Monday, April 16, 2007

Bar Hopping

The other day at UCSB, during the raffle (which was more of a "duck and cover" kind of event), I managed to slide tackle my way into winning a plastic bag full of Clif bars. I'm eating one of them as I speak, and it's a kind I've never tried before: Clif Nectar, Cinnamon Pecan flavor. Now, I've never had the Clif Nectar bars before, but I have been meaning to do a piece on different kinds of energy bars for a while. So prepare yourselves for some supplementary knowledge, because I intend to go over the kinds of bars I've tried, what I prefer, and the nutritional benefits of each.

I would guess that PowerBar is probably the most common energy bar available. It's the first one I ever used (but not until college), and it's the one most of my tri team uses. It's also been around longest, and sponsors lots of athletic events, including most of the collegiate triathlons I've been too this year, and lots of athletes, including UCLA's tri team. So I appreciate the brand and have nothing against the company.

Nutritionally, you can expect 230-250 calories, 2-4 g fat, 40-45 g carbohydrate (about half of it sugars), and 9-10 g protein in each bar. The nutritional data does vary by flavor, but you can check all of them out at the PowerBar website. By the way, I'm only talking about PowerBar performance bars. I've never tried Pria, Harvest, Triple Threat, or any of the other variations. I think they're probably worth trying; I just haven't gotten around to it as of yet.

As far as taste goes, and how I like them, they taste okay. I don't eat them regularly anymore, because I kind of got burned out on them and I prefer other, more natural options now. One thing I sort of dislike is that they have kind of a chemical aftertaste, which isn't entirely unpleasant, but is definitely, distinctively chemical. That said, PowerBars have a pleasantly chewy (like taffy) consistency with a little bit of crunch from crispy rice. I like them. My favorite flavors are Chocolate peanut butter, peanut buttery, and vanilla crisp. I stay away from espresso and wild berry. Price on the PowerBar is going to be somewhere between $1.00 and $1.50. I would advise buying from Wal-Mart or Target, rather than a sports store (unless you have a discount), because it's cheaper.

Clif Bars
Clif Bar is probably my all-time favorite bar. They have a much more natural taste and feel than PowerBars. Plus, they don't have that chemical taste. Clif Bars do have added chemical nutrition, however, so they're not entirely all-natural. When I was climbing with the USC climbing club, this was the most popular choice of bar. Clif Bar also sponsors athletes and events (like the UCSB tri team and their race). I like that the company is home-grown, also.

Clif Bar has about the same nutrition as PowerBar, although they have more fat in general. Calories, 250, Fat 5g, Carbs 45 g (about half of it sugar), and Protein 10g. If you want all the details, go to the website.

For my part, I love Clif Bars. I haven't eaten many of them in the past two weeks, because I've been trying some new things, but I always know that I can come back to them. Clif Bars are chewy, but not sticky like PowerBars. They also don't have that characteristic, crispy rice crunch. My favorite flavors are cool mint chocolate (by far!), cookies and cream, chocolate almond crunch, black cherry almond . . . actually, the only ones I don't like are the chocolate chip peanut crunch, because it takes chemically like a PowerBar, and carrot cake, because it's too bland. Clif Bar is a little more like a granola bar than PowerBar is, but less crunchy and more processed. Also, I should warn you, the chocolatey flavors sort of look like poop. Buy your Clif Bars at Wal Mart, Target, or Trader Joe's, because you can get them there for under a dollar. If you buy at a sports store, you'll probably pay $1.25 or $1.40.

Clif Luna Bars
I've recently become a big fan of Luna Bars. They're specially engineered for women's nutrition. They have fewer calories than Clif and PowerBars, just 180 per bar, and fewer carbs (around 27 g for most flavors). Other facts . . . 4-5 g fat, 10 g sugar, 10 g protein. Luna Bars contain more folic acid, soy protein, and calcium (among other things) especially for women. Men can eat the bars too, of course. Unfortunately, Luna Bars have a kind of chemical taste, but they are crunchier than PowerBars. The only flavor that I'll eat consistently is S'more. Lemon Zest was okay, but the chemical taste was stronger. And I haven't tried every flavor. Luna Bars are the same price as Clif Bars. I don't eat them all the time, but if I need a break from Clif Bars, I'll eat one.

Luna recently started making Luna Sunrise bars, which are formulated especially for breakfast. I tried one the other day, and wasn't crazy about it. Really, the only difference is that "It simply has flavors and nutrition that women tend to enjoy in the morning." It has more whole grains, protein, and fiber to help curb hunger, also. But I wouldn't really recommend these over any other energy bar.

Clif Nectar

Nectar bars are all-natural (like Clif Bars), organic, and raw. They have 2 servings of fruit, 5 or fewer ingredients, no processed sugars, and have no soy, wheat, gluten, or dairy. So they're safe for you no matter your allergy, I suppose. Fewer calories in these, two, although they're significantly smaller. 150-170 calories, 5-9 g fat, 26-30 g carbohydrate (19 g sugar), 2-3 g protein. These bars are an excellent source of dietary fiber, but that's about it. They're a very compact food, so good for what you want an energy bar to be good for: lots of energy in a small space. But I didn't really enjoy eating the one I've tried. I'm glad I got it for free. Maybe the other flavors are better. If you want a raw, all-natural, but still compact food option, I'd recommend Larabar. I'm not sure how much Nectar bars will cost you, as I didn't buy mine. Sorry, but I don't recommend them unless you have special needs for 100% organic, raw food, or have food allergies. I might revise my recommendation, though, if the other flavors turn out to be better.

Balance Bars

Forgive me, but I have recently become absolutely addicted to Balance Bars. I never tried them before because I thought they were too mainstream. They seemed like dieter food instead of athlete food. The whole point of Balance is to provide well-rounded nutrition (i.e. 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat). You can count on 200 calories per bar, 3.5 g fat, 14 g protein, 22 g protein. The best part of a Balance Bar is that it tastes like candy. I know, I know, maybe not what you're looking for in nutrition. But the point of these bars is not entirely to be nutritious; it's to provide fast, clean energy in a compact form that is more healthful than candy and more convenient than fruit, yoghurt, and granola. Balance Bars are very compact, smaller than any of the others, except maybe Nectar bars. They're currently my favorite, but I'll probably switch back to Clif Bars pretty soon. One advantage to Balance Bars is that they're a little easier to find, I think, because they're more mainstream. They're also about $1 if you get them at Wal Mart, Target, or Trader Joe's. Don't know about anywhere else, as I haven't bought them anywhere else yet. I recommend cookie dough, chocolate peanut butter, or peanut butter flavors, although I've liked all the ones I've tried so far.

To conclude, let me make clear that energy bars are not for meal replacement (except maybe breakfast, when you're running out and can just grab one). I do not recommend that you trade one for lunch or dinner. They're snack food, and the reason that athletes choose them is that they're compact and clean and can be carried along on long workouts, but they are more substantial than gels or recovery drinks. So use them for that, not for meals. For final recommendations, I suggest Clif Bars in general, PowerBars if you want to look more like a serious athlete, Clif Nectar if you have special needs, Luna Bars if you need a break from other things, and Balance Bars if you like candy. I think Clif Bar overall is the best--compact, healthy, all-natural, and convenient.

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