Not Another Case of the Mondays: “Whole-Food” Bars vs. Energy Bars
This week, instead of focusing on the benefits of a specific ingredient, I’m going to explain why I believe “whole-food bars,” such as “LARA” and “KIND” bars (mock-KIND bar recipe coming to you tomorrow), are good for daily nutrition or long-endurance events, and why others are better for more regular training. As an athlete, it’s crucial to understand when to eat what in terms in Daily Nutrition and Training Nutrition (as discussed in my FREE article “Daily vs. Training Nutrition @ www.apexnutritionllc.com), this matters most if you are really striving to improve in training. Otherwise, you may mistakenly eat foods that your body quickly turns into sugar and then stores as fat instead of healthy, whole foods in Daily Nutrition (Clif Bar for breakfast). Or, you may eat foods for Training Nutrition that will still be setting in your stomach, providing no energy to your cells, long after you’ve parked your bike or running shoes and hit the shower.
To really know what you need to eat for optimal performance and overall wellness, start with knowing a few things about digestion. You see, different foods are digested and metabolized at different rates. The have different journeys and qualities. Let’s start with a quick digestion primer: When you eat, you’re ingesting some combo of water, carbs, protein, fats, and fiber. From your mouth on, these nutrients act very differently in your body. They are all broken down mechanically in your mouth by your teeth. But simple carbohydrates are special. They are actually broken down chemically, by one of our enzymes (amylase) as well. From the mouth, the nutrients make their way down the esophagus to the stomach. It’s here that digestion rates begin to differ significantly.
All nutrients are churned and mixed with hydrochloric acid and/or enzymes. Once liquefied, they begin to leave the stomach and enter the small intestines for further digestion and absorption. Simple carbs leave first. We’re talking in a matter of minutes, especially if they are in liquid form. Individual amino acids and quick proteins (like isolated whey) leave next. Then, a couple hours later, other proteins. Then, an hour or two later, fats. Most of them set like a rock. Anyone who’s ever been on her bike regretting the pizza she ate an hour before the ride knows this. In fact, even fast fats like MCTs can cause stomach issues. Lastly, leaving the stomach, is fiber. In the intestines, all but the simple sugars, fast proteins and amino acids, and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs, fats from tropical oils such as coconut) have to be further broken down before absorption. Most fats require enzymes and bile salts. We, as humans, are not even capable of breaking down all fiber. Fats and fiber are S-L-O-W. Almost all of the nutrients make their way from the intestines to the portal vein to the liver.
The liver, as the “mail room” of the body, repackages the nutrients and sends them out. Some as blood sugar, which is delivered to our cells for use as energy or storage. Others directly to tissues for storage (some fats). MCTs directly into cells for energy use.
As you can see, some nutrients are quicker than others and are better used suited for energy immediately before, during, and after training. Some are great for events lasting 3+hours, or if eaten 3 hours before training. Others, for exact opposite reasons are healthier day to day for wellness and fat loss. When fast nutrients are sent out as blood sugar (especially those that are “white carbs” such as refined grains and sugars) our bodies must respond with insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key – it unlocks our cells’ doors and lets blood sugar in. Sugar does harm in our arteries, so it has to be used or stored in our cells (stored as muscle glycogen or fat). When you’re sedentary, it’s going to be stored as fat. When you’re active, insulin works for you to get the sugar in the cells where it can be turned into energy. Then again, when slow nutrients are taking their time through our digestive tracts, they are promoting health in our guts, stimulating our immune systems, and minimizing blood sugar peaks and valleys. This is ideal for Daily Nutrition, but will cause cramps and leave you low on energy during Training. Back to the bars.
Take a look at tomorrow’s mock-KIND bar recipes, and you’ll see that this bar is made up of whole foods that have not been refined in any way. Sure, it still has somewhat quick carbs from honey and dried fruit, but even the digestion of these will be inhibited due to the fats, proteins, and fiber in the bars (contrary to the marketing of trail mix, nuts are not a good source of quick energy). These bars are perfect for daily nutrition, as a snacks hours before riding or during a long ride, or even Recovery if you’re not planning another activity with 12-18 hours. LARA bars will likely have slightly faster digestion since they are mechanically broken down in a food processor and if used on a long ride, would be much easier to eat on the bike than the KIND bars. And, of course, all of this is also subject to individual digestion, finickiness (is that a word?) or your gut, and taste preference.
On the other hand, there are sports nutrition bars. Take a look at a Powerbar. You will not see “whole” foods in it. No visible nuts. No chunks of fruit. The ingredients have been refined, disassembled, and otherwise broken down for fast digestion. Exactly what you need when you’re riding, running, etc; exactly what you don’t need when you’re sitting at your desk. Same with Clif Bars. They use decent ingredients, but again, broken down for fast digestion. To fuel your adventure, and nourish your body, choose quick foods for Training, and slow ones for Living. You’ll get the energy you need without the stomach cramps you don’t. Perfect.
Give your body what it needs for great energy and health every day and during training with the right Foods, Drinks and Supplements. If you would like my help with it, I offer comprehensive plans as Instant Downloads and as Custom Clients starting at just $20. And, as a FuelRightBlog reader, get a further discount with coupon code: password-frblog username-reader. I’d love to work with you!
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