It is common for athletes to eat energy bars to get quick nourishment either before or after workouts, or even as a snack throughout the day. Many of these bars are nothing but a glorified candy bar, so you need to be mindful of which you choose and when should you eat them.
Energy Bars Before Training
First, let’s take a look at the timing of when you are eating before training? If you have less than an hour before your workout, choose a bar that’s low in fat, fiber and protein. These nutrients take longer to digest than carbohydrates (carbs) and can cause stomach upset if you eat them too close to your training time.
What should you look for in a bar before your workout? By looking at the Nutrition Facts
on a food label, you can see if the bar fits the following guidelines to give you the energy to perform your best.
· Look at the serving size. Some bars contain only 1 serving, but some may have 2 servings per container. That means if you eat the whole bar you need to double the nutrition facts shown on the label; and,
· Choose a bar that is less than 150 calories, 6% or less of the total calories from fat, less than 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving, about 15-25 grams of total carbohydrate, and less than 7 grams of dietary protein.
For example, a Kashi Chewy Granola bar only has 2.5 grams of fat/serving (4% of total calories), 26 grams total carbohydrate, 3 grams of dietary fiber and only 2 grams of protein. This would be a bar that would fit the criteria to eat about 30 minutes before a workout if you feel that you need quick energy to get through your training.
Energy Bars After Training
Post-workout, you need to eat more protein as well as carbs to help repair and rebuild muscles, and replace the glycogen (stored form of sugar in your muscles and liver) to aid with recovery. I usually recommend to choose whole foods first, like eggs, chocolate milk or yogurt as a post-workout meal/snack. But, if you are pressed for time and need to eat a quick snack and are not planning to eat a recovery meal within 1-2 hours after your training, then a protein bar can be helpful.
When reading food labels choose a post-workout energy bar that fits these guidelines:
· Less than 200-250 calories;
· 12-20 grams of protein, plant based or whey protein depending on the type of diet you follow; and,
· 20-30 grams of total carbohydrate.
After your training it’s OK to eat a bar containing dietary fiber and heart healthy fats, but try choosing a bar with less saturated fat (less than 3-4 grams per serving).
Added Sugars & Sugar Alcohols
It is also important to look at the added sugar when selecting a bar. Some bars can contain up to 20 grams of added sugar! Remember if you choose to eat a bar before a workout or between competitions, the sugar, which is a form of a carbohydrate, fuels your muscle during training. However, if you are using an energy bar as a snack, rather than fueling your workout, try choosing a bar with less than 8 grams of added sugars.
For example a RX bar contains 12 g protein, 3 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams saturated fat, 23 grams of carb and 0 grams of added sugars. This would be a healthier choice after a workout, but not before, if you have less than an hour to eat before your training.
I would also use caution eating bars containing sugar alcohols, which are added to foods to lower the added sugar content. Sugar alcohols can cause gas and abdominal distress, you might want to either avoid bars containing sugar alcohols or eat them in small amounts.
Choosing whole foods over nutritional supplements or processed foods is always best, but eating energy bars, on occasion, to fuel your training or as a snack is easy and convenient. Just make sure you are choosing the right type of bar to prevent any stomach distress during training and to aid with recovery after.