Dietitian Jan Dowell discusses how to choose healthy nutrition bars.
Is there a difference between an energy bar and a nutrition bar?
Energy = calories. Some bars are nothing more than a glorified candy bar (and how many of us would go for a calorie bar?). You want to choose a bar that provides nutrition along with the carbohydrate needed to fuel performance. Check the nutrition facts and ingredient lists to see if you’re getting more than just sugar and fat.
Should I be using a nutrition bar in my sports nutrition plan?
It depends on your goals. If your goal is to use a carbohydrate supplement during a workout or event, then you may do better with a gel, sports bean, block or sports drink. These products are designed to fuel you during activity (the right blend of carbs in a precise amount without fat and fiber).
If your goal is to enhance your overall carb intake and nutrition, there are many options.
Higher calorie, higher nutrition bars, like Kashi Go Lean, Garden of Life Perfect Food or Hooah Energy Bars are useful if you can’t eat a meal, but need a nutrition and energy boost. They may be too much for a frequent snack, unless your goal is to gain weight. Nuts and dried fruit are nutritious, but the calories add up quickly. There are other bars that have fewer calories and are more appropriate for a snack. Sometimes the lower calories are due to smaller size bars. Odwall Nourishing Food Bars, for example, are available in various sizes.
Carb fuel with an added focus on natural ingredients can be found in products like Clif Nectar Bars, Perfect 10 Bars, Lara Bars and Jay Robb Bars.
For women-specific nutrition, try LunaBars and PowerBar Pria.
Higher protein bars include Clif Builders Bars and MANY others. Protein bars can be based on your desire for soy, whey, egg or blended protein sources.
Are there specific ingredients to avoid in a nutrition bar?.
Avoid products that have any trans fat or more than a gram of saturated fat. Watch the fiber content of some carbohydrate supplements, too. A good fiber source has 3 or more grams of dietary fiber per serving. This may not be tolerated well before or during a training session, but would be great any other time. Also read the labels for your preference of carb sources (
vs. processed sugars). Check the percentages of the
vitamins and minerals
in the sports bars. Remember, all your nutrients add up (food and beverages, nutrients in gels and other carb supplements, and vitamin mineral supplements). Don't allow the sum of your intake to exceed the "Upper Limit" of a nutrient. Check for caffeine (or other stimulants) and use/avoid it based on your tolerance and goals.
Does anyone check nutrition bars for quality or safety?
An interesting website to check if a product may be of concern is
Otherwise, ask your workout buddies what they have used successfully. As always, though, what works for someone else may not be the ideal choice for you. Experiment during training, not competition time!