Do Energy Bars Live Up to their Hype?


Carbs. Protein. Energy for the trail. There is an entire industry that has developed around the need for workout calories. Whether it is hiking up a mountain trail, or a spinning class at your local gym, there are many products vying for your attention.

But not all energy bars are natural, or even healthy for your body. Many contain more sugar than checkout-line candybars! On top of that, they can be pricey. You may be paying for cheap filler ingredients, and fat advertising budgets.

When preparing for a hike, especially climbing that favorite mountain, consider key components to keep you energized and motivated to complete the trail, while replenishment of torn muscles, bones, and blood sugar.


What components are necessary?

Complex carbohydrates - There is a reason we put this ahead of protein. Combining both complex and simple carbs, there should be less than 20 grams a serving. Complex carbs come primarily in fiber. Whole grain husks, bran, flax, and many fruits. It takes your body longer to break down, which means it gives you long-lasting energy and focus, rather than short power-bursts of energy. For hikes, you need this long-tail energy.

Protein - Protein not only gives you essentials for building and repairing muscles, but it provides the balance to prevent an energy crash after a workout. 1  Look for bars that have ideally enough protein to equal 1/3 to 1/4 of the carbs. Nuts help with this. Also, in one study, a moderate level of whey protein added to dried fruit based bars gives enough protein for a complete workout regimen. Consider having the protein in a separate drink, to complement the bar.

Fats - Besides the mental and physical workout benefits of having healthy fats, they also help suppress appetite, keeping you feeling satisfied. Rather than added weigh and soy protein, consider bars that use a variety of nuts as their primary source of fat are better. Monounsaturated fat, found in peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, and some seeds do the trick. Nuts give you the fats needed for a healthy snack. 2. 



Simple Carbs - This should be a small element within the energy bar. Despite the bad reputation starches and sugars have received from many of the low-carb diet crazes, a small amount of simple carbohydrates in an energy bar helps "kickstart" your workout or hike with a boost of energy, along with initiating your body's metabolism in processing complex carbs and protein. Simple carbs (semi-refined sugars, honey, fructose from natural fruit, some starches) are likely to be in most energy bars, to add sweetness. It is a good thing, up until a point. Avoid bars that have more grams of sugar than fiber. Simple rule of thumb. Look in the ingredients. Fruit and plant-based natural ingredients should make up the majority of the sugar content, rather than refined sugar itself. Remember, cane sugar IS sugar. Honey and agave as well, are both forms of sugar. While consumers perceive honey and agave as healthier than refined sugar (and they presumably are so), it is better to have the much of that sweetness come from fruit. Vitamins and fiber come with it.

Salt - Let's face it; salt makes things taste good. Have you ever tried eating oatmeal without salt to taste? Add a little, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the change. If you are planning to go on an extended hike or trek, sweating will likely pull saltwater out of your body. As you replenish with pure water, there is some salt needed to keep your body working well. For example, people in "sweaty" climates, like the tropics, sometimes need to have added salt (in moderate quantities). This may be true for long, constant, or repetitive workouts that include lots of water intake.

 Vitamins and minerals - Rather than fortified energy bars, get bars with condensed and dried fruits. This helps in a natural way to bring the nutrients you need for a proper workout recovery and energy replacement.



Our favorites for the trail:

Larabar - Simple ingredients. Palm date based, which has lots of fiber and carbs, but natural. It's amazing how so few ingredients lead to an incredibly delicious, yet healthy energy bar.

CliffBar - Choose their ones with more nuts (avoid the ones with added caffeine). CliffBar is a classic, and gives you the energy needed for long hikes.

Tahoe Trail Bar - This up-and-coming energy bar, which used to be localized to the West Coast, is now growing in popularity for its tasty balance of energy and protein. The Peanut Butter Chocolate uses dark-chocolate, with nutritious cranberries, and healthy nuts.


Our favorite Energy bar alternative:


Dates and Nuts. Simple. Sugars, fibers, proteins and fats, for a tasty homemade snack stash for the trail. Try it!


- Mike Cutler is an avid hiker in the Sierra Nevada mountains. His wife and him live in Reno, Nevada near Lake Tahoe. A major contributor to west-coast trails on the AllTrails App, as well as product tester for EarthTrek Gear.




4. Development, Characterization, and Optimization of Protein Level in Date Bars Using Response Surface Methodology
Muhammad Nadeem, 1 ,* Salim-ur-Rehman, 2 Faqir Muhammad Anjum, 2 Mian Anjum Murtaza, 1 andGhulam Mueen-ud-Din 1
. 2012; 2012: 518702.
Published online 2012 Jun 18. doi: 10.1100/2012/518702

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