Most athletes know that muscle glycogen is greatly depleted during prolonged endurance exercise, but ingesting carbohydrates during endurance exercise can improve performance. Thus, high-carbohydrate energy bars are the best type to consume just prior to, or during, a prolonged aerobic event, like a long run. These energy bars can be eaten before, during or after a run:
• Before: Generally, you don’t want to consume lots of protein, fat, fibre or minerals just prior to a run. These ingredients are harder to digest and may cause stomach cramps. The best choice prior to an event is a high-carbohydrate bar – avoid meal-replacement bars and high-protein bars.
• During: During a run it is a lot easier to quickly gulp down something in liquid form, as opposed to trying to chew-up a gooey energy bar while you are breathing heavily. For this reason, energy gels have become the preferred method of ingesting carbs while running. However, in an ultra or marathon, runners sometimes like to stop for a while, rest the legs and have a bite to eat. That’s when an energy bar comes in handy!
• After: After the race, you need to replenish muscle glycogen. Here, high glycaemic-index (GI) carbs are recommended. Also, consider a bar that contains some protein, as the addition of a little protein to a carb load improves glycogen storage and speeds up recovery.
There are alternatives natural foods to energy bars, which are just as effective as the bars for sustaining athletic performance, such as bananas, honey, raisins, and prunes, but there is the added convenience of a compact bar which you can easily carry in a backpack or pocket, or keep in your togbag or car. So, we went looking for a few great energy bars in local stores and found the following products. There are others out there, but these are a good place to start with.
Hammer Bar (50g)
The biggest bar in this test range, it provides a hefty burst of energy while being easy to chew and digest. A 50g bar contains 27g of carb, 5g of protein and 11g of fat, while providing 962kJ of energy. Available in three flavours.
Jungle Energy Bar (40g)
Wholesome ingredients like nuts, berries and oats deliver taste, nutrition and energy, rather than sugar and fat. Each 40g bar contains 23g of carbohydrate, 2.1g of protein and 6.7g of fat, and provides 724kJ of energy. Available in five flavours, and makes a great breakfast snack for people on the run.
ProNutro Sport Bar (35g)
These bars are formulated to provide a blend high carb and protein, with fibre as well as other nutrients for energy production and muscle growth. Each 35g bar contains 17.9g of carbohydrate, 4.7g of protein and 5.6g of fat, and provides 617kJ of energy. The range includes Power Bar and Play Bar versions.
PVM Energy Bar (45g)
You’ll feel full after one of these bars just because they’re so chewy! A 45g bar contains 27g of carb, 5.3g of protein and 5.5g of fat, while providing 767.7kJ of energy. They come in a variety of great flavours, including combinations like choc strawberry, so give them all a try to find your favourite.
USN Energy Pro Bar (35g)
Best used as a pre-run snack, but also as a post-run recovery snack, these carb-rich bars provide a sustained injection of energy. Each 35g bar contains 24.5g of carb, 2g of protein and 3.1g of fat, while providing 573kJ of energy. Available in two flavours, with a vanilla coating for enhanced flavour.
ESSENTIAL ENERGY BAR ADVICE
• If you use energy bars during your run, look for products that contain 70% or more of the calories as carbohydrates. Avoid bars that contain lots of fibre or fat, or minerals such as zinc and iron, as large amounts of these ingredients in your stomach during a run may lead to stomach problems.
• Don’t experiment with a product you have never eaten just before a major race, or worse, during that race. Develop your sports nutrition plan prior to race day.
• Drink plenty of water with each energy bar. Remember, dehydration can hurt performance, too, and energy bars won’t solve that problem.
• Energy bars are relatively expensive, especially if you consume them regularly. Consider trying bananas, raisins, honey, and other foods.
• Some energy bars are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Avoid these brands if they give you stomach cramps or if you eat a lot of bars on a regular basis.