Taking The Bar Exam
Want to boost your metabolism? Current research promotes eating smaller meals more often, as opposed to the old-school way of two or three bigger meals in a day. The theory behind this is simple. Metabolism is the rate at which your body converts fuel (food) into energy. The mere act of metabolizing food itself burns calories. Thus, keeping your metabolism fueled throughout the day ensures an efficient burn of calories, resulting in increased energy and optimally lean body composition.
However, finding healthy meal options five of six times per day can be extremely difficult, especially for those “on the go” with little time to prepare proper meals. Out of convenience, many busy people reach for a pre-packaged bar, allowing them to fuel their metabolisms while maintaining their focus on work. However, all bars are not alike, and choosing one that best suits your health and weight management goals can be mind-boggling. Depending on your intended goals, any of the three categories of bars (meal replacement, protein, or energy) could be right for you. Each type of bar contains varying levels of protein, carbohydrates and fat, and selecting the right category of bar is the first step in keeping your nutrition goals on track.
Meal replacement bars were originally designed for the convenience of the “dieter” – someone trying to restrict their caloric intake and therefore requiring fewer calories per meal. Compared to the other categories of bars, meal replacement bars typically have a lower calorie range, usually varying from 200 to 400 calories. They have enough carbohydrates to provide energy for a meal, offer a decent protein source and are typically low in fat (10% or less of the total calories). Therefore they are moderately balanced in nutrition and thus functionally extend beyond the dieter to the athlete for a great pre-workout fuel source or post-workout recovery meal.
For those people using bars to replace meals so that they can lose weight, the following criteria may help guide their selection: choose one in the lower calorie range (200 calories or less), fairly high in fiber (at least 5g) and low in fat (less than 7g). Since bars are processed food, not more than one meal a day should be replaced with a bar. They may contain hidden sugars and lack essential vitamins and minerals found in more natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. Although meal replacement bars are often enriched with some vitamins, such as B and E, replacing more meals with bars removes the opportunity to get more bio-available nutrients from food.
Protein bars were originally designed for power athletes such as weightlifters and body builders who typically restrict or eliminate carbohydrates while preparing for competition. Thus, protein bars are characterized by the following: high levels of calories with most of them coming from protein, moderate amounts of fat (which help moisten the bars) and very few carbohydrates. When choosing protein bars for muscle repair and recovery, power athletes should consider the quality of protein as a key differentiator. Whey protein rates well because it is both a complete protein (containing all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein), and it is also more bio-available than some other sources such as casein, soy, or egg powder.
There is no scientific evidence that protein supplementation is beneficial for the average, healthy person. Furthermore, protein is not an effective energy provider. In fact, protein supplementation may remove the opportunity for an athlete, particularly an endurance athlete, to fuel their working muscles with effective fuel (carbohydrates). Average people, as well as most endurance athletes, therefore do not need protein supplementation, since the protein consumed in their normal diet is usually more than sufficient.
Energy bars were designed to boost energy levels, particularly for endurance athletes, such as triathletes, marathoners and cyclists. Carbohydrates, being the most efficient fuel for muscles, thus make up most of the energy bar's caloric content. For those attempting to lose weight, be wary of the calorie dense energy bars, particularly if sugars are listed first on the ingredients list. The safest way to use energy bars without jeopardizing optimal body composition is to choose the ones in the range of 180 to 200 calories, with no more than 10 - 14 grams of protein, and no more than 5g of fat.
Eating an appropriate ratio of carbohydrates to protein (4:1 or 3:1), as soon after a workout as possible, ensures the most benefit from a recovery meal. Thus, the ease and convenience associated with energy bars, combined with the proper carbohydrate-to-protein mix, make for an ideal post-workout recovery meal for the endurance athlete.
EXAMPLES OF POPULAR BARS PER CATEGORY:
Myoplex Deluxe (EAS) for athletes or Myoplex Lite for weight management
The Myoplex Deluxe has over 300 calories and thus can be used as a meal replacement for highly active people. (On average, Myoplex Delux flavors have 320 cals, 22g protein, 37g carbs and 9g fat). For weight management, the Myoplex Lite is a good substitute, with almost half the calories and fat of the Myoplex Deluxe Bars. The Myoplex products designed by the Body for Life program are intended as meal replacements. However, choose a bar based on particular goals. Myoplex Lite is a great meal replacement or a post-workout snack for dieters. There is an appropriate amount of protein for muscle recovery and the carbohydrates aid in glycogen replenishment for energy. It also has essential vitamins and minerals to enhance the meal replacement convenience.
Pure Protein – With an average of 280 calories, this protein bar supplies 32g of protein, ideal as a recovery meal from a heavy weight lifting workout. It has a moderate amount of carbs (26g) to help replenish glycogen. This bar is probably not ideal for a pre-endurance workout, as the high protein and high fat (8g) from its real chocolate coating will slow down metabolism and increase risk of gastrointestinal distress. It has a fair amount of refined sugars, so be cautious if your goal is to lose fat.
Cliff Bar – on average, cliff bar supplies 260 calories, 45 g carbs, 11g of protein and 5 g of fat, as well as many essential vitamins with natural ingredients. It has an ideal 4:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein for good recovery. The level of carbohydrates is also optimal for a pre-workout energy boost without going overboard on processed sugars.
READ LABELS CAREFULLY
Many bars that use low glycemic index (GI) ingredients use the term “low-carb,” an unregulated claim. Low glycemic index means that the bar may not spike an insulin response; however, this does not mean that the product is in fact low in carbohydrates. Many bar manufacturers do not count glycerin as a carbohydrate due to its low glycemic index, yet it does still contribute 4 calories per gram. Other ingredients common in bars such as sugar alcohols (best identified by ending in ‘ol' in the ingredients list) add sweetness and moisture, but they have been known to cause gas, diarrhea and other intestinal issues if consumed regularly. Many bars are high in fat, particularly trans fats and saturated fats, and these could contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Nutrition bars can offer a healthy choice for those seeking a quick and convenient meal, but this convenience comes with a price. Bars are processed foods, and should not replace more than one meal a day, even for active people. Many bars are high in sugar, saturated fats and trans fats, which can make them just as bad as a regular chocolate bar. Be mindful that relying on them as regular meal replacements, whether it is for an energy boost, or as a pre-workout fuel source or post-workout recovery source, can hinder weight management as well as result in potential intestinal issues. So, the next time you reach for that bar, make sure you choose wisely.