them the perfect before or after workout snack!
Circle Bars makes the healthiest low-calorie protein bars in Canada, made in Canada with Canadian wild rice, fruits and berries. Our protein-rich wild rice is sourced from the riverbanks lakes and streams of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Our high-energy protein bars are unique in the protein bar market because their gluten-free protein stems from both organic protein-rich Canadian wild rice and pure whey protein isolate, the purest form of whey protein. Wild rice is the only cereal native to Canada, and the only Canadian wild grass to grow from seed and become a grain large enough to be harvested for food. Our other ingredients, such as apples, blueberries, cranberries, gooseberries, strawberries, Inca berries, pumpkin seeds, flax and honey, are all naturally packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. We pride ourselves on using only the finest ingredients in Canada. Our healthy protein bars contribute toward lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, fighting inflammatory diseases, maintaining bone density, stabilizing blood sugar and boosting heart, kidney and liver health. Our premium high-energy protein bars are in a class of their own in the Canadian nutrition bar market.
We need protein to build cells, tissue, bones, skin and muscles. Proteins ferry oxygen, minerals and lipids throughout the body, helping all of our organs, glands and muscles do their jobs. Protein counteracts muscle loss, fuels muscle growth, and speeds up calcium absorption. Dividing our protein intake throughout the day helps our bodies build and maintain muscle mass, and healthy protein bars are a fast and convenient way to consume protein during our busy days. Protein is digested very slowly and remains in the digestive tract far longer than anything else we eat, which helps people stay fuller longer. In this way, protein suppresses and regulates the appetite, controlling our hunger and cravings, and contributing to weight loss and maintenance.
Protein bars are an excellent idea for someone who is on the run, especially an active person who regularly works out. Generally, they are a healthy convenient source of protein for someone who wants to increase their muscle mass and lose fat. Nutritionists recommend a protein-dense breakfast, so someone who doesn’t eat breakfast is a good candidate for a protein bar in the morning. Protein and carbs fuel a workout, and without enough protein, you can actually end up losing muscle mass. Protein bars can be a Godsend to a busy active person, who may not have the time to prepare and eat several meals a day. According to sports nutritionists, inactive adults need about .4 grams of protein for each pound of body weight, while athletes and active adults need about double that amount of protein per pound. Protein should constitute 10-35% of a healthy adult’s diet. Protein is found in meats, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and dairy products. A person who consumes 2,000 calories a day should eat 100 grams of protein, contributing to 20% of their daily calories. One ounce of most protein-rich foods contains 7 grams of protein. But many people have a difficult time getting all of their protein needs from their daily food intake, which is why protein bars are a great help towards satisfying their recommended daily protein intake.
While protein bars are a quick and convenient way to meet our protein requirements, there are a few important guidelines to keep in mind when choosing a protein bar. First of all, a good protein bar should never exceed 250 calories, unless it is meant to replace a meal, in which case you may be justified in eating a 300-400 calorie protein bar. Even so, review the ingredients in a protein bar: You should be able to find a protein-rich low-carb low-fat protein bar to supplement your protein intake. Watch out for protein bars that have a lot of sugar in them: some protein bars have more sugar than candy bars! Avoid soy based proteins; look for proteins that have a high concentration of isoleucine, leucine, and valine – the amino acids that stimulate muscle growth. The proteins that have the largest concentration of these amino acids are whey protein, calcium caseinate, P-protein, brown rice and hemp.
You can eat a protein bar before or after your workout, but eating it an hour or two before you exercise will give you the energy you need to fuel your workout, especially if your protein bar’s carbohydrates are from whole grains or dried fruits. If you are unable to prepare a high-protein meal right after your workout, then another protein bar will provide the carbs and protein needed for your muscles’ recovery and growth. Beware of eating too many protein bars during a hectic day, because you could end up gaining weight!