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Health bars are a convenient and very tasty way to sustain your energy when training, but how do we know which ones are good for you? Ian Craig gives the lowdown on the best of the best on the South African market.
Bars, whether they be sports, energy, cereal or protein, are a fabulous way of providing sustainable energy when you’re out and about. If you’re training all day, it would definitely be important to include lunch in your backpack, but bars provide something tasty to munch on in between meals. A three-hour stint on your bike is probably too short a time to take food with you but too long to fuel yourself on air. Bars provide an excellent way of filling the energy gap and it seems that ever since I can remember I’ve been searching for that perfect bar.
I recently set out to find the best available bars in South Africa and I came up with four top contenders which I judged according to certain categories.
So, what constitutes a healthy bar? Considering the job that we would like them to do, we might consider the categories below:
■Taste – this is otherwise known as ‘spiritual nourishment’!
■Functional health – there are many active ingredients (in addition to carbs and proteins) that can contribute to the health of our body and not merely fuel our body. These may include cherry extract, green tea and various herbs.
■Protein content – bars that are higher in protein tend to be lower in sugars and are more stabilising to blood sugar levels in addition to which they tend to have an anabolic effect (the building up of organs and tissues), which is hugely beneficial to your active muscles.
■Energy content – this is the energy content of the bar – i.e. the ‘bang for the buck’ value. It’s not just the total calorie value per bar that’s important, but the quality of the ingredients.
■Free-from – named after supermarket ranges that are free of various ingredients that might be detrimental to some individuals’ health. In particular, we are looking to avoid preservatives, colourants, sugar, wheat, gluten, flavourants, sweeteners and refined oils.
I reviewed various types of bars, including traditional energy bars, protein bars, health bars and more functional bars that contain sufficient protein content for sports:
Winner – taste
■Bare Nature Coco-Cashew (www.bare-naturenutrition.co.za) is a scrumptious locally-made bar which is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from coconut, cashews, and macadamia nut butter. The bar also contains dried, unsweetened cranberries which provide a natural sweetness to the bar.
Winner – functional health
■Metagenics Ultrameal Bar (www.amipro.co.za). Metagenics is an American company that has a big presence in the South African supplements industry, compliments of Amipro. They produce high-quality, research-driven products. The bars are packed with a full array of vitamins and minerals, so it’s like having your multivitamin in food form.
Winner – protein content
■USN Protein Delite (www.usn.co.za). USN is South Africa’s biggest sports and muscle-building brand. Their bars focus on high protein levels with a very notable 30 g per bar.
Winner – energy content
■Trek Energy Bars (www.getnakd.co.za) are British-made 56 g bars that come in Cocoa Brownie and Mixed Berry flavours. Trek bars are made of natural ingredients and are vegan, and wheat- and dairy-free.
Winner – free-from
■Hammer Bars (www.hammernutrition.co.za) is a high-quality organic sports nutrition bar made from blended nuts and dried fruit plus several functional ingredients such as phyto-nutrients and enzymes. They are from the States and are becoming very popular amongst cyclists.
■Bare Nature bars are free from preservatives, colourants, flavourants, gluten, contain no refined sugar, and can be made vegan and/or lactose free. Whey protein powder aids the body's natural recovery processes and raw honey offers antibacterial properties as well as a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
■Metagenics Ultrameal Bars are gluten-free and use a hypo-allergenic rice protein and functional ingredients like inulin and extra-virgin olive oil.
Winner – overall
■Our locally-made Bare Nature Coco-Cashew is the run-away winner in this contest of the bars. It, and other bars made by Bare Nature, are full of natural, high-quality ingredients, are free from nasty additives, have added protein value, and provide an excellent amount of energy and nutrient density in every bite.
Other health bars to consider include:
■The GNC Quest Protein Bar (www.gnc.co.za) which has quite a sweet taste which may not appeal to everyone.
■Raw Revolution Bars (www.rawrevolutionsa.co.za) are clean and tasty.
■The Ziberto Bar (www.zibertobar.co.za) is a nutty and fruity snack, clean and simple.
■The USN Protein Delite Bar (www.usn.co.za) mentioned in the winning protein category above, although not listed in the category box, is well worth considering due to its high protein content.
As you will now be aware, there is a worthwhile range of healthy bars on the South African market ready to help you support your blood sugar levels, provide energy for training and competition, and to recover in optimal time. One thing that you might also have noticed is that some are not actually South African so a business opportunity awaits for a foody entrepreneur! Each bar has its own strengths and weaknesses. Used appropriately in conjunction with appropriate timing and recovery strategies, these bars along with healthy drink options, fresh smoothies and home-made meals can substantially support the returns that you get from your training and reduce the losses experienced from stressful lifestyle patterns. So, choose your poison and stock up on your favourite bars or even have a go at making your own.
IAN CRAIG is an exercise scientist, nutritional therapist and neuro-linguistic programming practitioner. He initially qualified as an exercise physiologist (MSc) and strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), applying this knowledge to his own middle-distance running career and the care of his personal training clients. Ian’s current focus on nutritional therapy (BSc) includes weight management, digestive health, blood sugar regulation, stress, fatigue and sporting performance. He runs nutrition and exercise clinics in Cape Town and regular workshops on stress, corporate wellness and sports nutrition, is a columnist for SA Squash, Go Multi and Bolander, and writes and presents internationally on the new concept of functional sports nutrition.
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