Nutrition Bars and drinks are a rapidly growing segment of the health and wellness industry. Most people don’t eat or have access to a well balanced diet and probably want to change something about their body - gain weight, lose weight, get more muscle, etc. Therefore, these items have found a niche in the marketplace that caters to the convenience and nutrition busy people need. What are some things you should look for in these products? Are they safe? Will they do what they advertise? Nutrition bars and drinks are generally separated based on the desired effect for the consumer. The main divisions for these products are general nutrition bars and drinks (for meal replacement or meal supplementation), weight loss, sports nutrition, and energy drinks. These products come in a vast array of flavors, textures, ingredients, sizes and prices. The great thing for the consumer is that the product range has diversified because of demand. And as the products have diversified, so have the prices. A high quality protein bar can be pretty expensive. Depending on the content, size, quality, and number of bars you buy, prices can range from under one dollar to as much as $5.00 per bar! As with most things in life, however, you get what you pay for.
Meal Replacement and General Nutrition Bars and Drinks
General nutrition bars and drinks are designed mainly as a supplement to a person’s general diet or to replace one to two meals per day (usually breakfast or lunch). These products often contain balanced amounts of protein, carbohydrates (complex and simple), and some sort of fat or oil. They may also have added vitamins and minerals. One of the key factors that make these products popular is that they are convenient. The bars or drinks can be carried most anywhere and are often designed for those on the go. Flavors for these products are extremely varied and may include fruit flavors (such as blueberry, lemon, and raspberry), chocolate, or even coffee.
Weight Loss Bars and Drinks
Weight Loss bars and drinks generally fall into two camps, depending on what type of weight loss program a person chooses. Most diets today are either low carbohydrate or low fat/low calorie.
For those following the low carbohydrate route like the Atkins diet, the key factors to consider are the amount of sugar, the glycemic index, and the amount and type of protein. Most of the low-carb products will be sweetened with a combination of artificial sweeteners. Combining the sweeteners provides a synergistic effect meaning that less sweetener has to be used. The glycemic index means the effect the product has on blood sugar. Often low carbohydrate products do have some sort of carbohydrate in them, but the type of carbohydrate used does not cause a sharp increase in blood insulin. An example of this type of carbohydrate is soluble fiber. Also, consider what type of protein the product contains. In general, whey protein (from milk products) is considered superior to soy protein. Whey protein also costs more than soy, so there are tradeoffs. Traditionally protein bars and drinks have not had the greatest reviews for taste! Thankfully that has changed. There are a great number of products on the market now that have a greatly improved taste profile. One important item to note when choosing a low carbohydrate product concerns chocolate flavoring. To keep the glycemic index of a product low, chocolate flavored sugar alcohols may be used instead of real chocolate. These sugar alcohols often have a laxative effect (think “Ex-Lax”!), so if this is a side effect you wish to avoid, watch the consumption level of this ingredient. The key is to try enough different types weight loss bars and drinks to find the one you like!
On the other end of the spectrum for weight loss is the low fat / low calorie method. The key concept behind this method is to burn more calories than you take in, hopefully resulting in weight loss. Products that support this method also generally have little or no fat content as fat and oils have more calories by weight than do carbohydrates and protein. Bars and drinks in this category will have high levels of carbohydrates versus protein and fats. Traditionally, higher carbohydrate content allows these products to have a better taste than those on the low-carbohydrate side. The downside is, that in a lot of the less expensive products on the market, much of the carbohydrates will be sugars and not complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. Read the labels! Even though the product may be low in calories, it may not have a whole lot of good nutritional value.
Sports Nutrition Drinks and Bars
Sports Nutrition Drinks and Bars are designed for endurance athletes and those needing an extra boost of energy or protein before or after a workout. These products, especially the ones designed for pre-workout will have higher amounts of carbohydrates to provide extra energy during the workout. Products designed for post workout (also called recovery products) will likely have a higher level of protein to promote muscle development. Some products may also include creatine which enhances muscle creation. Both types of products are likely to have some level of vitamin supplementation, especially B6 and B12. Post workout products may also have electrolytes to replace those lost during exercise. Again, with most nutrition products on the market today, sports nutrition drinks and bars come in a huge variety of flavors, textures, sizes, and obviously, prices. There are also unflavored products on the market, particularly protein powders which are designed to be mixed with other items such as fruits, or even other nutrition products. There are a probably as many recipes as there are items on the market!
The energy drink market burst onto the scene a little over 10 years ago with the introduction of Red Bull into the American market. Ever since then there has been a dramatic proliferation of these popular drinks. Energy drinks are soft drinks designed to produce extra energy to improve physical activity of the drinker. Rather than providing food energy (as measured in calories), these drinks are designed to increase a user's mental alertness and physical performance by the addition of caffeine, vitamins, and herbal supplements which can interact to provide a stimulant effect over and above that obtained from caffeine alone. Care must be taken in choosing an energy drink. In particular, know the effect you desire and the effects you wish to avoid. If you are on a low carbohydrate diet, you will want to avoid most energy drinks. The great majority on the market today have a high level of sugar. Also if you are sensitive to caffeine, most of these drinks derive a majority of their energy from caffeine. Again, know what you want. Know why you want it, and choose accordingly. You may also want to try a few types as the number of flavors available is incredible.