Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What should I look for in a protein/snack bar? -from Tim in Dubuque, Iowa

Here's the question:  What’s the skinny on power bars?  I’m headed skiing in Colorado and want to eat something at lunch with my PB sandwich that helps me get through the afternoon. I’m confused by calories, sodium, sugar.  I want to eat something healthy.  What are some good guide lines for power bars?

Thanks for your question, Tim! You have a great question for athletes on the go. It's tough to carry something easy, healthy, and filling for a day of skiing, hiking, or other activity. Protein/snack bars are convenient, a great way to go. However, if you walk down that section in the grocery store, there are literally 100s of varieties. The key lies in the details on the nutrition label: you want maximum protein and not loads of sugar, and also some complex carbs. Athletes need protein and carbs to fuel the body. Sugar provides some quick energy for those afternoon energy slumps. For athletes, some sodium is fine, since you're going to drink lots of water and sweat a lot. The other thing to look at is the ingredients list. You don't want anything hydrogenated (trans fats), fake colors, preservatives, or a bunch of fake junk if you can avoid it. The actual Power Bar brand is not very good because they are highly processed. Also, the Myoplex, Atkins, and muscle-milk brands are very fake and processed. They contain lots of processed sugars and sugar alcohols.
The Clif bar brand is pretty good. It contains mostly all-natural ingredients and good amount of protein.  The Lara bar brand is very natural, only 5 ingredients, and is sweetened with dates instead of sugar. However, every flavor tastes a little bit like dates, so don't buy those if you don't like dates! Odwalla bars are quite tasty and all-natural, but a little light on the protein. For an athlete, you really want something with at least 9 or 10 grams of protein in a bar. Supplement a low protein bar with a piece of string cheese, or something else high-protein. For best results, buy a couple different kinds and see what you like best.
Another option is making your own protein bars! It's more work, but you can customize it. One of my favorite recipes combines Kashi Go-Lean cereal (very, very high protein and fiber) with peanut butter or almond butter, honey, and mix-ins like chocolate chunks or dried fruit. Dried cranberries and cherries work really well. Happy skiing!    

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