If you haven’t seen the plethora of energy bars advertised everywhere from the grocery to your favorite sporting goods store, you definitely need glasses! They come in exciting packages, promising to provide you with everything from increased stamina to leaner muscle mass. Their price tags run the gamut from 75 cents to over three dollars in some cases, usually depending on the calorie count and manufacturer. Hey, it’s hard to pass up on these little gems that fit so nicely into a gym bag!
Here’s the problem, though: Your energy bar might just be a glorified candy bar in an extremely good disguise. We’ve all heard the adage that tells us if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The same holds true for all the energy bars that tempt you from the shopping aisles and checkout lanes. Just like a regular old chocolate bar, their nutritional values range wildly. Some are no better for your body than if you popped a big, old piece of caramel-and-nougat goodie into your mouth. In fact, some have calorie, carb and fat counts that exceed some of the more reasonable candy bars on the market!
In order to make the best energy bar decisions, you have to stop using them as a snack. The problem is that we’ve all become accustomed to eating energy bars whenever we need a pick-me-up or snack boost. This is a huge mistake, as it trains our brains to crave them for all the wrong reasons! We need to step back and begin to examine the best uses for energy bars, and also the better alternatives to them in some cases.
When to Eat Energy Bars
The point here is not to give up on all energy bars. In fact, you can continue to keep one in your car for those “in case of hunger emergency” moments. At the same time, you need to make sure you are only eating energy bars during the following conditions:
1) You are going to be in a CrossFit session in 15 minutes and you haven’t eaten a thing for 3+ hours. Your sugar levels are likely dropping, and you need carbs in your system or you’ll tank halfway through.
2) You missed a meal and you’re replacing the meal with the energy bar of your choice. Don’t make a habit of this, of course. Your body needs real food in order to function at tiptop levels. When you choose an energy bar as a meal replacement, make sure it’s at least 200 calories and has a good balance of fat, protein and carbs.
3) You just finished a workout, and you can tell you’re about to faint or get sick if you don’t put fuel back into your body. Again, this is the perfect point to slowly – this is key – eat an energy bar that will send nourishment back into your body.
Notice we didn’t say anything about eating an energy bar at work because you’re hungry at two o’clock and want something to chow down on with your fourth cup of java? Energy bars really have no place as snacks. Better alternatives for your midafternoon treat are almonds, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, fruits, yogurt, veggies, hummus and other heart-healthy options packed with “good” fat, a lower number of total calories and a lot of vitamins. However, if you have a physically demanding job, like working on a construction crew, super portable fuel is necessary.
There’s no reason to let an energy bar sideline all you do in the gym. In the end, if you really want a treat, check the nutritional value of your favorite candy treat. You may just as well indulge in it once in a while rather than spending more to scarf down an energy bar that won’t really get you where you want to be.