Pick the right energy bar

Choose the right snack before, during or after your run for optimal power and healing.



Energy bars are a favourite snack choice for runners for good reason: 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 sports dietitian Tara Gidus. Before a run, for example, you want the right amount and type of carbs for an energy boost – without a subsequent trip to the loo. Afterwards, 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 lab-formulated 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 Energize Bar contains maltodextrin, packing 39 grams of carbs in 199 calories. Extra sodium can help prevent cramp. And its low fibre content won’t tax your stomach. (£33.75 for 12 from wiggle.co.uk.)

MID- TO LONG-RUN ENERGY

During medium- to long-mileage runs, you need easily digestible energy that won’t send your blood-sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride. So pick a honey-based bar. Honey contains carbohydrates (glucose and fructose) that deliver fast and long-lasting fuel. ‘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, adds Gidus. Unlike table sugar, honey contains trace amounts of B vitamins, calcium, and iron, too.

A good bar:
Honey Stinger’s Peanut Butter and Honey Bar provides 27 grams of carbs as well as hits of cramp-fighting minerals sodium and potassium. (£1.60 per bar from isoactive.com/hs.)

LUNCH REPLACEMENT

If back-to-back meetings mean you’ll have to skip a sit-down meal, grab a high-calorie bar with extra fibre and protein. It should contain 350 to 500 calories, 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’. Just remember to make eating a bar instead of a proper lunch the exception, rather than the rule.

A good bar:
Probar’s Cran-Lemon Twister is a healthy on-the-go option. It’s a mix of oats, peanut butter and dried fruit that packs seven grams of fibre, nine grams of protein, and other run-fuelling nutrients, including sodium. It also offers a wodge of heart-healthy omega 3 and 6 fats. (£24.99 for 12 from astronutrition.com.)

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; blueberries 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 Kind Plus Antioxidants Bar with Blueberry and Pistachio – it packs 50 per cent of your daily need for three key immune-boosting antioxidants: vitamins A, C, and E. (£17.99 for 12 from astronutrition.com.)

LONG-RUN PAIN RELIEF

When mile 15 of your 22-miler has your body begging for Ibuprofen, reach for a jolt of caffeine instead. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found it reduces exercise-related pain during workouts. Study participants who consumed caffeine prior to high-intensity cycling reported less quadriceps pain than those who did not consume it. Researchers believe that caffeine blocks the brain’s receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation.

A good bar:
Maximuscle’s Viper Boost Bar pairs a generous 139mg of caffeine (Red Bull has 80mg) with guarana and the amino acid tyrosine for endurance. (£23.99 for 12 from maximuscle.com.)

POST-WORKOUT RECOVERY

When you want a nutrient-rich recovery snack quickly and easily, eat a carb-rich bar with a good hit of protein and a bit of fibre (five to 10 grams per 200 calories). ‘Post-run, these nutrients improve recovery and curb hunger,’ says Gidus. For best results, eat a bar within 20 minutes of running. If your workout was hard or long, follow that with a light meal of protein and wholegrain carbs one to two hours later.

A good bar:
Hammer’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Recovery Bar packs 25 grams of carbs with 20g of protein and 8g of fibre. (£3.70 per bar from hammernutrition.co.uk.)


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