What’s In That Energy Bar?

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Recently, I bonked after competing in a grueling (and yet fun! even though we lost!) USTA tennis match. I came home, flopped onto the sofa and realized I was both light headed and so tired I wasn’t sure I could get up.

But I had to get some food in me. Fast.

After carefully getting to my feet and slowly making my way to the kitchen island,  I gobbled several handfuls of M&Ms. OK, 10 handfuls. Then I took the M&Ms bag (it’s big and it lives on my kitchen island. Don’t judge me please) and a glass of water to the sofa.

It was several hours before I felt better.

And yes, I ate the entire bag of M&Ms.

What’s crazy about this situation (other than all that candy) is that I could easily have prevented bonking if I’d eaten during my match.  Like on changeovers – you’ve seen the pros do that on TV right? And I knew that.

In fact, I had a banana in my tennis bag.  TO PREVENT BONKING. And yet, I didn’t eat it. I was caught up in the competition and forgot to… oh who am I kidding? I don’t love fruit so I really didn’t want to eat that banana anyway. And I forgot to reload on my chocolate chip granola bars that usually live in my tennis bag, so ate nothing instead.

Given that I brought the banana and chose not to eat it, clearly I need a better non-bonking food strategy.  One of which is to ‘carbo-load’ before a match.

That got me thinking about the kinds of power bars or protein bars that I could try.

And that led to a surprising discovery: a lot of these so-called nutrition bars are nothing short of candy (including my chocolate chip granola bar of choice).

The horror!

And this, coming from the keeper of giant M&M bags on my kitchen island.

But it is horrifying. Because if I CHOOSE to eat M&Ms that’s one thing. But if I think I’m eating something nutritious (even vaguely so) and it turns out it’s pretty much junk, then that is, well, just plain wrong.

So here’s what I learned about nutrition bars in a nutshell (sorry for bad pun):

  • Some of them are high in fat – saturated fat, the kind to stay away from…
  • Some have a LOT of calories – like a whole meal’s worth of calories. Which could be useful if you were looking for meal replacement, but that’s never what I seek so…
  • Some actually have fiber, which is helpful with cholesterol management!

In a few articles and reviews I found of nutrition bars and protein bars online, here are some guidelines you can use while seeking the perfect bar for you:

  • Look for a low-fat bar: fewer than 5 grams of fat is a decent target. But 10 grams is probably OK if that’s the  bar that works best for you.
  • A bar low in sugar is obviously a good goal: shoot for 7 or so grams or fewer.
  • For a post-workout boost, Ericka Stachura, RD, a registered dietitian in Boston, explains in an everydayhealth.com article, “Serious athletes who want a post-workout recovery protein bar should look for bars with about 20 grams of protein.”
  • Why not get cholesterol-lowering fiber too? Some bars have up to 5 grams of fiber…
  • Make sure your choice has 150-200 calories, not 300-400+ calories – unless you prefer to take your meals in bar form.

The everydayhealth.com article, 9 Smart Protein-Bar Picks, is handy as it lists bars with a summary of their calories, protein, total carbs, total fat and sugar.

The Quest bar was mentioned in several articles. I’d never heard of it before and for good reason – I had to go to a GNC store (in a mall!) to buy them. But off to the mall I went because though pricey, these bars are a good choice, it seems.  They have about 200 calories, 20 grams of protein, 17 grams of dietary fiber and only 2 grams of sugar.

I bought three flavors: coconut cashew, white chocolate raspberry, and vanilla almond crunch.  All three sound better than a banana to me.

I’ll let you know if they keep me from bonking.

Another key piece of learning – some very popular energy bars are not so healthy. In several online articles, some of the very popular CLIF and LUNA bars fell into the ‘worst’ category vis-a-vis nutritional value.  That said, the Lemon Zest Luna Bar was in the ‘best’ in one article and ‘worst’ category in another – so it depends what you are looking for. Best to read about what’s in your favorite bar and decide if that works for you.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about protein bars or nutrition bars – including several ‘best and worst’ recommendations, check out some of these online articles:


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