Athletes Take Note: Not All Energy Bars Built The Same
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Energy bars, touted for improving athletic performance while providing the right combination of essential nutrients, may not always give endurance athletes the boost they expect.
An Ohio State University researcher compared two popular energy bars and found that one of the bars didn't give the moderate increase in blood sugar known to enhance performance in endurance athletes. Instead, its effect was much like a candy bar - giving a big rush of sugar to the blood, followed by a sharp decline.
"Theoretically, energy bars produce more moderate increases and decreases in blood sugar levels than a typical candy bar," said Steve Hertzler, an associate professor of medical dietetics at Ohio State. "But these claims aren't necessarily valid."
His study appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Hertzler wanted to know how energy bars affected blood glucose levels. Glucose is a sugar that provides energy to the body's cells - for example, red-blood cells and most parts of the brain derive most of their energy from glucose.
"Athletes - especially those involved in endurance sports - want to enhance performance, and energy bars claim to help keep blood sugar levels at a moderate level," Hertzler said.
Volunteers had to fast for at least 12 hours before taking part in each of four experiments. Then, they ate one of four experimental "meals" consisting of either four slices of white bread; a Snickers bar; an Ironman PR Bar; or a PowerBar. Each experimental meal provided the same amount of carbohydrates (50 grams.)
Hertzler then tested the effects these foods had on blood glucose levels at 15-minute intervals for up to two hours after each experimental meal. The volunteers had to wait at least 24 hours between each experimental meal.
Hertzler measured each subject's blood samples for glucose levels, to determine which food most raised blood sugar levels.
Both energy bars caused blood glucose levels to peak at 30 minutes, while levels peaked at 45 minutes after the bread and candy bar were consumed. Blood glucose levels declined steadily throughout the duration of testing for all foods but the Ironman PR Bar. This bar caused blood glucose rates to remain fairly steady, probably because of the moderate carbohydrate level of the bar, according to Hertzler.
"Though blood glucose rates peaked at 30 minutes with both bars, the high-carbohydrate energy bar - the PowerBar - caused a much sharper decline," Hertzler said. "In fact, the decline was sharper than with the candy bar."
Much of the energy derived from the bread and the candy bar came from carbohydrate and the same was true for the PowerBar. While the bar is low in protein and fat, more than 70 percent of it is made up of carbohydrate (such as high-fructose corn syrup; oat bran; and brown rice). In contrast, 40 percent of the Ironman PR is comprised of carbohydrate (high fructose corn syrup and fructose.) The rest of the bar was comprised of 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein.
"The composition of this bar may have been responsible for the diminished blood glucose response," Hertzler said.
"Athletes involved in short-duration events who want a quick energy boost should eat a high-carbohydrate energy bar or a candy bar," he suggests. "However, endurance athletes would do well to consume an energy bar with a moderate carbohydrate level."
Hertzler conducted this study while at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. He is continuing similar research at Ohio State.#
Editor's note: This research was funded by a grant from Kent State University. The researcher received no funding from either energy bar manufacturer.