Granola bars are frequently marketed as healthy snacks for strength and performance athletes. They can provide energy before a workout or replenish glycogen stores afterward. But you should not use granola bars to replace larger meals [breakfast, lunch and dinner], because they have a high sugar content and negligible amounts of muscle-building protein. Also, some granola bars are healthier than others, so you need to choose wisely.
The healthiest ingredient in a granola bar is . . . granola—a.k.a. rolled oats, which are rich in fiber, low in fat and low-glycemic. Bars with peanuts, almonds or fruit have added nutritional value. To form a solid bar, all ingredients are held together with high-fructose sugar, and sometimes chocolate or caramel as well.
Eating granola bars when you’re not training [off-season or recovering from injury] can make you gain weight, because you are not burning the energy provided by the bars. Granola bars should only be eaten approximately two hours before a workout or immediately following, when your body most craves energy. Sugar [a form of carbohydrate] provides an additional boost of energy (for a higher quality workout) and replenishes depleted glycogen stores. Eating granola for those two purposes is advisable.
As always, reading the nutrition label is essential to making sure the granola bar will help your game. Use the information below as a guide to help you select the granola bar that will best help you reach your athletic goals.
The number of calories depends on the brand and ingredients, but generally ranges between 90 and 190 per bar. How many calories you want depends on your diet and how well you’re meeting the caloric demands of your athletic goals with primary food sources. If you’re trying to lose weight, take a look at nonfat bars, which are at the lower end of the range.
Granola bars provide varying amounts of carbs for athletes. According to registered dietician Shelia Viswanathan, “Nature Valley bars [for example] range from 13 grams to 26 grams of carbohydrates, with the Chewy Trail Mix, Chewy with Yogurt, and Sweet and Salty bars containing the most. The addition of fruit and yogurt is what makes these bars richer in carbs.” She reiterates the need to read the nutrition label, since added sugars increase the amount of carbs. Again, the amount you need depends on your training regimen. An intense circuit training program that challenges strength and cardio requires significantly more energy.
Most granola bars contain monounsaturated fats [the good fats] from nuts. “In general, these granola bars are low in saturated and trans fats [the bad fats],” says Viswanathan. Read the nutrition label to make sure your bar is low in saturated fat and devoid of trans fats.
Granola bars also have varying amounts of fiber. Some offer as little as one gram, and others [like the Fiber One Bar] specialize in meeting your body’s fiber demands by packing nine grams [35 percent of the daily value] into one bar. If you’re already meeting your fiber needs through your regular diet, choose a bar at the lower end of the fiber spectrum.
The lesson here is that you need to do some research to identify the right granola bar to meet your personal performance needs. Once you find your favorite brand—with the right amount of calories, carbs, fat and fiber—try eating one about two hours before your workout, or save it for after, so your body can begin the recovery process immediately.