Commercially prepared muesli bars are here to stay and the range available can only get bigger.
These are designed to provide a convenient source of energy to be thrown into a lunchbox, gym bag or pocket and eaten “on the run”.
As an occasional snack they appear to do no harm. However if eaten daily as a “lolly” or relied on as a meal replacement their “ healthiness” may become questionable. Particularly if they contain extra saturated fat in the form of chocolate, coconut, butter or added sugars.
When evaluating the qualities of a muesli bar it is important to first determine its use. Is it to be used for general ‘snack’ purposes or as a major energy boost to sporting performance?
Muesli (cereal) bars can be a convenient snack for growing children or used for light recreational purposes where an event continues for up to 1- 2 hours in duration. E.g. 9 holes of golf, a round of tennis, a walk or bike ride.
Healthy guidelines for muesli (cereal) bars used for general purposes:
- Fruits, nuts, seeds or whole grains: aim for 50% or more from these ingredients offering unsaturated fat and low GI carbohydrate
- Sugars: less than 10g sugars per bar is ideal
- Energy: Aim for less than 600kj per bar, especially if you are weight conscious
- Fibre: Around 1.5g or more per bar is good
- Saturated fat: Should be less than 2g per bar
- Sodium: Ideally less than 100mg/bar
Table 1 A comparison of commercial muesli bars
|Name of commercial bar||Weight||Energy||Protein||Total fat||Sat. fat||Carbos||Sugars||Fibre||Sodium|
|Be Natural trail bars®||32||460/109||2.1||1.4||0.4||20.4||6.6||3.7||54|
|Mother Earth multi-grain bars®||35||546/130||3.3||3.2||0.7||20.9||9.1||2.1||79|
|Nice & Natural superfruit bars®||30||456/108||2.1||2.6||0.8||19.9||8.8||1.5||17|
|Quakers 5 seed & grain bars®||30||486/115||3||4.6||0.6||14.4||4.3||2.6||33|
|Mother Earth fruit stick®||19||253/60||0.8||0.5||0.3||12.5||7.2||n/a||51|
|Pams Superfruit bars®||31||488/116||2.2||3.5||1.9||18.6||6.5||1.4||13|
|Weight Watchers raspberry pie®||40||508/120||1.8||0.4||0.1||22.3||11||5.9||51|
Sports bars are specially formulated to improve performance in the following ways:
- Compact nutrition: Along with the energy derived from carbohydrate and protein many bars also have added micronutrients to fuel the demands of athletes. They are particularly useful in endurance and ultra-endurance events or for prolonged intermittent exercise such as team games.
- Uses: Sports bars are a convenient way to provide measured amounts of carbohydrate for the pre-event, during and post exercise recovery stages of training and competition .
- A source of solid food, these high energy bars are a welcome break to the gels, sports drinks and confectionery required in longer events (>2-3hrs duration) e.g. a bike race or marathon run.
- Non-perishable, sports bars are highly portable and can be useful in situations where there is a lack of facilities to prepare or store food away from home.
- Energy: aim for more than 600kj per bar
- Carbohydrate: needs to be blend of low, moderate and high glycaemic index(GI) for intermediate and sustained energy release. Many bars also contain a mix of Malto-dextrin and fructose syrups to maximise the availability of carbohydrate to the working muscle.
Ribose is also often added to boost energy production at a cellular level, however research regarding its effectiveness is on going.
- Fibre: needs to be lower in order to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Total fat should be ultra-low and saturated fat should still be less than 2g per 100g of product in order to minimise the intake of ineffective calories.
- Sodium: levels can be higher than normal muesli bars to help replace the athletes sweat losses.
- Minerals: Potassium, calcium and iron levels can help muscle recovery
- Protein bars, when combined with sports drinks, can be a convenient way of satisfying appetite when long events cross normal mealtimes such as a lunch e.g. Horleys Protein 33®. They also can contribute to protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding).
Table 2 A comparison of sports bars
|Name of sports bar||Weight||Energy||Protein||Tot.fat||Sat.fat||Carbos||Sugars||Fibre||Sodium|
|Power bar performance bar®||60||936/222||8||3||n/a||40||n/a||2||230|
|High 5 sports bar®||60||827/197||2||1||n/a||45||n/a||3||90|
|Horleys protein 33®||60||928/220||20||3.3||n/a||27||n/a||n/a||23|
|Enervit protein bars®||40||676/161||10.3||4.5||n/a||19.5||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Torq bars (Aust)®||65||874/208||1.6||1.36||0.45||46.6||21.8||3.8||31.8|
|Carboshotz energy bar®||50||710/169||3||2.5||n/a||32||n/a||4.2||10|
|Science in sport-Go bar (UK)®||65g||950/226||8||2||n/a||43||n/a||1.3||300|
High energy bars
This category of bar is more suited to survival situations such as hiking/tramping, mountain climbing, winter sports, lone yachting or military exercises where endurance rather than speed is the focus. In this case the emphasis is on loading as many calories and nutrients into the bar as possible. The density of carbohydrate, protein and fat in these bars is therefore a lot higher than that found in products allocated to the other two categories. Many of these products contain chocolate and butter, hence their greater content of saturated fat.
Table 3 A comparison of high energy bars
|Name of energy bar||Weight||Energy||Protein||Tot. fat||Sat. fat||Carbos||Sugars||Fibre||Sodium|
|Tasti meganut bar®||40||889/211||5.2||12.8||4.8||18.5||12.1||1.7||28|
|Tasti protein bar®||40||851/202||10.2||11.4||2.7||13.9||8.1||n/a||185|
|One square meal bar®||87.5||1450/345||8.3||11.6||1.7||45.1||15||5||255|
|Nature valley crunchy bar®||42||833/198||3.8||8.1||0.8||26.7||10.4||1.9||171|
|Em’s power cookies®||80||1208/287||7.7||9.7||2.4||46||22||n/a||122|
Helpful tips regarding supplement use:
- All these bars are expensive and should not be relied on as a sole source of nutrition
- Ensure that fluid intake is high particularly when using concentrated products with higher sodium content.
- Athletes who succumb to runners diarrhoea or those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome may need to monitor closely their intake of dietary fibre and also fructose from these products as these two nutrients can aggravate symptoms in stressful situations. For more information read Lea’s article on ‘The gut-brain axis’.
- Allergy sufferers need to read the labels on these products carefully as they may contain gluten, nuts and milk products
- The energy content of these bars can lead to weight gain so avoid over consumption
If you would like to discuss your own sporting needs then contact us for a thorough nutritional assessment and sports nutrition program for every-day living, growth and repair, training and competition.
Sports bars- AIS website fact sheet- AIS sports supplement program
Turnbull C, Healthy food ideas criteria for bars www.healthyfoodideas.co.nz