From the November 2012 issue of Runner’s World
Energy bars before, during or after your run give you power and help healing
By Kelly Bastone
Energy bars are one of your favourite snacks for good reasons: they’re tasty, convenient and relatively healthy. But with hundreds of brands and flavours to choose from, which is best? That depends. “You need to consider when you plan to eat the bar,” says Tara Gidus, avid runner and sports dietitian. Before a run, for example, you want the right amount and type of carbs for an energy boost – without a trip to a portaloo. Afterward, you need more protein. Here’s how to find the perfect bar for every running situation.
PRE- OR MID-RUN BOOST
You’re dashing out the door for a run when you realise you haven’t eaten in hours, or you’re in the middle of a workout and need a quick energy boost. Grab a bar with maltodextrin. This labformulated carbohydrate is more quickly absorbed than other carbohydrates, so it delivers a fast hit of fuel. “When you need a rapid rise in blood sugar, maltodextrin is a good choice,” says Gidus. It’s also easier on the stomach than the concentrated glucose found in some sports drinks. Because maltodextrin is relatively tasteless, it’s a useful choice when you want to avoid overly sweet gels and chews, which can leave an unpleasant aftertaste during your run.
A Good Bar: PowerBar’s Vanilla Crisp Performance bar contains maltodextrin, packing 40 grams of carbs in 920 kilojoules. Calcium and sodium help prevent cramps. And its low fibre content won’t tax your stomach. (powerbar.com)
During medium- to long-mileage runs, you need easily digestible energy that won’t send your blood-sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride. Pick a fructose-based bar. “Fructose is absorbed relatively slowly,” says Gidus, “so its energy is released over time, while glucose is fast-acting.” Plus, studies show that consuming those two types of carbs at once increases the amount of energy your muscles can use and improves performance, says Gidus. Unlike table sugar, honey contains trace amounts of B vitamins, calcium and iron.
A Good Bar: Endura’s Energy Bar has fructose as its main ingredient and provides 38 grams of carbs per 60-gram bar and 6mg or 50 per cent of your daily need for iron – responsible for creating haemoglobin, which transports oxygen to your hard-working muscles. (endura.com.au)
If back-to-back meetings mean you’ll have to skip a sit-down meal, grab a high-kilojoule bar with extra fibre and protein. It should contain 1465 to 2090 kilojoules, nine grams of protein or more, and high-fibre carbohydrates, such as seeds, whole oats and dried fruit. You also want some healthy fat (from nuts, for example), which, says Christine Gerbstadt, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “helps you absorb vitamins more effectively and keeps you feeling satisfied.”
A Good Bar: Sanitarium One Square Meal fills in for the lunchtime standby. It packs 10 grams of fibre, 17 grams of protein, and other run-fuelling nutrients, including one third of your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for iron and 90 grams of energy boosting carbs. (sanitarium.com.au)
POST-RUN IMMUNITY BOOST
The high mileage needed to train for a marathon or ultra makes you susceptible to colds and the flu. Good time to try an antioxidant-packed bar. “The more intense your exercise is, the more you need antioxidants to help you recover,” says Gidus. “There’s good research suggesting that selenium, vitamin E and other antioxidants help protect the immune system.” Nuts and dried fruits are rich in these antioxidants; cherries in particular contain phytochemicals, which help protect against cancer and heart disease and help reduce inflammation.
A Good Bar: After a run or as a snack, try Go Natural Hi Protein Almond And Apricot Performance Snack – it packs 13 grams of protein and 1330 kilojoules. Or eat Almond Cranberry Snack Bar, with cranberries, almonds, and Brazil nuts. (gonatural.com.au)
When you want a nutrient-rich recovery snack but don’t have time to seek out the perfect whole food, eat a carb-rich bar with moderate doses of protein and fibre (five to 10 grams of each for a bar with about 840 kilojoules). “Post-run, these nutrients can help improve recovery and curb hunger,” says Gidus. For the greatest recovery benefit, eat a bar within 20 minutes of your run. If your workout was particularly hard or long, follow that with a light meal of protein and whole-grain carbs one to two hours later.
A Good Bar: Musashi Growling Dog Energy bar packs 34 grams of carbs with 16 grams of protein. Really tough runs call for the 33 grams of protein in Musashi BULK Mass Gain Deluxe Protein bar, which helps repair muscles after long runs. (musashi.com.au)
Some are good and some aren’t
GOOD: Protein Isolates
Whey and soy proteins are first extracted from a food and then added to bars to boost protein content. Hydrolysed proteins undergo further processing that removes vitamins but makes the protein more digestible.
GOOD: Glucose Syrup
It’s another term for corn syrup. It’s used because it bonds easily with dry or solid ingredients. Its short, simple sugar chains are rapidly absorbed, so it offers instant fuel that’s ideal for pre-run energy.
Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, Xylitol and maltitol, are low-kilojoule sweeteners – that cause diarrhoea. “I don’t see why anyone should have sugar alcohols, but especially not runners,” says Tara Gidus.
GOOD AND BAD: Brown Rice Syrup
This sweetener is a bit higher in nutrients and slower-burning than corn syrup. But organic versions can contain traces of arsenic. Its health threats haven’t been confirmed, but some companies may stop using it.
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