There seem to be so many products on the market that claim to boost performance and make us fitter and stronger than we could ever imagine it can get very confusing. Most people will have heard claims that energy bars are the answer to getting you to the finish line of an iron man or ultra marathon, but what do they really do? And when and why should we be eating them?
Any athlete who has faced the challenge of undertaking an endurance event such as a marathon or a triathlon will also have had to face the quandary of how to get enough fuel on board to keep them going right up to the finish line. This is no mean feat, because while we are exercising our blood is diverted away from our digestive system in order to get maximum fuel and oxygen to our muscles. Therefore any food we eat can be very tricky to digest and even cause an upset tummy, which is far from ideal half way around a marathon course – as Paula Radcliffe knows all too well!
When we exercise we use the glycogen that we keep stored in our muscles and liver for energy. Unfortunately this will only last for a certain amount of time, usually around an hour or so, before we need to look elsewhere for fuel. Over longer periods we will start utilising fat stores for energy, but we still require sugar in order to do this and eventually it is a lack of sugar that will cause us to ‘hit the wall’ and run out of juice.
It is possible to burn up to 1,000 calories an hour during intense endurance events so the need to take on as much sugar as possible is clearly a priority. Therefore it is necessary to find a balance between taking on enough sugar to keep going and not eating so much that you upset your digestion and hence your performance. Finding out what works for you is the key here as everyone is different, so practice makes perfect and working out an appropriate eating plan in training is essential.
It’s all very well saying practice makes perfect, but if you want to start incorporating energy bars into your endurance training where do you start? There are a few things you should bear in mind when choosing an energy bar which will work for you.
- Sugar Content: The total amount of carbohydrate is important as clearly we are trying to take on as much as possible. This is the one time that it’s ok to go for the product with the highest sugar content! Bear in mind that you will find a figure for overall carbohydrate and those which are sugars. The sugars will be digested quickly for an initial rush whereas the remaining carbohydrates are more likely to be complex and therefore to deliver a slower release of energy. A balance of the two is ideal.
- Type of Sugar: It has been shown in studies that there is a limit to how much sugar we can absorb and utilise at one time, but it has also been found that we can absorb more if we consume a mixture of different sugars such as fructose, glucose and sucrose. This is because they are absorbed along different pathways, so it’s a bit like lots of trains arriving at a station at the same time all carrying lots of passengers.
- Additives: There are a number of vitamins and minerals which are essential to help our body burn energy, in particular the B vitamins and magnesium. Energy bars which have added nutrients are likely to have extra benefit in enabling your body to turn the carbohydrate to energy. It is also useful to note whether the energy bars are free from artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives as these will all contribute unwanted toxins to the body.
- Protein: Many energy bars also contain protein, which is often in the form of whey, casein or soy. Protein is required by the body for growth and repair so those bars which contain protein are ideal for recovery after a long event or training session, when your body will be busy repairing all the damage you have done to your muscles.
- Water: Don’t forget to drink lots of water if you are using energy bars to sustain you during an endurance event or training session. The high sugar content of these bars means that you will require lots of fluids in order for your body to digest them. Neglecting to drink plenty of water will mean you may quickly become dehydrated which will have a direct impact on performance.
Natural Balance (Trek/Nakd)
Nutritional information changes slightly per flavour.
Calories: Trek 204-239/ Nakd 221-231
Carbohydrate: Trek 33g-38g/ Nakd 36g-39g
Protein: Trek 11g/ Nakd 5g
RRP: Trek £1.15/ Nakd £0.99-£1.09
The bars have great retro packaging which is really fun. There are two types of bar, Trek (pictured above) and Nakd (pictured above right). The Trek bars have a higher proportion of protein, so would be better for recovery. They come in peanut & oat, mixed berry and cocoa brownie flavours. The Nakd bars have more carbohydrate, so would probably be more appropriate for keeping you going during training or an event, and come in apple pie, cocoa loco, berry cheeky and banana bread flavours.
All the bars taste great and really flavoursome and the protein ones are extremely filling. There are no extra nutrients added to the bars, but the fact they are made from 100% natural fruit means they will be packed full of goodness. Both ranges are simply made with dried fruit, nuts and oats, smooshed together and are raw (not cooked), so are packed full of goodness.
Natural Balance Foods is available to buy at Boots, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose and leading health outlets nationwide. For further information visit www.eatnakd.com
Carbohydrate: 44g (of which 23g sugars)
The EAS packaging is very scientific looking and a little dated and it only comes in one flavour (tropical fruit). The bars themselves are quite gooey and sticky in texture and surprisingly light coloured. They tasted quite sweet and fruity and a little bit artificial. As well as having added b vitamins and minerals the bars also contain approximately the same amount of caffeine as a small cup of coffee.
Carbohydrate: 73g (of which 34g sugars)
The Torq packaging is very slick and modern and the bars come in four different flavours (sundried banana, raspberry and apple, tangy apricot and pineapple & ginger). The bars are dark and sticky in texture and have a very natural flavour. They taste of the food that is in them and not a piece of cardboard like some other brands! They are also very moist. The bars are made from fair-traded fruit and all the flavouring is natural. They contain added b vitamins and minerals and the sugars are formulated specifically so that maximum uptake into the muscles is possible.
Carbohydrate: 45g (of which 19g sugars)
Quite basic, brightly coloured packaging in five different flavours (banana, tropical fruit, apple & blackcurrant, cherry and chocolate orange). Quite dark and treacly in texture and look like they are full of rice crispies! Fairly bland flavour and dry texture and taste a little bit synthetic. The bars do not contain any additional vitamins or minerals and some of the flavourings appear to be artificial.
Claire Dunt, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
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