The Skinny on Nutrition Bars

The Skinny on Nutrition Bars

In our fast paced, on-the-go lives it’s tough to find the time to get in those three balanced meals as well as a few healthy snacks. If you are trying to “eat clean” while you “train dirty”, by avoiding processed foods, hidden sugar, salt and trans fats the challenge becomes more daunting, even more so for all the vegetarians, vegans, gluten or dairy-free folks out there.

Often our answer to our post-workout growling bellies is a pre-packaged nutrition bar, sometimes referred to as a power bar or 

protein bar. These can be meal replacements when we just don’t
have the time or energy to make something from scratch or they can be supplements for those who want to ensure they are getting enough nutrients to support their workout.

Nutritional bars have come a long way from the introduction of the PowerBar in 1986, when Mike McCollum and Canadian athlete Brian Maxwell whipped up the recipe in the kitchen with his Nutritionist girlfriend (later wife). It was a very different beast from the varieties we see today on our grocers shelves. Now there’s organic and raw and all-natural, even supernatural, with every flavour you can imagine from key-lime to cookies & cream to s’mores!

While every bar contains different amounts of protein based on type and manufacturer, they usually strike a balance between protein, carbohydrates and fats. But not all nutrition bars are created equal; taste, ingredients and ratios of protein to carbs all vary and are subject to personal preference and goals.

The Builder:
Since proteins are the “building blocks” of muscles, if you are trying to build muscle... well you know! Eating lean protein is a necessity for building and repairing muscles, tissue, red blood cells, and healthy hair and nails. Unfortunately the rule for protein bars seems to be that the better they taste the more sugar, glucose/fructose, corn syrup and glycerin they have holding them together, that’s where you get flavours like Toffee Choc-Chip and Peanut Caramel Explosion. Delish, but high in sugar alcohols, chemical sweeteners and artificial flavours. Go for something simple and stay away from anything that looks like dessert, chances are it is. Don’t go overboard either, be wary of getting too much protein, your body can only handle so much at a time; more than 20-30g in one sitting will not build muscle, it will be filtered out and all that excess nitrogen (protein is an amino acid after all) can put stress on your kidneys, so be nice to your kidneys! All in all these guys are great if you need to get your protein in quick and easy, definitely easier than eating a filet of sole with a side of kale and quinoa while driving to/from work.  

Our Favorite pump-you up bars:   most delicious Oh Yeah Bars, Detour Bars most nutritious - Edge Bars, Clif Builder’s Bar

The Runner:
Those bars touted as “energy bars” will best suit the runners, marathoners and cardio-aholics who don’t want to carry a ziplock bag of trail mix in their pocket. The purpose of energy bars is to remedy fatigue and improve concentration at vital times, just like any food really, they provide calories for your body to process into fuel. The most effective energy bars however need to provide easily digested carbs that are relatively low on the glycemic index, to keep you fueled at a steady pace. The trick with energy bars is to make sure your calories are from healthy sources, not high fructose corn syrup or saturated fat. Read the label, the less ingredients the better, a third grader should be able to pronounce them (hold the Butylated Hydroxyanisole please!) and the farther down the sweetener is on the list the better (beware, sugar has many disguises if it ends in “ose” it’s probably a sweetener of some sort). The ideal energy bar is really just ground up trail mix formed into a bar that you can hold in one hand. Our Favorite long distance bars: Elevate Me!, Vega Bars

The Working Mom:
Generally speaking women need less calories than men when doing the same activities, (generally speaking of course) more proof we are just more efficient at everything, including calorie intake! Women also tend to be more conscious of what they eat, and they know that if it looks like candy and tastes like candy, it should be treated like candy, i.e. a treat for special occasions and to be enjoyed in moderation. And if they are anything like me they’d rather sit down to real meal, with flowers on the table, a glass of wine and some good conversation than eat something at their desk/in the car/at the gym. However sometimes that’s all you got, so... bring in the mini bars! There are nutrition bars out there that taste great, have healthy, whole ingredients and are in smaller portions so that keep you going to the next destination by supplementing as opposed to replacing your regularly balanced meal.
Our Favorite Snack-Size bars: Clif Z-Bar, Luna Minis or any other bar cut in half.

