Energy Bars: Extra Energy or Just A Bunch of Extra Calories?

The health-food market is saturated with energy bars. From the checkout lane at your favorite sporting goods store to the aisles of your local organic market, energy bars are everywhere. However, many are not what they appear to be. Some energy bars that appear healthy and are advertised as containing clean energy are anything but. Most are simply extra calories that you can do without.

The name “energy bar” even tells you exactly what you’re getting, but many people don’t make the connection. In the scientific and medical community, the terms calorie and energy are used interchangeably. Energy, in this sense, is nothing more than calories that your body can burn to do work…

Energy Bar

Granted, some energy bars do contain essential vitamins and minerals as well as some protein. If they are used correctly, energy bars can be a benefit for this reason. However, the majority of people don’t need to consume energy bars, but we will talk more about that later in this article.

Loads of Calories in Energy Bars

Standard energy bars can contain up to 400 calories. That’s the equivalent of two or three cans of soda, two standard size Snickers bars, or a large cheeseburger from a popular fast-food restaurant. That’s a lot of extra calories to be putting into your body.

If you’re on a diet and trying to stay under 2,000 calories per day, you could dramatically overshoot your calorie goal by consuming just one energy bar. In fact, consuming one bar may cause you to have to skip an entire meal altogether. If you continue to follow your 2,000 calorie diet but throw in an additional energy bar every day, you could actually gain weight.

It only takes consuming 3,500 more calories than your body needs to gain 1 pound. Amazingly, an extra 400 calories per day equals more than 40 pounds of weight gain in one year if your body doesn’t burn off the extra calories consumed.

Nutritional Content of Energy Bars

The nutritional content of popular energy bars varies dramatically from one brand to the next. Most contain protein, carbohydrates, sugar, fats, and fiber. However, the amount of each nutrient varies greatly from product to product. For example, some bars have as much as 30 grams of sugar in them, which is the equivalent of a chocolate candy bar.

Some popular candy bars even have less sugar than that. So you can imagine that some energy bars can be very unhealthy. Following are three key ingredients that can make your energy bar unhealthy:

Sugar – The FDA recommends that the average person consumes no more than 50 grams of sugar per day. Keep in mind that most foods, even those that aren’t sweet tasting in the least, contain sugar. Consuming an energy bar that’s high in sugar can and will cause you to consume too much sugar.

Many energy bars also contain refined sugars and sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup. These should be avoided whenever possible. If you want to consume an energy bar, look for one with less than 10 grams of sugar. Also, check the label to make sure the sugar content comes from natural ingredients, such as dried fruit rather than artificial sweeteners and refined sugars.

If you consume multiple bars per day, make sure you’re not biting off more vitamins and minerals than you should chew. For example, a fortified bar might provide 50% of the RDA for zinc, says Clark, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. If you’re eating several bars a day, plus a multivitamin/multimineral pill and a bowl of fortified cereal like Total, you could be getting much more zinc than you need, she cautions, which might interfere with the absorption of other minerals, and even weaken your immune system. – Web MD

Fat – Not all fat is bad for you. Fat from natural sources, such as nuts, is usually quite good for you. However, the added fat that comes from hydrogenated oil is not. The FDA recommends that no more than 35-percent of your total caloric intake be contributed to fat.

Saturated fat should remain at or below 10-percent of your caloric intake. When selecting an energy bar, look for bars that have unsaturated fat from a variety of healthy sources, such as nuts and seeds.

Carbohydrates – You should also watch out for carbohydrates. While essential for energy, too many carbohydrates will cause you to gain weight.

Typically, carbohydrates in an energy bar should be on the low side and should not equal more than twice the amount of sugar grams. So, for a bar containing 10 grams of sugar, you should look for the carbohydrate content of 20 grams or fewer.

Who Benefits from Eating an Energy Bar?

For many people, energy bars equal extra calories. But there are still some people who can benefit greatly from consuming an energy bar every now and then. There are approximately four scenarios where energy bars are a welcome addition to your diet.

Serious trainers – People who engage in a regular amount of exercise – 30 minutes or so per day – do not need to eat energy bars. The extra calories will likely cause them to gain weight. Those who are training hard for a competition or event, on the other hand, need the extra calories.

So if you’re training for several hours per day, an energy bar can give you the extra energy you need to perform. Also, if you’re exercising so much that you’re starting to become too lean or underweight, you will want to think about consuming energy bars or some sort of protein/weight-gain formula.

Weight gainers – If you’re trying to gain weight or trying to build muscle, energy bars may help you do it. However, you should only turn to energy bars if you have already burned off excess body fat. If you’re still carrying extra fat, let your body burn it off before turning to another energy source.

Meal skippers – If you routinely skip meals, you may want to think about eating an energy bar in place of your meal. Skipping meals can mess up your metabolism and cause you to feel sluggish. While you shouldn’t eat an energy bar as well as a meal, you can substitute one for the other without any worries.

Snack cravers – If you have cravings that you give into regularly, you may want to choose an energy bar instead of a candy bar. While you’re still going to get the extra calories, sugar, and fat from an energy bar, you will also get protein, vitamins, and minerals. So, if you’re going to consume the calories anyway, an energy bar is the healthier choice.

Be sure, however, to count the calories consumed against your total calorie intake for the day. You may have to eat a lighter dinner or skip your evening snack to make up for it.

How to Shop for Healthy Energy Bars

When shopping for energy bars, look for brands that have simple, natural ingredients. If you can read and understand every ingredient on the ingredient list, it’s probably a good choice. Also, be sure to look for products that are low in calories and have less than 10 grams of sugar, low in carbohydrates, and fat from natural sources, such as nuts and seeds.

I personally prefer QuestBars due to the high protein, low carb, decent amount of fiber and most of them are only around 190 calories. I got to admit, they taste pretty good too especially if you heat them up in the microwave for a few seconds. My favorites are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cookies & Cream and they just released a new flavor, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.

Energy bars serve a purpose, but they can be extra calories for many people. Before picking up an energy bar, ask yourself if you really need it.

If you don’t meet any of the criteria above, you may be better off reaching for a piece of fruit or serving of raw veggies. If you can benefit from an energy bar, however, be sure to choose the right one. And consume them sparingly. You shouldn’t have to eat one every day unless you’re training for several hours each day.