As with energy gels, energy bars are a convenient and easily portable food manufactured to fuel endurance sports. One of the main distinctions between energy gels and energy bars is that the gels tend to be primarily carbohydrates and, although energy bars are mainly carbohydrates, they can also contain smaller amounts of protein and fat. As mentioned in my earlier article, Mango and Date Energy Bites, the main purpose of gels and bars is to serve as a sugar that digests quickly to provide energy for extended activities.
What to be wary of in processed energy bars
As with the gels, the commercial bars are expensive per use and are highly processed. Some are known to contain suspect ingredients including fillers and emulsifiers which can result in digestive issues, sugar crashes, or even ultimately result in weight gain. Some of the common ingredients found in processed energy bars are:
- Soy Protein Isolate, Inulin and Sugar Alcohols (erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates) which may cause digestive issues such as gas, bloating and diarrhea
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Sucralose are artificial sweeteners which may disrupt the body’s blood sugar controls and can be linked to weight gain
- Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil is added to prolong shelf life and may contain higher levels of saturated fats
- Natural Flavors originate from natural sources but are chemically modified
- Soy Lecithin is a food additive that helps bind ingredients
Can energy bars be used as meal replacements?
Although store-bought energy bars are sometimes promoted as a meal replacement, even the best-formulated bar is not a substitute for a complete and balanced diet of whole foods containing the vitamins, minerals and sugars needed to energize the body and maintain good health.
It is often more economical and tastier to energize the body with real foods and, as commercial energy bars are basically designed to fuel performance, they do tend to be calorie dense so are not good choices if you are inactive. In addition, considering some of the ingredients include sugary syrups, the commercial energy bars generally don’t make good snacks or meal replacements as they can be more akin to protein-fortified candy.
Alternatives to processed energy bars
One of the main advantages of processed energy bars is their convenience and the fact that they have a long shelf life and do not need refrigeration. Conversely, the main disadvantage of homemade bars is that they require planning in advance which may not always be possible. One idea for an alternative energy food is the following recipe for Chocolate Chargers Energy Bars. As these consist entirely of whole foods, they can also serve as snacks and sustenance if proper meals are not available.
Chocolate Chargers Energy Bar
- 1.5 cups (400ml can) black beans
- ½ cup mashed avocado
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup chopped Medjool dates
- 1½ cups rolled oats
- ½ cup cacao powder
- ½ cup brown rice flour
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ cup water (if needed)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp salt
- In a food processor, combine beans, avocado, maple syrup, dates, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth.
- Add the oats, brown rice flour, and cacao powder and pulse to combine.
- Stir in the coconut and cranberries. The consistency should be spreadable (if too dry, add 1/4 cup of water and if too runny, add an additional 1/4 cup of brown rice flour).
- Grease 13×9″ pan and spread mixture into pan.
- Bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for 15 – 18 minutes.
When creating your own energy bars, it is often better to use unsalted and unsweetened versions of the ingredients and then control the sweetness and saltiness yourself to suit your own preference.
Although advertisements often suggest that engineered sports nutrition such as gels and bars are necessary in an athlete’s diet, it is not proved that they will enhance performance any more than conventional food. In an ideal world, whole food would constitute the vast majority of dietary intake and sports nutrition would be supplemental and only used when necessary.
However, it is not always possible to find the time to create daily healthy and wholesome meals from scratch let alone additional snacks to sustain us during athletic endeavours. Most of our lives are hectic enough and processed foods are deemed “convenient” for a reason. In the end it is all about balance and we can pick and choose where we are able to make items from scratch. For the times that time does not feel that it is stacked against you, I would highly recommend the Chocolate Chargers Energy Bars to supplement your activities.
Recipes for other energy foods: Mango and Date Energy Bites
If you make these energy bars, I would love to know your experience and if you enjoyed this article, please like and feel free to share with friends.