The Study Buddy:

Your brain needs fuel just as your muscles do, and when it’s crunch time, sometimes we get in the zone, poring over the books for hours until it all melts into word stew. Don’t lose focus just because you can’t sacrifice the time to eat a real meal. Make sure you are getting a balanced bar with adequate protein, clean sources of carbs and sugar and some healthy fats. When protein foods release the amino acid tyrosine into the brain it increases the production of chemicals such as dopamine and epinephrine to boost mental alertness and energy; fruit and veg based carbs contain flavonoids and antioxidants to improve brain power and memory retention; if nuts and seeds are bringing the healthy fats to the party they will bring with them vitamins, folic acid and omega 3 fatty acids; whole grains will stimulate the brain by improving blood flow and when those carbs release tryptophan it increases serotonin, chilling you out and helping you sleep... when you finally close the books at 2am.
Our Favorite balanced bars: Luna Bars, Clif Bars, Proteins+ Express Bar

The Veggie:
It’s actually quite easy to find a veggie/vegan nutrition bar these days, it’s just a little harder to find one with a good amount of protein, and the real difficulty is soy, duhn duhn DUHNN. Now don’t get me wrong soy can be great! I heart soy, as long as it isn’t GMO and overly processed, which sadly, it often is. Here’s a great vegan protein bar rating chart from vegan yogi Heidi Kristoffer. Always read the labels, and if you don’t know what it is then don’t eat it! The smartest thing you could do is make your own so you know exactly what is going into it. Our favorite lean green bars:  The Simply Bar, these Luna Bars & Clif Bars, MBar, Edge Bars, Vegan Proteins+ Bar

And while these foods will do in a pinch, they should not take the place of a nutritious and varied meal that includes minimally processed sources of lean protein, healthy fats, nutrient-dense carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. The more natural the bar the better, if they are “fortified” with vitamins and minerals that means the manufacturer recognizes that the product is inherently lacking, also they will not contain any of the phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, natural fibre, vitamins and minerals found in fresh fruits and veg.

If you’re a keener here’s one you can make yourself:

ON THE GO! Gluten-free Protein bar
Makes about 10 bars

1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1 cup gluten-free cereal (I like Arrowhead Mills Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes)
3 scoops protein powder (I like New Zealand Whey Pro-Series, vanilla) 
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
pinch of salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup raw organic agave
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3/4 cup almond butter (or almond-hazlenut, mmm tastes like nutella)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark choc chips for melting on top

Pre-heat oven to 350 F, grease a med square or rectangular baking dish with olive oil, set aside. Mix together the dry ingredients (oats, cereal, protein powder, spices and salt). In a medium bowl, mix together the syrup, almond butter, applesauce and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix very well with a spoon or your hands. Press into a pan (with lightly wet fingers). Bake for 12 mins, let cool. Meanwhile melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler, spread on top in a very thin layer. When cool, cut into bars and keep refrigerated.

This recipe adapted from Eat, Drink and Be Aware (awesome blog btw), who adapted it from Oh She Glows (some more awesome).

BONUS: Oooh and who wants some low-fat, refined-sugar-free, moist and chocolatey protein brownies? Well, me of course!

THE SUPER BROWNIE (able to leap tall lattes in a single bound)

¼ cup of instant oats (or whole oats ground up fine in the food processor)
3 Tbsp raw Cacao finely grated (or Cacao nibs ground up fine in the food processor)
1 14-15oz can organic black beans (rinsed thoroughly)
3 Tbsp of Cocoa powder
2 Scoops choc or vanilla protein powder
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup of dates (soaked in hot water for 5 mins or until soft)
2 whole bananas
¼ cup of agave syrup
2 eggs (or ½ cup of apple sauce)
Optional 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven 350 F. Grease an 8x8 pan with olive oil, set aside . In a food processor grind up oats and cacao until fine, set aside. Puree beans, bananas, softened dates and eggs in food processor. Add all remaining ingredients (including oat flour, but not choc chips) and pulse to combine. Should be thick and shiny, just like regular brownie batter. Pour into baking dish, top with dark chocolate chips if you like (I like) and bake for 30-35 mins, inserted toothpick should come out clean. That's it, pretty easy; blend, pour, bake, eat brownies!

Some people have been known to do wild and crazy things to their brownies, such as add walnuts, fresh raspberries or espresso. Who am I to judge.

-Ariane Clark


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.