Energy bars – A Suitable Source of Energy for Endurance Athletes
What are energy bars?
Energy bars consist mainly of sugar and maltodextrin; and provide around 250 calories and 25-35 g of carbohydrate/bar. Some may also have added vitamins and minerals, cereals or soy flour to boost the nutritional content.
How do they work?
Energy bars could provide a convenient way of consuming carbohydrate before, during or after intense exercise lasting more than one hour.
What’s the evidence? Research & scientific support
An Australian study compared an energy bar (plus water) with a sports drink during exercise; it was found that both boosted blood sugar levels and endurance equally (Mason et al, 1993).
In a study at the University of Texas, cyclists were given either a sports drink (containing 10 per cent carbohydrate), an energy bar with water, or a placebo (Yaspelkis et al, 1993). Those who consumed some form of carbohydrate managed to keep going for 21 minutes 30 seconds longer before reaching exhaustion than those taking a placebo. The reason? The extra carbohydrate helped fuel the cyclists’ muscles, reducing their dependency on glycogen. After three hours in the saddle, the cyclists sipping the sports drink or eating food had 35 per cent more glycogen than those who had consumed no carbohydrate.
Are there any side effects?
If you don’t consume enough water, they may cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Some products may adhere to your teeth so ensure you rinse with water.
Real food alternatives
Real food alternatives are bananas, granola bars or fig rolls. An Appalachian University study found that bananas were just as effective as sports drinks in increasing performance in a 75-km cycling time trial (Nieman et al, 2012). Trained cyclists consumed 0.2 g carbohydrate/kg of body weight every 15 minutes. On one occasion the carbohydrate was given in the form of a sports drink; on the other occasion they came in the form of bananas. It made no difference where the carbohydrate came from; the cyclists performed the same.
Energy bars after weight training?
Choose wisely. Weight training is not a long lasting activity. Energy bars may have loads of calories and sugar that can undermine your weight loss or weight maintenance efforts. Instead of an energy bar, you may want to consider chocolate milk and banana as the optimal post-recovery workout snack.
- energy drinks
- energy gels
- sports drinks
Summary and final verdict about energy gels
Any form of high Gl carbohydrate will help improve your endurance during high-intensity exercise lasting longer than one hour. Whether you consume carbohydrate in the form of an energy bar, energy gel, drink or any other form during exercise is down to personal preference. The main benefit of energy bars is their convenience: they are easy to carry and eat! Make sure that you have your bar with enough water to replace the fluids lost in sweat as well as to digest the bar. They are an acquired taste and texture, and you may need to experiment with different flavours and brands. However, we would rather choose chocolate milk and banana instead.