What You Should Know About Sports Bars

November 30, 2006

Bronco Girl Nutrition Bars are specially designed to meet the specific needs of the female bull rider! Well, maybe not, but manufacturers would certainly develop a sports bar for female bull riders if they thought it would sell. Sales of nutrition bars are a multimillion-dollar industry, and active people such as dancers comprise the target market. While engineered sports bars can be a nutritious, convenient snack, they can also be an overpriced source of excess calories. And, with an ever-growing number of sports and energy bars available in the marketplace, selecting the right one can be confusing.

The first thing to keep in mind is that an engineered sports bar will never be the equal of food. Science simply can’t put all the trace minerals and antioxidants you need into a bar. Your ideal diet should consist of a variety of wholesome foods—lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, legumes, whole grains and high-calcium fare. Plan ahead so you’ll have nutritious food available whenever you’re hungry, and always keep healthy snacks such as fruit, granola bars and trail mix (nuts, seeds and dried fruit) in your dance bag.

Nutrition bars
, however, be used to supplement a wholesome diet, especially as an occasional convenience or for extra nutrients. Bars can be divided into two categories, based on purpose: meal replacements and pre- or post-exercise snacks. If used as a meal replacement, the bar should be high in calories and protein (at least 15 grams per bar). Eating an adequate amount of protein is essential for dancers, as they are constantly building and repairing muscles.

If the bar serves as a snack or a pre- or post-exercise source of calories, look for one that provides carbohydrates to fuel your activity and has at least 3 grams of fiber. Nuts, seeds and oats add flavor as well as soluble and insoluble fibers, which are good for your entire body. Here are some other guidelines to consider when selecting sports bars.

•Be aware of the calorie amount stated on the packaging. The calorie content may be for 1⁄2 a bar, not the entire bar. If you find a bar you like, consider cutting it in half to decrease calorie intake. Bars designed specifically for women tend to have fewer calories.

•Identify the bar’s amount of sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol and mannitol. On the nutrition label, these are usually included in the total carbohydrate content, but not in the net carbohydrate total. Sugar alcohols (1.5 to 3 calories per gram) contain fewer calories than sugar (4 calories per gram) and don’t cause tooth decay. Some people are sensitive to these substances, especially in large quantities, and may experience gastrointestinal distress such as bloating and diarrhea.

•Note the grams of saturated and trans fats. These are the fats that can have a negative impact on your blood cholesterol. Many popular bars contain unnecessarily high quantities of these fats. Aim for bars that contain less than 3 grams of saturated or trans fats per serving. Saturated and trans fats aren’t essential nutrients and you don’t need to consume them at all.

•Female dancers must consume an adequate amount of calcium to maximize bone density and lower risk of stress fractures. Look for bars that have at least 30 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium, which is about the same amount contained in one cup of milk or yogurt.

•Don’t overdo a good thing by consuming too many fortified foods. Nutrition bars are often highly fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Add those bars to a few bowls of fortified cereal and a multiple vitamin/mineral tablet and you could be consuming too much. High doses of certain vitamins and minerals can impact the absorption of other vitamins and minerals and actually cause health problems.

•No state or federal organizations routinely test bars for quality and nutrition claims. In 2005, however, independent testing organization ConsumerLab.com revealed that some of the bars tested did meet their claims, while a few contained more carbohydrates and saturated fats than stated on the label. Log on to consumerlab.com for more.

While nutrition bars can serve as an occasional dietary supplement, it’s important to realize how they affect your body. Take stock of how you feel after eating a nutrition bar: Are you more energized and satisfied than after eating “real” wholesome food? Many bars cost $2–$3—roughly the same price as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a snack consisting of an apple, a carton of yogurt and trail mix. Is the expense worth it to you? Always make a deliberate decision as to whether the bar is worth the price, convenience and nutrition content, before using it as a meal replacement or dietary supplement.

Felice Kurtzman is the director of sports nutrition for the UCLA Athletic Department.