Energy bars or dry fruits — an athlete’s quick fix charger!

Energy bars, today, represent a major convenience in an athlete’s hectic schedule.

Keeping stock: Golfer Shubhankar Sharma enusres his mother has packed his favourite dates and dry fruit laddoo in his golf kit.

When Shubhankar Sharma is packing his golf kit he is checking if his mother has packed his favourite dates and dry fruit laddoo. These days the laddoo has changed shape to a bar for ease in carrying and eating while on the golf course. However, when his mum’s energy laddoo bar is not available, we source energy bars from the internet to help him while playing.

Every athlete needs fuel. One gets hungry in between training or even during matches. Sometimes eating a meal is logistically not possible. Imagine if Shikhar Dhawan asked for a tandoori chicken half way during his double century innings! What he did ask for were his dry fruits and his sports drink.

So, food for thought. What does an athlete carry as a convenience food during one’s training or matches? It is an easy to buy energy bar or a container or zip lock bag holding one’s favourite dry fruits. Banana, this decade, has been a favourite with tennis and badminton players. Before deciding on what will fuel an athlete, let us understand what an athlete needs.

All energy systems need carbohydrates (basically starch or glucose) to help the athlete think, react and move. Protein is the second macro nutrient that will help retain muscle cells from destruction and subsequent recovery or healing as you play. Fat, the high energy molecule, may not contribute to energy but really helps in satiety or feeling of fullness in athletes.

If convenience of carrying is not an issue, then I would make milk or eggs as my favourite energy snack which deliver all nutrients. Dry fruits are the royalty among fruits. Preserved, easy to carry and energy, minus the preservative, make any dry fruit a rockstar in my arsenal of good food for an athlete.

Energy bars, today, represent a major convenience in an athlete’s hectic schedule especially when the athlete is not at home base and the comforts of pre-packed tiffin boxes is a luxury! To choose these energy bars, even for me as a qualified sports nutritionist, is a daunting task.

Energy bars come in various classifications. Meal replacement, snack bars and sports or power bars, and are meant for different functions in the body.

 

Energy bars come in various classifications. Meal replacement, snack bars and sports or power bars, and are meant for different functions in the body.

Athletes should not look at any lifestyle energy bars but look at sports energy bars. They usually contain anywhere from 0 to 10 grams of protein, about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, two to six grams of fat, and anywhere from 200 to 500 calories. They are high in carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly and do not slow down your digestive system as you exercise. When they contain more than 20 grams of protein, they are more designed for muscle building or recovery. Most Meal Replacement Bars — MRPs (they are designed for you to skip a meal) have over 20 grams of protein and hence you would feel fuller. MRPs also have a good content of fibre in them.

The best way to decipher a good food energy bar is to read the label. Don’t go by taste alone. The best place to start is the ingredient list. They are normally found behind the bar in very small writing. Look at the calories and added sugar table. Look for bars that feature simple foods: if the primary ingredients are foods like nuts, berries and fruits, rather than complicated ingredients with names you can’t pronounce, you’ve likely found a bar with a good ratio of fibre, protein and healthy fats.

Next look to track where the sugar in each bar is coming from. Bars that rely on sweetness from whole foods like dates, rather than table sugar, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup, are typically healthier. It is very difficult to distinguish between sugar from whole ingredients like dried fruit, and added sugars. For most products, the amount of “sugars” listed on the nutrition facts labels don’t distinguish between the two. This is where the line of healthy and unhealthy meet up and I then move in the direction of asking you to carry your dates and almonds, to practice.

Don’t buy food bars if these are added

1. Soy Protein Isolate (SPI), 2. Inulin, 3. HFCS – High fructose corn syrup, 4. Agave Syrup, 5. Soy lecithin, 6. Brown Rice Syrup, 7. Sucralose, 8. Palm kernel oil, 9. Sugar Alcohols such as as erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).

To most athletes between the ages of 10 and 20 years of age, I ask the mums to make the energy bars. Here are some of my ideas to make healthy sports nutrition energy bars.

The 4-ingredient energy bar

A no-sugar-added energy bar that will take care of your breakfast, afternoon snack or dessert, and all you need are bananas, oats, nuts and dates.

Ingredients (serves 9)

2 bananas, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, 2 cups oatmeal-rolled oats, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup dates (chopped), 1/4 cup walnuts (chopped), 1 dash cinnamon (ground).

Preparation

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and lightly grease a 9x9 inch-square baking dish using butter or olive oil. Mash the bananas very thoroughly in a mixing bowl until they are almost liquid. No large chunks should remain (about 1 cup). Stir in vanilla (optional). Mix in oats, then dates, nuts and salt (optional). Press the mixture evenly into a 9x9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon (optional). Bake for 30 minutes in an oven preheated at 175 degrees.

The apricot, pistachio and oat energy bar

Ingredients (serves 10)

1 cup oatmeal-rolled oats, 1/2 cup chia seeds, 1 cup pistachio nuts, 1/2 cup dried apricots, 1/2 cup dried tart cherries or blueberries or cranberries, 3 tbsp dates syrup, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, 1 medium orange, 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin), 1 pinch salt.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Combine oats, pistachios, dried apricots, dried cherries, chia seeds, orange zest and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Combine dates syrup and vanilla and then add to the dry mix. Juice orange and slowly add small amounts of orange juice, adding just enough to keep mixture from being overly dry (optional: add small amounts of olive oil for same purpose). The mix should be sticky. Press the mixture into an 8x8-inch pan lined with wax or parchment paper so that it extends over the edges, and press down and into corners.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 175 degrees until dough begins to pull at sides. Let it cool completely before lifting out of pan and cutting into bars or squares.

If you don’t have the time, an oven or the love of a concerned mother, you can always just carry pistas, almonds, cashews, walnuts, cranberries, blueberries, raisins, dried apricots and dates, to practice.

Mix them up. The only issue is the sticky hands you may get. One way is to pack the exact amount in a zip lock bag and dump these goodies into your mouth directly. Energy bars suddenly seem too expensive and not as tasty as the dry fruits going alone into your mouth.