While an energy bar may sound like a great pre-workout snack, many of them are nothing more than glorified cookies. Many of these bars can pack a staggering 300-plus calories, far more than the ones you’re probably about to burn off.
When energy bars first appeared in grocery stores in the late 1980s, they were marketed as fuel for athletes, but now according to ABC News, Americans of all activity levels spend more than a billion dollars a year on energy bars.
If you do reach for a bar, read the nutrition label first. The American Heart Association recommends that women shouldn’t eat more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, and men should stick to under 37. Many energy bars can easily have more than half that.
There are several main types of energy bars: sports bars, meal replacement and snack bars, and each have different characteristics and purposes. But be wary, even if you read the label. There are very few standards placed on nutrition bars. In 2001, an independent testing company analyzed energy bars and found that 60 percent of the bars tested failed to meet label claims concerning calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, sugars, and other ingredients.
Sports bars, which include brands like PowerBar, Gatorade bars, Clif Bars and PowerBar Harvest bars are recommended for athletes before, during or after exercise. They usually contain anywhere from zero to 10 grams of protein, about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, two to six grams of fat, and anywhere from 200 to 500 calories. They are high in carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly and do not slow down your digestive system as you exercise.
Meal replacement bars should contain around 300 calories, with 20 grams of protein. Experts say you should look at the ingredients to determine the quality of the protein. The protein source should be soy, milk, whey or egg. You do not want it to say collagen or gelatin. You should also look for about three grams or more of fat in the meal replacement bars. And a bar isn’t enough to replace dinner since it’s the equivalent of just 3 ounces of chicken breast.
Snack type energy bars such as Balance Bar, Luna Bar and SlimFast bar, contain between 100 and 200 calories, 5 to 15 grams of protein, 16 to 26 grams of carbohydrates and three to six grams of fat. You have to be careful because if you are snacking on these things all day, it can really add up. They are the nutritional equivalent of about two glasses of milk or half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t replace wholesome food with energy bars. Manufacturers don’t put everything you need from food into them. Instead, boost your energy naturally with an apple or banana with nut butter, a handful of almonds, a cheese stick or a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.